Tahlequah Daily Press

August 14, 2013

Deep-frying: How about some fat with your fat?

Managing Editor

NEW YORK — When we were in Florida last month at Universal Studios, I intended to swing by the food cart that sells deep-friend Oreos. There’s no way they could compare to the white chocolate fudged-dipped cookies of that same variety, but nevertheless, they caught my interest.

Fortunately for my wallet and my waistline, by the time we made it to the cookie coach, the blinds were drawn and the closed sign hung. Nothing ventured, nothing gained – in terms of pounds.

Being an Okie and accustomed to all things deep-fried, I had to wonder just what the presumed coating consisted of. Did a pimple-faced teenager dredge them in flour, then dip them in an egg-milk mixture before rolling them in ground-up cornflakes? Or was the second go-round a dunk in some sort of batter? Turns out it was a combination: No dredging, but a dip in a batter made of pancake mix, milk and egg, then friend for a few moments in the grease. Sort of like a doughnut with a crunchy surprise in the center.

Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound too appealing when you type it and reread it.

I don’t understand the county fair circuit fascination with all things deep-fried. I don’t think folks from up north get it, either. For sure they don’t on the other side of the big pond. Several years ago, we were visiting my brother in Oxford, England, and took a side trip to Bath. While walking down the quaint main street, we started smelling a peculiar odor and talking about it amongst ourselves, wondering what it was. A nearby Brit who overheard our speculation helpfully supplied the answer: “Oh, that’s the KFC franchise. It’s about five blocks away.”

Here in the states – especially in the southern states – we wouldn’t notice the smell of a line of fry vats percolating from five blocks away. The odor would be mingled with the ones wafting out of the other 20 fast-food joints between here and yon. The only time I notice it myself is on the rare occasion I make my famous buffalo wings, which is about the only time I deep-fry these days. The next morning, the entire house reeks until someone transfers the used oil to a container with a lid. And that doesn’t even begin to address the fine sheen of oil left all over the stove, the cabinets, the floor and the smoke hood, or whatever that contraption above the stove is called.

Okies fry everything. My husband says his grandmother fried green beans in bacon grease. My grandmother did the same thing with cabbage. I remember watching her pick strips of coarsely-shredded cabbage out of it from the skillet while she was stirring and saying, “Mmmm-MMM! I’ll swan, that’s good!” She always had a small bowl of bacon grease on the stove, along with her “pinch-bowl” of salt.

We also do a lot of deep-frying, but in my family, we usually stick to chicken, homemade french fries and beer-batter fish. My mom has been frying beer-batter fish for years, since I was a young teenager. You can imagine the dilemma a staunch Southern Baptist woman faces when trying to cook with an alcoholic beverage.

In those days, my mother wouldn’t be caught dead buying beer in a grocery store, and I’m sure that’s still the case. Someone who knew her might see her, word would get around town, and next thing she knows, her name winds up on the prayer list at First Baptist. There are few things more embarrassing to a Baptist than showing up at church, picking up a bulletin before the service, settling into the pew and spotting your name on the prayer list. You then realize what all the whispers and furtive glances in your direction were about. Clearly you’re not sick or dying, or on your way to the penitentiary after being convicted of a hard-core crime, or you wouldn’t be in church. That leaves only three alternatives: You were buying and/or consuming alcohol, taking drugs, or having illicit sex. Perhaps all three.

I suspect folks who consume too much deep-fried food should be on prayer lists everywhere, because they’re in grave danger of succumbing to clogged arteries, heart attacks, strokes or at least your garden-variety obesity. Anywhere there is an abundance fat overweight folks, there is also an abundance of cast-iron skillets serving as stove-top reservoirs for Crisco.

In recent years, the trend has exploded into a really obscene fetish. The Oreos are only the tip of the iceberg. Remember the deep-fried Twinkie fad several years back? I find that notion offensive if for no other reason than Twinkies are gross, with or without the batter and grease. Criminy, who would want to eat a cupcake with no frosting?

If that doesn’t make you retch, consider the novelty at a county fair a few years ago: deep-fried butter. Its deranged inventors apparently pushed a wooden dowel in one end of a stick of butter, dipped it in batter like a corndog, and lowered it into the fry vat for a few seconds, just to get the melting started. I don’t recall whether any dipping sauces were recommended.

I can’t really think of anything worse, unless someone has thought to dip one of those fly-blown theme park turkey legs into batter and give it a sizzle. That would take the cake - or the Twinkie.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.