Crazy for Fried Foods from the State Fair

If a year were a roller coaster, now would be that bit right before the big drop; a steady uphill chug and then, whoosh! Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and before you know it, bam, the ride’s over and it’s a new year. But even though Macy’s has already hung some tinsel, I am staying squarely in the moment and celebrating the unofficial holiday of early fall, State Fair Season.

There’s so much to love about this nondenominational tradition. Sheep shearing demos, blue ribbon bake-offs, prize winning poultry, a full-scale Jersey cow carved entirely out of butter and, at the very top of the list, the unabashed consumption of fried food.

To my recollection, french fries, fried dough and funnel cakes were about all that emerged, crisp and golden, from the make-shift carts. I certainly wasn’t complaining about the limited selection, but along the way someone must have wanted to expand the field of frying (or they simply thought, ‘fried Twinkies, what could be bad?’).

Today there is such an unlikely array of deep-fried delicacies that items like fried Oreos and even fried butter, seem ordinary. At “New England’s Great State Fair” you can find fried jellybeans, fried butter balls and, inexplicably, fried Kool-Aid.

To prove that frying outside the box has become mainstream, a recent TODAY Show segment featured professional state fair fry man, Abel Gonzales, attempting some novel fried creations based on the suggestions of the hosts (Savannah Guthrie’s vote for fried fruit salad was the big winner).

But what I found most riveting was Mr. Gonzales’ description of his livelihood. The “Deep Fry King” only works during state fair season, which means that in three weeks of frying, he earns enough money to take the rest of the year off. Truly inspirational stuff.

Bitten by the freaky frying bug and unable to get far enough away from a major city to attend one of the quintessentially country State Fairs, I got to frying up some of my own creations.

The fried pizza bites (recipe below) started with the same friend’s craving for beignets and an under-stocked pantry. Assuming that active dry yeast and all-purpose flour would do, we trolled through beignet recipes, but only found those calling either for rapid rise yeast or bread flour.

Exasperated and in no mood for a misadventure in deep frying (messy, very messy) I was ready to throw in the kitchen towel when my wise friend, determined to have a fresh beignet for breakfast, exclaimed, “They had to be able to make beignet before rapid rise yeast and bread flour!” How true. If there were cookies before KitchenAids, then darn it, there would have been beignets without bread flour.

As it turned out, the dough, which reminded me of a rich, just barely sweetened version of pizza dough, was so tasty and behaved so politely in the fryer, I figured why not stuff it with cheese and sauce and see if it floats?

The results? Let’s just say that these babies could buy me a very long vacation. Look for me next year at a State Fair near you.

Fried Pizza Bites

Makes about 1 1/2 dozen

1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees F)
3/4 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
Vegetable oil, for deep frying
18 ½-inch cubes Cheddar cheese
1/3 cup marinara sauce, plus more for dipping

  1. In a glass bowl or measuring cup, stir the yeast into the warm water and let stand 5 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, stir to combine the yeast mixture with the evaporated milk, sugar, salt and egg. Gradually stir in the flour to form a soft dough. Cover and chill for 8 hours.
  3. When ready to fry, pour oil into a heavy-bottomed pot to a depth of 3 inches and heat over medium-high until the oil reaches 375 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer.
  4. Meanwhile, on a well-floured surface, roll out dough into a ¼-inch-thick rectangle then cut into 4-inch squares. (Note- You can also stretch the dough by hand a bit. It doesn’t need to be a perfect rectangle or perfect squares, just large enough to fold in half over a cheese cube. This dough is so forgiving, they will be beautiful no matter how irregular!) Place a scant teaspoon of marinara and a cheese cube in the center of a dough piece, fold over and press edges firmly to seal. Make sure sauce is completely encased in the dough; moisture will cause oil to spatter. Repeat with remaining dough, sauce and cheese.
  5. Fry pizza bites in batches of 3 or 4, until deep golden on both sides, about 2 minutes total. Drain on paper towels. Serve hot with warm marinara for dipping.

Caution: Be very careful when deep frying to avoid getting spattered with hot oil.

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Posted: Oct 3rd by Katie_Barreira