Frying Ho Hos with Betty G

Exploring new frontiers in deep-fried food.

Ever since humans first discovered that chicken wings taste delicious when thrown into bubbling oil, people have been throwing crap into great cauldrons of oil and hoping that something good comes out.

Of course, most of the good ideas were taken long ago. All the vegetables and fish ever harvested have been battered up and kissed by hot grease. Deep-fried turkey, once considered an exotic staple of grease-lovin’ hillbillies, is now de rigueur for Thanksgiving. Still, it took a taste of the glorious deep-fried Twinkie — gently drizzled with chocolate or raspberry sauce, then finished off with a large squirt of Reddi-wip — to point how much we remain limited by our own paltry imaginations. After all, the relatively recent discovery of the deep-fried Snickers bar has been considered a culinary breakthrough — even in Scotland, the country that brought us haggis and oatmeal.

Food Fetish recently called together a group of bold culinary pioneers to discover what else would benefit from frying. Food Fetish, Jeff, Kelli, Linda, Michelle, Missy, and Rosey said they were up to the challenge of discovering the next deep-fried Twinkie, and Roy offered to host the experiment.

Going to the store took about a million years, mainly because it was difficult to choose what to fry. Michelle wanted to batter and deep-fry a mess of ribs. Kelli confessed that she had always wanted to deep-fry a Vienna sausage — or, especially, LifeSavers. Missy imagined that marshmallows would be good. Someone else asked, “Why doesn’t somebody get one of those gross McGriddle cakes and throw one of those in the fryer?” Roy thought frozen White Castle burgers would be better, explaining, “They’re frozen so they’ll hold the batter better.” Bacon was discussed. So was butter. And in the rush to be original, even the obvious was suggested. “What about … deep-frying potatoes?” Rosey yelled. She was forgiven, because she is only eleven.

In an effort to duplicate the success that others have found with Twinkies, we added another Hostess snack cake, Ho Hos, to our cart. And also cheesecake, which several of us thought might actually taste good. Ditto deep-fried garlic. Spicy beef jerky also made the cut, along with pâté, marshmallows, frozen lasagna, Gummi Worms, Vienna sausages, and White Castle cheeseburgers, not to mention grapes and apples, which were chosen because someone had expressed a perverse desire to “corrupt” them. Of course, a big-ass container of Crisco and a box of Bisquick were essential ingredients. And for cleansing the palate, club soda and lemons.

The grossest and most revolutionary idea that someone (okay, Food Fetish) thought of was to take a corn dog, wrap a piece of bologna around it, batter it, and then dunk it in the bubbling cauldron. It would either be great or disgusting. In the hope that it would be the former, a family-sized box of chicken corn dogs was selected. Peanut butter, LifeSavers, bacon, and ribs were forgotten solely because someone (okay, Food Fetish) neglected to add them to the list.

Once back in Roy’s small but tastefully furnished apartment, the groceries were unpacked and the Betty G was plugged in. The Betty G is the brand name of a 1950s deep fryer that Food Fetish had donated to the cause. Found at a garage sale, Betty had a mean-looking frayed black cord that no one wanted to touch and lots of caked-on grease stains stubbornly impervious to SOS pads and water. She had seen a lot of action in her day: Greasy donuts, fried chicken, onion rings, and possibly even a fancy croquette or two had at one time or another landed in the Betty G. Crisco was poured into her chrome belly. In a matter of minutes, she was happily making an evil spitting noise.

Roy had taken several trash bags and carefully tacked them up around the kitchen as a sort of homemade splatter guard. Food Fetish picked up a second deep fryer for the savories. Soon a ’70s-era Fry-All was bubbling away in unison with Betty G. But using the word “savory” to describe a refried corn dog with a piece of bologna tied around it was optimistic, to say the least.

In homage to the Twinkie, the first item battered and thrown into the fryer was a chocolate Hostess Ho Ho. Food Fetish held it down with a pair of tongs and it sizzled as it surrendered to the oil. Deprived as teenagers from working at McDonald’s or Jack in the Box, Food Fetish and Michelle stared into the boiling oil with admiration and fear. Food Fetish pulled the defeated snack cake out of the churning liquid.

“Oh, how fun,” she squealed.

The Ho Ho was laid out on a bed of paper towels. Michelle, Rosey, and Food Fetish waited impatiently for the Brawny to do its job and absorb the grease. Finally it was time. Food Fetish took the first, tentative bite.

“How is it?” Michelle asked.

“Damn, that fried Ho Ho is delicious,” she exclaimed. Food Fetish and Rosey high-fived and jumped for joy. Kelli and Linda each had a small bite and agreed that it was “excellent,” before rushing off to another appointment that they pretended was more important. “Oh, well. That just means more Vienna sausages for us,” Food Fetish crowed.

The next item up was Roy’s invention, a frozen White Castle cheeseburger. After a bath in Bisquick and then a few minutes in the fryer, the tiny square cheeseburger was cut in half. You wouldn’t think so, but it was a crispy, delicious discovery.

Now the ball was rolling. Garlic was fried and proclaimed awesome. Everyone loved the deep-fried jerky. Take a marshmallow, stuff a piece of chocolate in it, and stick it in the fryer for a few seconds, and voilà; it’s almost as good as a S’more. The apples and grapes were better deep-fried. Who needs vitamins, anyway?

Gummi Worms, on the other hand, were a sad gooey failure. The refried corn dog wrapped in bologna was a huge smelly disaster that tasted horrid, according to Food Fetish, the only test subject brave enough to actually taste the disgusting mess, which looked like a piece of dog poo when it finally emerged from the fryer. “If you saw that thing laying on the sidewalk, you’d cross the street to avoid it,” Jeff said.

After about an hour of this, the little apartment started to reek. The moisturizing properties of the oil had settled into everyone’s pores, not to mention the drapes and the furniture. A few participants got giddy and started pulling random stuff out of Roy’s refrigerator. Olives stuffed with blue cheese were thrown in the Fry-All. Someone threw in a lemon, just for the hell of it. Capers were considered and then discarded as too small.

After two hours, a grouchy Roy asked, “How much longer is this going to last?” Jeff sat on the couch and peered into the greasy fog. Rosey breathed shallowly on the chaise longue. But there was still so much to fry, including lasagna, cheesecake, and the egg Michelle was boiling.

“I really can’t stand much more of this,” Roy sighed. “I think I’m over this experiment.”

Michelle begged, “Just wait until after I deep-fry this hard-boiled egg.”

Jeff observed: “It smells like an old man’s bar.” By now, this was true; Roy’s apartment smelled like a greasy old bar, specifically, the Kerry House, a charming Piedmont Avenue dive bar known for smelling of old men and grease.

Michelle dunked the egg in Bisquick and threw it into the Betty. After about a minute, she pulled it out and cut it into quarters.

It reeked.

“You go first,” Food Fetish taunted.

Michelle took a nibble of the egg and made a horrible face. Food Fetish tasted a small part of the egg white and quickly threw the offensive-tasting thing into the trash.

“That’s the most horrible thing I’ve ever eaten,” we said in unison.

“Okay,” Roy ordered. “Unplug the fryers.”

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