The Crazy Cuisine of State Fairs

Gourmet Girl - July 30, 2014

Bacon-Wrapped Jack Daniel’s-Infused Churro, Fried Breakfast-on-a-Stick, Beer Gelato and more, on the menu at this summer's state fairs

Each year, hordes of hungry fair-goers eagerly await the announcement of the next big thing in state fair foods, hoping to sample something that tops Deep-Fried Oreos and Twinkies, Pizza on-a-Stick and Deep-Fried Butter. This year, they won't be disappointed. From Deep-Fried Chicken Skins and Deep-Fried Doritos to Beer Gelato, Deep-Fried, Bacon-Wrapped Turkey Legs and Maple Bacon Funnel Cake, state fair menus across the country are offering ever more crazy cuisine.

At this year's Minnesota State Fair, for example, the 28 new food items include Deep-Fried Breakfast on-a-Stick, a combo of American and Swiss cheese, sausage patty, egg and Canadian bacon sandwiched between two pancakes, dipped in a light, sweet batter and deep-fried.  You can also sample  Bison Dog, Deep-Fried Lobster on-a-Stick and Chicken in the Waffle.

The Iowa State Fair features some 60 vendors offering new fare including Chocolate-Covered Chunky Bacon Maple Nougat on-a-Stick and Tater Dog on-a-Stick. And, in an apparent attempt to include a healthy option, the Iowa fair also offers  Caprese Salad-on-a Stick, but you can still find items like Chicken-Fried Bacon. The Wisconsin State Fair will offer Peanut Butter Bacon Bison Burger, Cheesy Nutella Melt, Deep-Fried Kringle and Maple Bacon Funnel Cake. One of this year's vendors, Exotic Meat Grill, will serve up Cajun Shark on-a-Stick, Gator on-a-Stick,Python Spring Roll

The California State Fair served up a new food this year, tailored to Krispy Kreme donut lovers—a Bacon Cheeseburger Stuffed with mac'n'cheese and served between said donuts.  And if you can get to the Indiana State Fair in August, you can try the new Hot Beef Sundae, layered with mashed potatoes, marinated beef, gravy, cheese, corn "sprinkles" and topped with a cherry tomato.

The Orange County Fair in California may have broken the state fair food mold, however, with a Bacon-Wrapped Jack Daniel’s-Infused Churro, served with whipped cream and maple syrup spiked with more Jack Daniels. The Deep-Fried Doritos should take second place, paired with a Ranch dipping sauce and. But then there's the  Cherry Pop Rock Donut , Deep-Fried Pecan Pie on-a-Stick and  Deep-Fried White Castle Burgers. Or perhaps the  Drunken Pickle Poppers—a big old mess o'fried pickles stuffed with cream cheese & jalapenos.

At the New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque, held Sept. 10-21 this year, you can find regional foods like Navajo tacos, Frito pies, Chile Relleno Dogs as well as crazy fair cuisine, including Deep-Fried Frito Pie, Donuts with Green Chile Icing Dipping Sauce, Fried Beer and Donut Burgers and Deep-Fried Green Chile Cheese Curds. But if you can't get to the fair, here are a few recipes so you can make your own crazy fair cuisine at home.

Deep-Fried Twinkies (Yields 6)

Hostess Twinkies
6 wooden popsicle sticks
Vegetable oil, enough to cover Twinkies
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons vinegar
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup flour(mix to consistency)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Freeze the Twinkies for at least 2 hours. Heat oil in fryer to 375 degrees.

Mix your milk, vinegar and in bowl. In a separate bowl blend flour, baking powder and salt.. Whisk wet ingredients into dry, mix until smooth.  Refrigerate as you heat the oil.

Insert popsicle sticks into Twinkies, leaving enough of an end to hold. Dust with flour and dip into batter, making sure that the batter covers the entire Twinkie. Fry in hot oil 3-4 minutes, or until Twinkies are evenly browned.

Drain fried Twinkies on paper towel and let cool. Serve with raspberries, or mixed berry preserves if desired.

Frito Pie a la Emeril Lagasse (Serves 6 to 8)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 pounds beef bottom round, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
Crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
3 cups crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup tomato paste
2 cups beef stock
2 cups canned dark red kidney beans
1 1/2 tablespoons masa
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bag Frito Chips
1 1/2 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
6 tablespoons sour cream
1 small jar of jalapenos

Heat vegetable oil  in large pan until hot, add onions and saute 3-5 minutes, until they start to wilt. Season with salt and cayenne. Stir in beef , chili powder, cumin, crushed red pepper, and oregano and brown  meat 5-6 minutes. Stir in garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock and beans. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer uncovered for 1 hour, stirring occasionally until beef is tender. Skim off the fat occasionally.

Mix masa and flour with a little liquid from the stockpot. Slowly stir in the masa slurry and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Re-season with salt and cayenne.

Place a handful of the chips in each shallow bowl. Spoon the chili over the chips. Garnish with the grated cheese, sour cream and jalapenos.

Photo: Shedrick Mask