Done properly, Deep-Fried Food should not be greasy. Food has moisture in it. As the heat hits it, the food steams, and the moisture in the steam pushes out, repelling the oil it is frying in. If the food is in the oil too long, then most of the moisture will have made its way out, and oil can get in. Oil can also get into the food if the oil is not hot enough to create the moisture pressure. Consequently, most food is deep fried between 345 to 375 F (175 to 190 C.)
Very often, food is battered or breaded before deep frying. This doesn’t apply to perhaps the most common deep-fried food item, French Fries (aka chips in the UK), as the potato has enough starch in it already to form a seal on the surface.
Common, everyday Deep-Fried Foods in North America, and the UK, are doughnuts, French fries, fish and chips, onion rings and fried chicken. Since the 1980s, calamari and falafel have been pushing their way into the “frequent” range on many people’s radar in urban areas.
Deep-Fried Foods in Western cooking is very much about the novelty now. Since the 1940s, there has been a slowly increasing trend of trying to find other foods to deep fry. It might have started with wieners, when corn dogs became popularized starting in the 1940s. But it was in the 1990s that the trend increased, started perhaps in Glasgow, Scotland, to turn Deep-Fried Foods into a dare show: to see how unhealthy you can make it and dare people to eat it.
The Big Tex Choice Awards competition, started in 2005 at the Texas State Fair is now, arguably, the focus now of the Deep-Fried Foods world, outdoing even Scotland.
The Texas State Fair was no stranger to Deep-Fried Foods. Deep-fried chicken was sold there right at the start in 1886, being sold by organizations and church groups as a fund raiser. The State Fair says the corn dog originated there in 1942, but every food historian has dismissed that claim.
For the Big Tex Choice Awards, all food vendors that year are invited to enter a submission to compete. The submissions are reviewed and the list of competitors narrowed down. In 2010, there were 28 people competing (out of 61 submissions), which was then further narrowed down to 8 finalists. For the competition, the food doesn’t have to be deep-fried, but that’s encouraged, and the winners have always been Deep-Fried Foods. The application says ‘Special consideration given to fried foods and on-a-stick.’
The judging is done on Labour Day, before the fair opens, by a panel of judges (in 2010 there were 3.) The winner gets a bobble-head Big Tex trophy to put out at their stand, which is sure to draw lineups from dusk to dawn to their stands for the three weeks of the fair.
The Deep-Fried Foods presented in the competition usually show up the next year in other State and County Fairs.
In 2009, Oprah Winfrey visted the fair and after all the fried food, said she was going to have salad for the rest of the week.
There are the winners to date of the Big Tex Choice Awards at the Texas State Fair, from 2005 to 2010:
- 2005 Most Creative — Viva Las Vegas Fried Ice Cream (by ?)
- 2005 Best Taste — Deep-Fried PB, Jelly and Banana Sandwich (Abel Gonzales Jr)
- 2006 Most Creative — Deep-Fried Coke (Abel Gonzales Jr)
- 2006 Best Taste — Deep-Fried Praline Perfection (Shirley London)
- 2007 Most Creative — Deep-Fried Latte (Jake and Michael Levy)
- 2007 Best Taste — Texas Fried Cookie Dough (Abel Gonzales Jr)
- 2008 Most Creative — Deep-Fried Banana Split (Julio Torres)
- 2008 Best Taste — Chicken Fried Bacon (Glenn Kusak)
- 2009 Most Creative — Deep-Fried Butter (Abel Gonzales Jr)
- 2009 Best Taste — Deep-Fried Peaches & Cream (Christi Erpillo)
- 2010 Most Creative — Deep-Fried Beer (Mark Zable)
- 2010 Best Taste — Deep-Fried Frito Pie (Nick Bert)
In 2007, the Indiana State Fair became the first State fair to require food vendors to deep fry with trans-fat-free oil.
Deep-Fried Foods are almost always served piping hot. Notable exceptions are desserts such as doughnuts, buenellos, etc.
Being able to make Deep-Fried Foods might require people dumb enough to eat them (like most of us).
It actually does, though, require a fair bit of technological savvy. The culture needs to have acquired grinding wheels moving with a circular motion, in order to reduce seeds, nuts or fruits like olives to oil (to and fro grinding motions won’t really do it.)
The ancient Greeks began frying foods in olive oil sometime around or after the 5th century BC. Frying foods in oil was common in Rome, certainly by the 1st century AD. Olive oil was mostly used, as it was plentiful. The Roman word was “frigere.”
Later, the Arabs came to use both olive oil, and refined sheep tail fat.
Japan makes tempura, since at least the 1600s, and deep fries tofu pieces (called “Atsuage.”)
Laussade, Alice. The 2010 Big Tex Choice Awards Fries Up A New Batch of Artery-Clogging Eats, Beckoning State Fair-goers To Come And Get Their Grease On. Dallas Observer News. 16 September 2010.