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Deep-fried fun at the L.A. County Fair

September 26, 2010 |  1:00 pm

IMG_0027I don't know about you, but I'm a sucker for fried food. No, I don't eat it all the time, but I'm completely and totally fascinated by some of the ideas people come up with for deep-frying. And I've long been a fan of Chicken Charlie.

In case you haven't heard  of him, Chicken Charlie is famous at county fairs for his fried food menu. The guy fries everything. You name it: White Castle burgers, Oreos, frog legs, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, avocado. Even Klondike bars. And he comes up with a new signature dish every year.

I finally met Charlie a couple weeks ago after giving a cooking demonstration at the L.A. County Fair. Knowing I'd be back the following week for another cooking demonstration, Charlie invited me to hang out afterward so I could check out his operation and see all that deep-fried goodness in action.

Oh -- and he also invited me to bring something along to fry. Sure, it was totally sweet of him, but to be honest, I was more than a little intimidated. What to bring? I mean, this guy has probably fried EVERYTHING....

IMG_0026 At the last minute (read: just hours before), I  finally thought of something: bacon-wrapped dates.

It's a simple appetizer, but I love the combination of flavors  (and the simplicity) of stuffing a date with a chunk of blue cheese and wrapping the whole thing in a piece of bacon. Baked in the oven, they're magical -- crisp bacon, sweet date, and slightly-oozy cheese.

Could it be any better deep-fried?

I brought along a tray of the wrapped dates and met up with Charlie after my demonstration.

We went back to  the kitchen and started experimenting. He brought out a couple batters -- one sweet and one savory -- to dip the dates in before frying. We tried them out.

Both batches were amazing. The sweet batter puffed up around the date and fried to an almost cake-like consistency. The savory batter was nicely spiced and clung tightly to the dates as they fried. Because it was thinner, the savory batter allowed the bacon underneath to get a little more crisp.

While we loved them both, I think the overall winner was the savory batch. Charlie whipped up a quick dipping sauce of sour cream and horseradish, perfectly seasoned with just a little heat.

I don't know if the bacon-wrapped dates will make it on the menu at next year's fair, but I've got my fingers crossed. In the meantime, Charlie mentioned he's working on an upcoming cookbook that should be out soon, so fans can bring his deep-fried fun home on those off-months in between fairs to get our fix.

-- Noelle Carter

Photo credit: Larry Diamond.

L.A. Times Food cooking demonstrations at the L.A. County Fair: Every Thursday this month, the L.A. Times Food section is giving cooking demos at the fair. Catch Food editor Russ Parsons this coming Thursday at the Fair's Culinary Styles stage from 1 to 2 p.m.

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