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August 26, 2016

Bring State Fair Flair to Your Menu

State_fair2By: Piet E. Jones

Summer is winding down and there is something in the air. Well, yes, the kids are getting ready to return to school but there’s also something else. The smells are familiar. A little greasy. Something sweet hangs in the air along with some… more earthy smells… 

Yep, it’s time State Fair time again.

The sights and smells of county and state fairs are ingrained into most American’s childhood memories and even if your patrons are no longer the fair going type, there’s much that can be done to play off this seasonal nostalgia. Play up the theme. Pull out a few blue ribbons and celebrate the local foods that make your region great.

Jams and jellies made from fresh, local produce are obvious choices but, excepting breakfast, can be a bit challenging to integrate onto a menu. Try pairing them with good, local cheeses to create a cheese plate to maximize regional pride. Fresh goat cheese is a perfect complement for that strawberry preserve. And an aged Manchego, made from sheep’s milk, is a perfect pair for blueberry jam. Try pear jam to counter heavy gorgonzola. For more visually stunning presentation, pressure can the pears in halves or quarters, then simply fan them out on the plate. Then there’s fig jam, perfect for nearly any cheese that’s hanging out in the walk-in.

State_fair1One often overlooked piece of produce that is extremely versatile when jellied is peppers. Hot or sweet, pepper jelly can be used for anything from a spread to a dip to a glaze. Want to paint chicken wings with hot pepper jelly?  Perfect. Mix your spicy jelly with maple syrup to elevate that chicken and waffle dish. Or just put out jars of it with crackers at your bar to help spur patrons to order another round of drinks to quench their thirst.

Pickles and relishes are another way to take advantage of the bounty from the summer. Hot water bath and pressure canning are great for longterm storage, but to really show off the freshness, try cold process pickling using a brine. The term cold process is a bit of a misnomer since you do heat up the brine before pouring it on the vegetable, leaving your pickles bright and crispy. And don’t restrict yourself to pickling cucumbers. Everything from cauliflower to carrots and onions can be cold process pickled, and don’t forget to add fresh aromatic herbs and spices to make your giardiniera unique. Your distinctive flavor combination can be taken a step further by pickling in pint or half-pint jars for the perfect table presentation. Just choose the jar to match your produce. For example, a tall thin jar will make those perfectly arranged green beans with a little spicy pepper visually stunning.

State Fairs food also celebrates indulgence and fryers play a huge part in that excess. You might not want to eat a huge piece of fried mac n’ cheese every day, but every now and then won’t kill you. Corn dogs, another fair favorite, can easily be manipulated to stand out. Replace the cornbread coating with pancake batter and swap the frankfurter for breakfast sausage at brunch. Wrap bratwursts in pretzel dough, sprinkle with kosher salt after frying and serve with a spicy mustard—don’t forget to pair with a beer flight of local craft beers. Or you can go over the top and use a lobster tail for a truly decadent corn dog.

State_fair3Fryers also get the nod for creating all manners of dessert. Who doesn’t love a good funnel cake? A citrus batter or even red velvet will get your customers talking. But why stop there?  A state fair theme gives you free rein to drop nearly anything into the fryer. Twinkie, candy bars,  cheesecake, and if you don’t think it’s extreme enough, sprinkle some bacon on top.

State Fair food evokes all sorts of memories. It’s only on the rarest occasions that prize-winning produce alongside gut-busting fast food makes perfect sense. Of course, those beautiful canned preserves were rarely offered for sampling, which left you with standing in line for sustenance prepared by itinerant circus folk who probably skipped all those safety courses you actually attended. Fair food doesn’t, however, have to be inaccessible, mediocre and possibly dangerous. Let your customers avoid the hoi polloi so they can enjoy the tastes and fun of the State Fair in more comfortable surroundings.

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