The Pang name has been dishonored. Last week, upon reading about this curious state fair food item “deep fried butter,” I made the fateful decision to replicate the dish within the sanctity of my family home. The decision did not come easy. The notion of deep frying butter felt deeply shameful. I was above this garbage food of the plebeians. It would surely erase the nobility and esteem we Pangs have built over generations. In the end, weakness befell my dignity.
Deep fried butter: It is the invention of Abel Gonzales Jr., proclaimed by Texas Monthly as “the undisputed king of the fair park fryers.” The son of a restaurateur, Gonzales gained notoriety as a multiple-time winner of a deep fried food contest held yearly at the State Fair of Texas. In 2009, Gonzales won for a recipe in which he fried frozen balls of dough-wrapped butter. That win, along with the publicity that followed, made deep fried butter a monster hit—Gonzales sold 140,000 balls during the state fair’s three-week run. Other state fairs would copy Gonzales’ recipe, and variations were concocted by chefs including—not surprisingly—Paula Deen.
The thought of making this dish at home sounded intriguing, in a “I’d wonder what’d happen if I squeezed this inflamed skin boil”-sort of way. I searched for versions near my hometown Chicago, and the closest I found was at the Wisconsin State Fair, held each August in the Milwaukee suburb of West Allis. Wisconsin seemed a natural fit—after all, the state is arguably the center from which all butter culture in the U.S. rotates around. The restaurant group that made its deep-fried butter for the fair demonstrated the recipe for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
After watching this video—in which frozen butter in wonton skin were dunked in an egg-wash before deep-frying—I began second-guessing my decision. I solicited the advice of Carol Deptolla, the Journal-Sentinel’s restaurant critic, but really I was seeking validation. My internal monologue: Just give me some sign, Carol. You don’t have to say the words, just click twice if I should go for it.
Deptolla told me she tried deep-fried butter years ago, but didn’t have much memory of the dish. “It’s definitely more of a novelty thing to say you’ve had it, than to say ‘oh let’s remember to make the deep-fried butter for the Packers party,” Deptolla told me. She added: “It’s perilous to eat. You don’t want to wear something that’s dry clean-only.”
At this point curiosity got the best of me. The idea that a food could be non-ironically “perilous” was like telling a toddler to not stick his fingers in the light socket—he will stupidly stick his fingers in the light socket. I apologized to my ancestors, clutched a pair of rosary beads in one hand and a roll of toilet paper in the other, and committed to making deep-fried butter.
The recipe, to use the term loosely: Take a stick of frozen butter, cut into slabs. Wrap one wonton skin around the butter, sealing it with egg-wash and pressing down the edges. Finally, drop the whole package into the egg-wash and then into a pot of 350-degree Fahrenheit vegetable oil. Within 60 seconds, these dumplings puffed into tiny pillows and turned a light golden brown. I immediately plated the wontons and dusted with powdered sugar. I bit into one—only there was one problem.
There was nothing inside. The butter had disappeared, leaked through some opening despite my best efforts to seal the package tightly.
Take two: This time the butter was cubed into smaller pieces, and the whole wonton was balled up tightly. There would be no escaping this time. Once again I dropped it in the hot oil for one minute. This was the result:
I bit in. It was as if someone had squeezed an inflamed skin boil directly into my mouth—a hot liquid squirted out and dripped down the side of my lip. The act filled me with humiliation. And yet, it was crispy and sweet, tasting like a molten croissant-shaped ball exploded between my teeth.
In life, one tries to learn from their mistakes. As God as my witness, I will never travel down this road again. And yet I can never deny having indulged in the devil’s dessert, and acknowledging that somewhere deep within my soul, a voice whispers: You liked it, you sick fuck.