Sunday, August 12, 2012

The State Fair, or How to Find the Perfect Corn Dog (Maybe).

After commenting on a friend's facebook post asking who was going to the state fair and why, I realized I had completely surpassed the reasonable limit for a facebook comment and then some.  I am reposting that comment in it's entirety here.  In retrospect, my first answer to the question was probably sufficient.  "I'm going because the state fair is awesome!"  But after letting that percolate in my mind for a couple days, I just couldn't let it be.  Why is the state fair awesome?  And so I unleashed the below.  Reprinted in unedited form, although I added pics.


Ok, I didn't have time to expand earlier, but here's why the state fair is awesome.

#1) Chicken Barn - This is the most fantastical place at the state fair. There are so many varieties of chickens. Brown Chickens, White Chickens, Black C
hickens, Blue Chickens, Red Chickens. Not only are there rows upon rows of chickens, every single last one of them is pissed off. Particularly the roosters, and they want you to know it. Once you get past the glory of the chickens, there are the duck, duck, goose, pheasant, rabbit, and other magical creatures. I particularly like the rabbits (I don't know what kind, but I think they might be Hungarian) that have floppy ears and are about the size of a medium sized dog. You see it in the cage from a distance and say Holy *EXPLETIVE*, What the *MORE EXPLETIVES* is that? It doesn't look like anything you've ever imagined a rabbit to look like. It's monstrous, and yet furry and gentle. If you have no other reason to go to the state fair, the chicken barn alone is worth the price of admission.

#2) Corn Dog Perfection - You can't walk 10 steps at the state fair without passing a corn dog stand. And there is nothing better than a corn dog at the state fair. Except, and listen to this carefully, most corn dogs you find at the state fair are completely, absolutely wretched. You will hate yourself immediately upon the first bite. Unless you find corn dog perfection. I allow myself one corndog a year, and the stakes could not be higher. I either win big, or go home disappointed and quite possibly severely immuno-compromised. Here's a couple hints on what to look for:

a) Are the corn dogs in the frier, sticks up, or are they sitting under a heat lamp? If it's the latter, keep on going. Corn dogs don't get better the longer they sit. If no one wanted that dog enough to snatch it right out of the frier, you don't want it either. If they are busy frying up corn dogs and customers are buying them as soon as they pull them from the frier, you may have a winner. But first, take a little more time to inspect.

b) Check out the dogs before they are dipped. Are they a nice dark reddish-brown color? Do they look like a hot dog you'd be happy to grill up and put on a bun? That's good. Are they grey and slimy? Probably best to keep on walking.

c) Batter consistency check: When the dip the dog and pull it out, do you see a couple bits of batter drip back down, or does the batter hold on to that dog like cement? You want a nice light batter, relatively thin coating, and bubbles you can see. If the batter looks like paste, it's not going to get any lighter when it cooks. Stay away. If the operator has to keep rotating the dog between the batter dip and hot oil submersion to keep a nice even coating, youshould start to get interested.

d) How are condiments for the corn dog made available? Are they outside the window where you can apply them yourself or do they ask what you want and make it to order? It may not seem obvious, but the answer here is that you're looking for an operator who applies your condiments for you. Typically with a stick or a brush. When you get a corndog, you want ketchup and mustard. As soon as that dog gets pulled out of the oil, ketchup should be applied. At this point, it's still hot enough to caramelize the ketchup just a little bit. Then mustard goes on the other side while still sizzling hot, evaporating some of the water and concentrating the vinegar kick.

All this, and there's still one factor that's hard to spot that can ruin an otherwise good corn dog. Time and temperature. Even if everything else is right on, if the oil is too hot, as so often happen, you'll have a great looking corn dog on the outside, but when you bite into it, there's no hot dog in the core. Instead, you've got a cold dog, or mildly warm dog. Worse yet, uncooked batter. This seems unfortunate at the moment, yet so much worse the next day. Good luck and happy hunting!

#3) The Pork Pavillion (Illinois) / Wisconsin Products Pavillion (Wisconsin): This is where you go when you're ready to eat. And let's be honest, that's the main fair activity for most of us. The pork pavillion offers a pork chop sandwich. It seems so simple, and yet so good. It's also home to the prairie farms ice cream stand. I don't know why, but this ice cream is really, really delicious. Get the peach. In the Wisconsin pavillion you have even more choices. Apple cider donuts, honey ice cream (also at the ISF, but harder to find), buffalo burritos or lamb sandwich, baked potatoes. You can't have it all, so take your time and choose wisely. Share with your friends and family, to try as wide a selection as possible.

#4) The Milk Barn: In Wisconsin you can get 25 cent glasses of milk. White milk, chocolate milk, strawberry milk, raspberry milk, cherry vanilla milk, root beer milk. Ice cold delicious milk. I can't even drink milk, and yet I do. In Illinois, you actually have to milk a cow. Milk it and you get a choice of milk or ice cream sandwich. When I was a kid we really milked that cow. We'd go back again and again. There's cheap dairy goodness to be had in the milk barn.

#5) Butter Cow. Cow made from butter. Whoever came up with this concept was a genius.