On the way home from a family vacation to New Orleans, Clint Probst got the first spark of an idea.
“I wonder if you could deep-fry a shrimp boil?” he said to his wife, Rachael, and two children, as they brainstormed their next creation for the State Fair of Texas.
Indeed, you can, he learned.
On Monday, his Fried Gulf Shrimp Boil earned Best Taste honors in the 10th annual Big Tex Choice Awards for the 2014 State Fair. The dish combines baby gulf shrimp, diced red potatoes, onion, lemon and seasoning, formed around a cocktail shrimp, then dusted, fried and served with remoulade sauce.
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“The very first tasting worked, which is really unusual,” Probst said. “Usually, it’s trial and error and more trial and error. We knew right away we had a winner.”
Award for Most Creative went to Original State Fair Brew — Funnel Cake Ale, an English-style summer ale with notes of natural vanilla that is served with optional powdered sugar coating the cup rim. Creator Justin Martinez said he got the idea at last year’s State Fair when he noticed the rising popularity of craft beer. To perfect the funnel cake ale, he worked with Community Beer Co. in Dallas, which brews the award-winning Mosaic beer.
“We wanted something fun and creative and unusual, but also a great-tasting beer that will appeal to craft beer lovers,” Martinez said. “This has the perfect amount of toastiness and sweetness.”
Fried Gulf Shrimp Boil, the limited-edition beer and other Big Tex finalists will be on sale at the State Fair, which begins Sept. 26 and runs through Oct. 19 at Fair Park in Dallas.
Winners faced tough competition from six other gut-busting finalists, which included Deep Fried Breakfast for Dinner, Fried Sriracha Balls and Deep Fried Texas Bluebonnet, a blueberry muffin stuffed with cream cheese, blueberries and white chocolate, deep-fried and topped with whipped cream, more chocolate, powdered sugar and a blueberry glaze.
Tom Grace, who entered the competition for the first time, came up with the idea for Deep Fried Breakfast for Dinner based on his childhood. Grace stuffed a flour tortilla with eight favorite breakfast items: scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage, bacon, potatoes, ham, onion, cheddar cheese and gooey cinnamon roll bits, then deep-fried it and served it with country gravy, salsa and pico-queso dip.
“A long time ago, I used to get home from school and ask my mom what was for dinner,” Grace said. “She would say breakfast for dinner, and I would shout ‘Yeah.’ That was my favorite dinner.”
Judges included Dallas chef Tiffany Derry, a past Top Chef contestant; Daniel Vaughn, barbecue editor for Texas Monthly magazine ; and Cynthia Smoot, a Dallas lifestyle blogger.
This year’s competition had 52 entries that were whittled down to 30 and then to the final eight, said Melanie Linnear, director of concessions at the State Fair. Finalists earn bragging rights, she said, but their sales also spike, sometimes even quadrupling.
“You see people walking around with maps, trying out all the new foods,” said Mark Zable, who created the Fried Sriracha Balls. “The State Fair is known for its food.”
Finding new items to fry is not without challenges, Zable said. This year, a neighbor suggested frying sriracha hot sauce, and Zable gave it a try.
“It gets harder and harder every year to come up with something original,” said Zable, who is perhaps best-known for creating fried beer in 2010. “But we always find something.”