Every year, before Big Tex welcomes his first guest, the Big Tex Choice Awards are held to determine the best new fried edibles at this year's fair. Though the final eight submissions may sound as if they will induce a heart attack, registered dietitian Jennifer Pereira, an advocate of the belief that "there are no bad foods," assures me that they are fine ... in moderation.
So, with our dietitian's approval ... let's get to the list.
Topping the list of this year's fair foods that may rush you to an early death is Abel Gonzales' Deep Fried Butter. Gonzales whips butter until light and fluffy, sweetens it, wraps it in dough and then, you guessed it, drops that bad boy into bubbling grease. Gonzalez then impales the treat on a stick making it easier for you to munch while heading on to the next concessionaire ... Glen Kusak and his Country Fried Pork Chips.
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Pork Chips. Never have I heard those two words used to describe a single object. Additionally, never before has my life felt so complete. So, thank you Glen Kusak. Your thinly sliced, fried pork loin has given me a reason, aside from the annual Texas/OU game, to visit the fair this year. Kusak lightly batters his Country Fried Pork Chips in corn meal and serves them with ketchup or cream gravy. Pardon my attempt to improve on Kusak's culinary wizardry, but I think the chips might be better served as a base for nachos topped with sauteed tiny mushroom caps, a few caramelized onions and finally dusted with shredded provolone cheese before covering with cream gravy. Or, forget the gravy and drop that chip into an au jus bath for maximum enjoyment. A boy can dream, can't he? Maybe you'll see me competing in next year's fair. I digress.
I don't think Mark Zabel is kin to the Fletcher clan, but he didn't fall far from their family tree. Zabel is removing the hot dog from the familiar corny dog and replacing it with a crustacean -- improving on the State Fair Corny Dog immensely. Zabel batters his Sweet Jalepeno Corn Dog Shrimp with a sweet and spicy corn meal batter and fries it to a delicate golden brown. Of course, no corny dog, or corny shrimp for that matter, would be complete with out a dipping sauce. Zabel offers a spicy glaze in place of the dog's universally popular mustard topping.
Halfway though the list, what does our dietitian think so far?
"While the items on the list do make the previously hardcore dietitian in me cringe, I am now one to keep an open mind," Pereira said. "I can find something beneficial in each of the foods ... even fried butter. We do need protein, fats, and carbohydrates in our diet. Each of the foods on the list has at least one of these nutrients."
Renewed, we soldier on to our next skewered piece of goodness -- Twisted Yam on a Stick.
If the lack of sugar in fried potatoes on a stick leaves you feeling a little cheated, head over to Milton Whitley's stand. Whitley isn't breaking culinary ground with his Twisted Yam on a Stick, but the 13-inch skewer supporting a towering spiral-cut sweet potato fried to crispy perfection does sound appealing. If I haven't sold you yet, Whitley rolls the fried potato in butter and sprinkles cinnamon and sugar on top.
There isn't much better than Texas Pecan Pie. Apparently, Nick Bert Jr. agrees. The only way he could figure to top it was to batter it, fry it and pour some caramel sauce on top. It's probably good. It's probably very good. And, Fried Texas Pecan Pie probably won't leave you with eater's remorse (like I suspect the fried butter might).
Shirley London's Fried Peanut Butter Cup Macaroon is a simple pairing of perfection, the peanut butter cup, and the cookie your grandmother loves, the macaroon. In London's creation, the macaroon surrounds the cup, is fried, and then dusted with powdered sugar. London's cookie sounds good, but doesn't seem to offer the same level of post-enjoyment lethargy nearly guaranteed by the other concessionaires.
If you were guessing the next treat is deep fried as well, you would be correct. Fernie's Deep Fried Peaches & Cream is the perfect way to end your foodie frolic through Fair Park ... or insure that you will in fact enter into a gastronomical coma before making it back to your car. Fernie isn't just frying up sliced peaches, oh no. Fernie doesn't know simplicity like many of her fellow concessionaires. She first coats the peach in a batter of cinnamon, ginger, coconut, graham cracker crumbs, eggs and milk ... then and only then is it submerged into grease until a crunchy golden brown. As if that isn't enough, Fernie serves the fried fruit drizzled in raspberry sauce and sprinkled with streusel topping before adding the final accoutrement, a dollop of whipped cream. This goodness is bound to leave one satisfied, but surely listless. Maybe that's just me.
The final entry may be the most interesting, culinarily speaking. Shirley Weiss is hollowing out cherry peppers and stuffing them with spicy shredded chicken and guacamole and dubbing them Green Goblins. It is, of course, then battered and fried. Weiss serves three peppers to a skewer and tops the "goblins" with queso. Yummy.
So, how should you go about making your way through the food court? Pereira suggests not going from stand to stand stuffing everything you can into your maw, but by sampling only a few items one at a time.
"It is important to eat normally leading up to the trip to the fair. If you save yourself all day, you set yourself up for eating too fast and too much," Pereira said. "Pick out one or two of your favorite fair foods and stick with those to avoid a major binge."
Gotcha. Pork Chips and Green Goblins anyone?
Perhaps as equally important, Pereira said to keep guilt out of your eating.
"The important thing to remember is these fair foods are once a year, and unlikely to cause any real issues (much like Thanksgiving). It's not helpful to demonize these foods. If you know you are going to eat something you really enjoy, then be sure to eat it slowly and savor it," Pereira said. "Guilt will only make you eat faster without really tasting the food, and you usually end up eating more."
With the blessings of our dietitian, maybe I'll try the Fried Butter as well.
Two winners will be chosen on Labor Day in the Best Taste and Most Creative categories. Which entries do you think deserve to win? Put your answer in the comments below. Learn more from Jennifer Pereira at her Web site, healthylifestylebalance.com. Bon appetit!