Pork shots to 'Deep Fried I-35': Ranking 32 new State Fair of Texas food creations
Howdy. They have not run out of foods worth deep frying in Dallas. Thought you would like to know.
The State Fair of Texas will make its grand return Sept. 24, after a year off because of the coronavirus pandemic. Making its own greasy return, too: the fair's Big Tex Choice Awards, a cavalcade of deep-fried and otherwise creative culinary concoctions all vying for top honors in three categories: best savory taste, best sweet taste and most creative.
On Thursday, the fair revealed its 32 semifinalists — 19 savory and 13 sweet.
Sadly, photos of the dishes (a word used generously in some cases and insufficiently in others) won't be available until the contest's final round. So, all we have to go off of when trying to force wild names like "pork shots" and "brisket brittle" into some image legible to the human mind are the colorful descriptions. And our own terrible, wonderful imagination.
Presented here: all of the Big Tex Choice Award semifinalists, ranked in ascending order from "there are not enough Tums in the world" to "I will eat three and then lie about it." For more information on how to attend State Fair of Texas, go to bigtex.com.
32. "Deep Fried Halloween"
Have you ever heard the phrase, "It's a hat on a hat?" When I think of this dessert, I imagine a lone derby sitting on the ground, and then a team of helicopters airlifts an entire Stetson factory over it and releases the cables.
Truly encompassing an entire holiday's worth of sugar, this entry is a large, chewy pretzel (OK, Oktoberfest I guess, sure) that's deep fried, then bathed in candy corn syrup, rainbow sprinkles and powdered sugar. The description continues, saying "now the fun begins," which is certainly self-aware, because the first part did not sound fun. It's piped with orange and white buttercream icing and topped with M&Ms, Reese's Pieces, Mini-Twix, Oreos and candy corn, and then — no, was not done — marshmallow whipped cream, a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, Hershey's chocolate syrup, caramel sauce and candy corn drizzle form the final 30 hats.
I suppose it is very Halloween-y to eat this, die and become a ghost.
31. "Dallas Hot"
I do not like spicy food, so I will probably not consume a smoked turkey frank fried in spicy batter and then topped with mac and cheese, fried jalapeños and Cholula sauce. Points for the mac and cheese; head scratch at using a turkey dog, because the calorie ship has sailed.
30. Frozen ranch water
A Slurpee, but it's tequila, Topo Chico and lime. I would drink it, but for these purposes — yawn.
29. "Texas BBQ Brisket Bánh Mì"
In this sandwich, you get chopped smoked brisket coated in barbecue sauce, with cilantro, cucumber and pickled daikon radish and carrots. I am not sure you can take a familiar food like bánh mì, replace one ingredient and call it a legit Big Tex Choice Awards contender.
28. "Takis Locos"
A dish of Takis Fuego chips are covered in cheese, refried beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, cilantro and serrano pepper. They are honestly just nachos, which seem perfectly fine but too close to a regular party snack. If you want to win this game, you've got to come up with something that sounds like Guy Fieri took ayahuasca.
27. Deep-fried shrimp étouffée
Takes a dumpling, fills it with rice and shrimp, fries it and smothers it in onion, celery, tomatoes, green peppers and cheese. Served with creole mustard or chipotle ranch.
26. "Texas Easter Eggs"
Based on the description, I am still unsure what this is, but I know it's shaped like an egg (but does not contain any actual egg) and involves cheddar cheese, meat, spices, peppers and colorful ranch sauce. A mystery I will bravely volunteer to solve, on the understanding that the meat inside is not, like, eel.
25. Texas-fried surf and turf
Probably tasty, but it's like bringing a yacht to a hot rod show: filet mignon medallions filled with langostino lobster and jalapeño, wrapped in bacon and fried without batter (!), then served with tempura asparagus and horseradish hollandaise sauce. In the time it took me to write that, this dish formed a hedge fund and bought the newspaper I work for.
24. "Hawaiian Luau"
A sandwich of honey mustard slaw, roasted pork, fried Spam, Hawaiian teriyaki sauce and caramelized pineapple rings, all between a soft Hawaiian bun.
23. Country-fried shrimp grits
Here we have taken the humble grit and "infused" it with shrimp in cheese, which to me implies that there is not enough of either inside. Then, the mixture is formed into squares (a strange shape for something normally eaten with a spoon) and battered, fried and covered with shrimp and crawfish sauce. This sounds like polenta that's stealing grits' Social Security number. I would eat it even though I am generally skeptical of shellfish served outside of an air conditioned environ.
22. Deep-fried Ritz
I mean, you could deep fry a Ritz cracker, if you really loved them? Here's a buttery cracker that is layered with strawberry-swirled cream cheese, battered and fried. With chocolate glaze and a cracker-and-powdered sugar crumble on top, it's potentially a mite sweet for moi.
21. Deep-fried seafood gumbo balls
Rounds of Gulf Coast shrimp, stewed chicken, blue crab meat and andouille sausage, fried and served with a side of dark gumbo roux sauce. Topped with chicken fried okra spears.
