Texas chef Abel Gonzales picked up his fifth Big Tex Award with this fried jambalaya, which was every bit as good as advertised. A veggie-free, carefully-spiced mix of rice, meat and seafood is bundled into a batter, and somehow each flavor works brilliantly together. The single ball is served up with an onion ring and a squirt of a spicy Ranch. This curious cross between arancini and jambalaya was the undisputed highlight of the fair. It was also one of the most meal-esque fried foods we ate.
Fried Peanut Butter And Jelly Sandwich
An old standby, fried peanut butter and jelly needs little by way of introduction. The thick bread has a pillowy soft texture reminiscent of French Toast, but tastes even better. Peanut butter adds heft, and a generous slather of jelly both inside and outside the sandwich adds sweetness and just enough tartness to balance off the richness of the bread.
Fried Cookie Dough
Chocolate chip cookie dough that's been battered, fried, and topped with powdered sugar (because there just ain't enough sugar already) and chocolate syrup. Offer this to someone and if they say they don't like it, consider calling the authorities because they're clearly a danger to themselves and others.
Fried Frito Pie
Readers unfamiliar with Frito pie deserve an explanation. It's simply chili con carne with Fritos corn chips, shredded cheese, and, optionally, diced white onions. Here, the base trio is blended and fried in batter. This could have gone either way, but it turned out to be a success, tasting almost like a battered, spicy sausage. The mayo-based spicy dip didn't really augment what was already a fine dish, and in fact the winner of the 2010 taste contest.
Fried Mashed Potatoes
…Or, to be precise, fried loaded mashed potatoes. There are tiny specks of cheese, bacon, and chive within these awesome little croquettes, along with a potato purée with a butter content I'd rather not know. The only downside? It was served almost cold. Even the gravy failed to add a bit of heat. If they were hot and fresh, I would have considered a second order.
Fried Pork Ribs
At 20 tickets (that's $10) this was one of the fair's priciest foodstuffs. The nondescript fries added little, but the fried pork rib itself was much better than it looked. The flour-heavy batter looked all dried out, but it offered a peppery crunch against the unspeakably juicy pork within. Although the staff recommended barbecue sauce and hot sauce, the fried pork was best enjoyed on its own.
Fried Bubble Gum
This ridiculous-looking specimen really split the opinions of all who tried it. For the first time that day I broke my two-bite rule, happily taking the bubble gum that others refused. I'm probably still digesting it now, but it was worth it—it melted like a marshmallow and tasted like something Willy Wonka might have vetoed for being too awesome.
If you ever have a picnic consisting entirely of fried chicken, tater tots, and pickles, feel free to invite me along. I'll bring the fryer so we can recreate the fried picnic on a stick, in which the three ingredients are alternated on a skewer, breaded and
gently steamed with broccoli deep-fried. A great contrast of flavors, to be sure, but, beware: the tater tots spilled everywhere on the first bite.
With possibly the best batter of all the fair foods, the fried cheesecake could've potentially been in the running for the best dish of all. However, it just lacked something. The coating was like a pancake fried up by a minor deity, the filling was creamy and tangy...but it was just crying out for a fruit dip or coulis of some kind to add a little tang. It could have been the stuff of legends.
Fried Kool-Aid Balls
These debuted at the fair last year, but now they seem to have run their course. To fry Kool-Aid, the drink first needs to be thickened with flour. This dampens the flavor so much that it ends up turning into an oddly sickly ball of fried goo.
Fried Mac-N-Cheese Slider
I like hamburgers. I like mac and cheese. Their powers combined could be unimaginably good. Instead, the fried mac-n-cheese slider was a careless mess. The mac-n-cheese patty, encased in breadcrumbs, was atop the driest, sorriest burger patty in existence. This was like freeze-dried astronaut food levels of dry. Had this been prepared with a little more care, it could have been something special instead of a disgrace.
Fried Coke. There are perhaps no two words as American, as state fair, as these. But like some other two-word combinations—“friendly fire," say, or “craving Arby's”—they just don't really work out. Fried Coke consisted of non-descript doughnut nuggets, soaked in soda and topped with whipped cream and a cherry.