Backstory: If you can think of it, he can deep fry it
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Doughnuts, hush puppies, and funnel cakes date back to the Middle Ages and form "the cornerstones" of deep-fried food, Ms. Olver continues. (It hadn't occurred to me that deep-fried food could have cornerstones.) She also attributes the relatively recent rise in the popularity of deep-fried foods to kitchen luminary – and possibly the tidiest deep-fryer in the world – Martha Stewart.Skip to next paragraph
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"She popularized an old Cajun recipe, deep-fried turkey," says Olver, "which sparked something of a cottage industry at well-heeled cookware shops in deep fryers."
Tony kitchens the likes of Ms. Stewart's are generally not, however, the hot spot of deep-fried action. Actually, the locus is fairs – state and county ones – where people are seeking a thrill, even in their snack food.
"Some things you just never eat in any other venue," says Olver, pointing out that a deep-fried Twinkie ora "Texas donut," that beloved confection up-sized to the circumference of a steering wheel, probably wouldn't do well in a restaurant. Probably not.
According to Olver, extreme deep-fried food only evolved – if that's the right word – in the '90s. Deep-fried candy bars and tacos put it on the culinary map in 1999. These were quickly followed by pretzels, cheesecake, Coke (fried batter made with the soda), and in Tennessee, a once-in-every-17-years event – cicadas.
Charlie Boghosian was a natural for this world, possessing as he does the twin passions of deep-frying and experimentation. That's why I have sought him out today at his trailer kitchen, parked directly across from the grandstand at the L.A. County Fair, naturally. I purchased the most saccharine and appalling ingredients I could think of, getting consultation from my own personal experts, the kids. Here's what we got: Pop-Tarts, refried beans (what could be better than deep-fried refried beans?) sour gummi worms, sushi, an energy bar, chocolate chip cookie dough, mung bean sprouts, vanilla yogurt with M&M's, bloodberry flavor Count Wonkula Donutz Candy (that unfortunately was DOA, having liquefied in the California sun before it ever had a chance at glory in the fryer).
Boghosian passes his hands over each of the ingredients, murmuring approvingly. He snaps up the yogurt, moments later flashing on the idea of adding the gummi worms. Within minutes, he's plating balls of deep-fried vanilla yogurt. He quickly moves on to the sushi, then the chocolate chip cookie dough. He finishes with the Pop-Tarts, which he covers with a bit of strawberry jam (the effect: a nuclear attack made of sucrose).
"You can deep-fry almost anything," explains Boghosian, as if this point needs stating by now. "The secret to making it good is all in the batter." But he declines to elaborate further, citing the 300 vendors around him who would like to know his secret.
Good news, though – in case you were thinking of trying this at home, Boghosian is compiling a cookbook. Its title is also a secret, but you can bet dollars to doughnuts – big doughnuts stuffed with just about anything – it'll be low in cost, high in calories, and squeamishly pleasing like a good horror movie.
What's next in extreme deep-fried foods is hard to imagine, and perhaps better left unimagined. But you might want to keep your defritum handy, and rest easy knowing that even as you read this, some of the most inventive minds in America are already heating up their oil.