20. Brisket brittle
What do you think it is? That's what it is.
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19. Deep-fried toffee
A milk chocolate toffee square — a previous Big Tex winner — is wrapped in a flaky biscuit and then takes the hot oil plunge.
18. "Crispy Crazy Corn"
Corn kernels are "individually" battered and fried; I hope not, for the sake of the cook's tendons. Then they get seasonings, pulled pork, pineapple slaw, jalapeño crema and cilantro.
17. Crawfish étouffée-stuffed turkey leg
A slow-smoked turkey leg (classic fair fare) stuffed with crawfish étouffée, served with rice. Probably tastes like how Leif Erikson and Louis Armstrong dropping a collab album would sound.
16. "Deep Fried I-35"
The name suggests something out of an M.C. Escher print. Instead, this is a fried brisket kolache topped with a peach Dr Pepper glaze, peach slices and powdered sugar. The ingredients are inspired by stops along the interstate. Safe; probably delicious.
15. "Lucky Duck Dumplin'"
Cream cheese, duck bacon (where on the duck is that?) and sweet corn get stuffed into a pastry and deep fried. This comes with Thai chili glaze.
14. Deep-fried peach cobbler soul rolls
Peaches "that bathe in butter" (cannot be good for their complexion) and spiced sugar mixture are put into an egg roll and deep fried. The Blue Bell vanilla on top seals it.
13. "Going Bananas"
It's just one banana, Big Tex. How much could you fry it? Just enough! The creators of this one dipped a potassium torpedo in funnel cake batter, and once it came outta the grease, topped it with whip and chocolate and peanut butter sauces. Elegant, as far as these things go!
12. Southern-fried lemon ice box pie balls
Perhaps one of the more inventive monstrosities on the list. Here, a pâte sucrée dough infused with graham crackers, lemon zest and brown sugar is filled with lemon pie filling (secret family recipe) and formed into a ball. They're fried, sprinkled with honey butter powder and confectioner's sugar, then topped with Chantilly cream, lemon graham cracker crumble, lemon zest and gold glitter.
11. Deep-fried pancakes
They're bite-sized and come with your choice of maple butter, fresh blueberry sauce or pecan butter syrup.
10. Texas pumpkin poke cake
Crucially, this is shaped like the Lone Star State, so points awarded there. It's a pumpkin cake with vanilla glaze, caramel, whopped cream and spices.
9. Bacon jam corn bombs
These are hushpuppies — a thing I already know I love, unlike "corn bomb," which brings to mind Robert Oppenheimer encasing plutonium in masa. These are covered in bacon jam and ranch. I would make myself sick eating them too fast.
8. Twice-fried albondigas
The Mexican meatball so nice, they fried it twice. The ball is rolled up with spiced beef, browned rice, chopped veggies and seasonings; then it's put into the sizzler a couple times with bread crumbs and batter at one point. Add the tomato-based sauce, crema and cotija, and I'm gonna learn how to make it myself after I leave.
7. Lobster corn dog
Forget the thing I said about shellfish. I did not know that we were doing lobster corn dogs.
6. "Deep Fried PB & Razbrûlée"
Billed as a marriage of childhood PB&J and adult dinner crème brûlée, I think the actual description sells it better. We're talking a deep-fried peanut butter sandwich topped with thick vanilla creme, a broiled turbinado sugar crunch and mixed berries.
5. Fried toffee coffee crunch cake
This sweet boy sounds like a lot, but in a complementary and state fair-appropriate way. It's sort of a bread pudding of cake doughnuts, toffee morsels, almonds and custard, all fried in a panko and cookie crumb crust. With mocha coffee whipped cream and toffee on top, it would probably land in your gut like a brick, but a very delicious brick.
4. "The Armadillo"
Here at the Austin American States-fair, we show extreme favor to any food that is shaped like an armored animal. This guy is a cookie butter semifreddo ice cream sandwich, drizzled with more cookie butter, and the cookies are shaped like armadillos.
3. Pork shots
Ya take smoked sausage, ya wrap it in hickory-smoked bacon so it makes a lil' bowl type thing, and ya fill it with mac and cheese. I would dither about these not being a shot, really, but am preoccupied with wondering how many I could eat and still receive health insurance.
2. Fried capirotada (Mexican bread pudding)
"Our family matriarch often made this family-favorite dessert," reads the description. Tear down the statue of Big Tex; erect one of this matriarch in its place. This sweet-and-savory bread pudding is layered with a cheese, piloncillo syrup, raisins and spices. It's baked, battered, then fried, with whipped topping, dulce de leche, cinnamon and sprinkles on top.
1. Texas chicken fried steak flauta basket
I renounce all other food. Some saint took a flour tortilla, coated in with tangy sauce, added fried steak fingers, topped it with lettuce/tomatoes/pickles, rolled it up like a burrito and deep fried it. Then ... they put curly fries and ranch dressing in the basket, too. This is not a flauta. This is a tuba.
And it is my family now.