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Texas Doesn't Mess Around When it Comes to Deep Fried Food

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The fact is, there’s nothing that a deep-fried crunchy, crispy, crust doesn’t improve.  

That’s not the mantra of the State Fair of Texas, but it could be.  

Forget deep-fried Twinkies and Oreos. The fair’s fryers-gone-wild enthusiasts who've conjured up Deep Fried Butter, Chicken-Fried Bacon and Deep Fried S’mores, are at it again.  

“Ladies and gentlemen, start your defibrillators,” says the Dallas Observer.  

Attendees at the 125th fair which started its annual 24-day run on Saturday will determine whether this year’s crispy crop, among them Fried Bubblegum, Fried Buffalo Chicken in a Flapjack, Fried Autumn Pie and Hans’ Kraut Ball will become instant classics, as well as cash cows.  

Deep-frying makes for deep pockets. Last year the fair set a single-day food sales record of $3.6 million. These totally decadent, gleefully caloric, once-a-year foods give the fair its other title: the Fried Food Capital of Texas.  

“Some say the Fried Food Capital of The World,” says Sue Gooding, a fair official for more than 30 years. “We’re happy with ‘Texas.’ Not the ‘world.’ Not just yet,” she laughs.  

The Big Tex Choice Awards recognize Most Creative and Best Taste winners from a competition among the fair’s concessionaires. Allan Weiss’s Fried Buffalo Chicken in a Flapjack won.  It all started when someone suggested that he “’oughta do chicken with a pancake.’ So I decided to take it on,” he says.  

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He skewers Buffalo chicken strips, dips them in pancake batter, rolls in jalapeño breadcrumbs, deep-fries and serves with a side of syrup. The syrup’s sweetness complements the crunchy coating and the chicken’s spicy kick.  “It’s bigger than a corny dog,” he says, “and I tell you, it’s fantastic.”  

Weiss has already started making the 75,000 to 100,000 units he’ll sell over the next three weeks. Volume is why winners are announced on Labor Day and not during the fair.  

“Winners see a huge surge in sales. They need time to prepare,” explains Gooding.  Most freeze ahead but Weiss’s Flapjack doesn’t freeze well. “We tried it last week,” he says. 

He’s reconfigured his booth and is still sorting out refrigeration issues. “It’s gonna be a tough battle,” he says. 

Freezing won't be a problem for another fair favorite. Finalist Tami Stiffler, creator of the Fried Autumn Pie tells me how it came to be. “My husband was experimenting with pumpkin,” Stiffler explains. “He wanted to do something with a crunchy stick-thing you could put in coffee, and I basically was ignoring him.” 

Then he came up with a “pumpkin dip” idea, and she listened.  

They whipped cream cheese with pumpkin pie filling until fluffy, put it in puff pastry and fried it. “Too doughy and ginormous,” says Stiffler. 

Then they sandwiched the “dip” between gingersnap cookies, dipped it in funnel cake batter, fried it, then rolled it in a ground-gingersnap-cookie-nutmeg-cinnamon-confectioner’s-sugar mixture. “It’s got this strong pumpkin-ginger flavor,” say Stiffler, “that just feels like fall.” 

Martin Palm’s desire to submit “something that would be a German-style food” resulted in the uniquely-dubbed finalist, Hans’ Kraut Ball. 

Palm browns up breakfast sausage with onion, garlic, adds sauerkraut and mustard, rolls it in breadcrumbs, freezes it, fries it and serves it with a trio of Spicy Mustard, Ranch and Raspberry Chipotle dipping sauces. Chipotle, he suggests, “gives a nice, sweet finish.” 

Another winner in the fair was Justin Martinez's Fried Bubblegum, which clinched 'Most Creative this year. He came close to winning a few years ago with dough-encased Texas-Fried Jelly Belly Beans. “They melted so they were like doughnut holes with Jelly Belly flavors,” he says. 

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To make this year's Fried Bubblegum he started by deep-frying actual bubblegum. “A total disaster. Lots of problems with taste and texture,” he says. Shocker. 

Then he discovered that deep-fried marshmallows produced the desired gooeyness. He dips bubblegum-infused pink-colored marshmallows into bubblegum-infused pink-colored pancake batter and deep-fries. He drizzles with turquoise-blue cream cheese icing and dusts with Mini-Chiclets. “All the taste of gum without all the extra chewing,” he says. 

Gooding reminisces about past triumphs like Fried Banana Split and Fire and Ice, batter-fried pineapple topped with whipped cream flash-frozen with liquid nitrogen. 

“It had the judges blowing smoke out of our noses,” she chuckles. While it didn’t start out that way, “the fair’s food contest has really become a fried food contest.” 

She’s fine with that. But in the interests of accuracy she says, “we serve more powdered sugar than anything else.”

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