Making Fair Fare at Home (and maybe a little more healthy)

Summer fairs are the best, aren’t they? The animals (and their adorable names), the rides, the displays of 4-H projects, the pie and jam judging and oh yes, the food! Don’t worry, this is one of those times when I think we can all let ourselves off the hook and eat whatever fried or sugary treat we enjoy most and not worry about it! It’s not like we go to the fair every week, right? I save fried dough for my once-a-year fair visit and I enjoy every morsel, thank you.

Still, it might be fun to make some fair food at home—especially if you aren’t around for the fair or can’t get there this year. Also, if you make a more healthful version of your favorite fair food, you could have it more often, right? I have to admit, however, that most (if not all) recipes for fair food won’t meet the nutritional guidelines for Guiding Stars recipes—that’s a shocker, I know—so I’m not linking to any of our own recipes. I’m also not going to tell you that the recipes I have provided are super healthy. Instead, I’ll give you a few strategies, some general guidance and a few example recipes. Enjoy.

Grilled Corn with Lime Butter
Corn on the cob is a classic summer fair treat you can make at home…and still enjoy great nutrition.

Make it Crunchy

Many fair faves are deep-fried, crunchy, hot and salty. Hello onion rings and fried pickles! The basic fix is to bake these things, but to do so without sacrificing the crunchy goodness—you know, the best part. Here I’ve described the steps involved, though not all recipes you’ll find call for all of these steps (I just want you to be thoroughly briefed just in case):

  1. Coat the food in something to make it a bit sticky. Onion rings and the like usually involve coating the rings in a batter (often made with buttermilk, egg and seasonings), and some lightened versions do still use that technique. Non-batter versions of things like fried pickles use a simple egg wash made of beaten egg mixed with a little water. As long as the resulting product is sticky, it’s fine.
  2. Once battered or egg-washed, the food is dredged in a crunchy coating—this is a crucial step because this is what gives the crunch factor. What to make the crunchy coating out of? I’ve seen crushed potato chips mixed with crushed saltine crackers used, panko crumbs (my favorite—available in whole wheat if you like), regular commercial breadcrumbs, even crushed cereals of various types (crispy rice cereal, high fiber cereal, too).
  3. Let the coated food air dry for a little while by placing the coated items on a cooling rack (or some other slotted pan that will allow air to get around the food).
  4. Finally, place the food on a parchment-lined baking sheet and spray each piece lightly with olive oil spray—it gives a little extra browning and crunch that makes the finished product seem more “fried.” Check out a recipe here and here. (Again, I’m not pretending these are super healthy, but they are a notch better for you than what you get at the fair—and still really tasty!)

Dodge the Deep Fry

Hot doughy things that are deep fried are a gift to humanity, but deep frying at home is something I don’t want to get involved in (the mess, the large amount of leftover oil, etc). Baking these creations instead is a good sub, as you automatically lose a good amount of fat and calories from doing so. Again, it doesn’t make them “health food” or anything, but in a pinch (and lacking an actual fair or carnival) the baked versions will do quite nicely to satisfy a craving. Here are some recipes for baked churros, baked mini-doughnuts and baked funnel cakes.

Make it Mini

Some things are hard to duplicate at home and just are begging to be deep fried. My suggestion in those cases would be to go ahead and do it the classic way—just make the portions smaller. You’d be surprised sometimes how just a few bites of something can be so satisfying that you realize you don’t need a whole fair-sized portion. Here are some mini-sized versions of fair favorites you might enjoy: mini corn-dogs and mini fried Twinkie bites (note: I’ve never had a fried Twinkie, but they certainly seem popular, so there you go!).