I’m not kidding you. A corn dog saved my life. You can read the whole story here, but for those who like to cut to the chase: I was living in Dallas for the summer about a million years ago, when all my plans fell through. Jobless and near penniless, I suddenly had to economize, which meant the only thing I could afford to eat were corn dogs until the woman who was subletting my New York City apartment left and I could return home.
Perhaps because of my enduring gratitude to the cornmeal-coated and deep-fried beef-product on a stick, I have a fondness for fair foods. So here are a few of my favorite recipes—all ready for the home kitchen. And, yes, I know I’m offering a preponderance of fried foods. But look at it this way: How often does your town or state fair roll around? Once a year, right? Well, that’s about how often you should eat these. Problem solved.
1. Mini Funnel Cakes Say hello to the reigning queen of national fairgrounds. From east to west, north to south, funnel cakes are sweet, crispy crack for kids and adults alike. This recipe is made with flour, sugar, milk, lemon, egg, and the oil of your choice—I prefer peanut—so no chance of strange trans fats lurking here. And this recipe is so good, you’ll have a line at your stove—just like at the fair.
2. Lemon Ice Lucinda Scala Quinn writes about this recipe, “A favorite summertime classic found at summer camps and fairgrounds, on street corners, and at Popsicle stands, this frozen treat has a texture somewhere between an ice pop and sorbet, achieved by pureeing the ice crystals after they’ve formed. It’s cool and bracingly refreshing.” I’m not sure I can add anything else.
3. Corn Dogs (top) Growing up, I never had a corn dog—never even heard of them. There weren’t exactly a lot of country western fairs in my heavily Portuguese-inflected corner of New England. And although I certainly had my fill while living in Dallas, no frozen or fair dog can match what you can make at home. In these days of deeply divided families (I’m talking carnivores versus porkaholics versus vegetarians), it’s easy to satisfy everyone. Simply stick an all-beef or all-pork or beef-and-pork or turkey or veggie dog on a stick, batter it, and fry away.
4. Clam Shack-Style Fried Clams When I was a kid, my extended family would pile into a caravan of cars and head out to Macray’s on Route 6 in Westport, MA, for fried clams, clam cakes, and french fries. But not just any fried clams. I’m talking sweet, big-bellied fried clams. “Go big bellies or go home,” was our personal mantra. Being several hours away from the Massachusetts coast these days, I came up with this recipe, which comes very close to the original. For true fried-clam connoisseurs for whom nothing but clam-shack bivalves will do, I wrote an article for the New York Times on New England’s fried clam trail. Study it and make it your next vacation. Trust me, you’ll love it so much you’ll name your son and/or daughter after me.
5. Caramel Popcorn Move over Cracker Jack—there’s a new snack in town. This wicked easy recipe for caramel popcorn is the ultimate customizable snack. For instance, you can double the ratio of caramel to corn and drop in honey-glazed peanuts if you wish. Or if the mood strikes you, how about cashews or pecans or almonds? Make the kids squeal by picking up some red and white popcorn boxes. (Note: Midway not included.)
6. Chicago Hot Dogs Second City hot dogs play second fiddle to nothing. And this recipe would never, ever mess with perfection. First you start with a Chicago red hot dog (if you can’t find these at your local store, simmer the hot dogs with a beet), nestle it in a poppy seed bun, top with authentic bright-green relish, and sprinkle it with celery salt. And don’t ever let a Chicago hot dog lover catch you using ketchup. You might get slapped all the way to the Heinz factory in Pittsburgh, PA. If this all seems too daunting, just do what I did: buy your own hot dog kit.
7. New York Egg Creams Forgive me, egg cream fanatics (and you know who you are). I’ve taken a bit of liberty here with the classic recipe. Of course, it calls for milk and seltzer (for the uninitiated, there is neither egg nor cream in an egg cream) and chocolate sauce and simple syrup. They give the drink a richer mouthfeel and deeper flavor. But if you’re jonesing for the original, nix the sauce and syrup and use Fox’s u-bet Chocolate Syrup. Either way, this cool quaff will have you thinking city block parties, old-timey drug stores, and outdoor festivals in Central Park.
Until next week,