It’s late, and you’ve been doing your civic duties here in Vegas – partying with your favorite people and dancing with your favorite DJ. Now it’s getting close to 1 a.m. and the roast chicken with steamed vegetables you had five hours ago is wearing off. You’re hungry, you’ve forgotten who Dr. Atkins is and you certainly don’t remember his diet.
Enter deep fried deliciousness.
Most people crave fried foods at some point. Some people make a U-turn in heavy traffic when the fresh hot donut sign at Krispy Kreme lights up. Others utilize the eight-car-deep drive-thru at McDonald’s because they have to have french fries. As you read this article, somewhere in America there’s a man eating a bucket of chicken walking down the street because he couldn’t quite make it home.
“People will pull over for something fried at least once or twice a week, counting myself,” says Executive Chef of Tacos & Tequila Saul Ortiz. And Ortiz should know, some people’s “once or twice a week” is for his helado frito.
While it isn’t always the healthiest option on the menu, there’s no denying there’s something about eating a warm, batter-dredged Twinkie or taking a bite of a perfectly crisp tater tot.
“I think it’s comforting,” says General Manager of Khotan Robert Perry of fried foods.
From a practical perspective, frying is also a quick way to cook.
“It’s a fast method that brings out a lot of great flavors,” says Ortiz.
Flavor indeed. Here are some of the most unique, tasty and well-done fried foods in Vegas.
Let them eat cake and ice cream
As if cake and donuts aren’t sinful enough, enter version 2.0 – the deep fried variety.
As a child, you might have eaten a Twinkie. The moist yellow sponge cake with creme filling is hard to resist when you’re eight years old. Fast forward 25 years and you’ve got deep fried Twinkies at Mermaids Casino. Not for the faint of heart, the Twinkie is skewered on a stick and dipped in thick batter. After a quick trip through the deep fryer, an outrageous amount of powdered sugar is dumped on top and a few chocolate sprinkles are added for decoration.
A more tasteful and less gloppy dessert can be found at STRATTA in the form of tender Nutella-stuffed beignets. The brain-child of Executive Pastry Chef Jenifer Fournier, these little bites of heaven are made with ricotta cheese and crushed amaretti cookies for extra flavor. After frying, the nutella is gingerly injected into the couture-like donut, thus making one amazing dessert. In addition to STRATTA, the talented Fournier also creates award-winning desserts at Alex, a Michelin two-star rated fine dining restaurant in Wynn Las Vegas.
Cake isn’t the only dessert to get deep fried in Vegas. You would think putting a 3-ounce scoop of vanilla ice cream into a vat of 350-degree oil and having it not melt would be problematic. But Ortiz and his brigade are masters of making helado frito. The ice cream goes into the freezer for at least three hours to ensure it gets nice and cold. Then it gets bathed in egg wash, rolled in crushed Corn Flakes and takes a trip back into the freezer before heading to the deep fryer.
“Some people get amazed because the center is soft. It’s just like a scoop of ice cream and they ask ‘how do you do that?’” says Ortiz. He explains it’s all about reading temperature and making sure the ice cream is really frozen. This delicious version of fried ice cream can be found at Tacos & Tequila at Luxor.
Deep fried what?
Strange things go on in Vegas. Country Icon Garth Brooks comes out of retirement to play at Wynn Las Vegas. Fancy French restaurants are serving hamburgers (Or is that “le hamburger?”). Our mayor drinks martinis, even when it’s not 5 p.m. So, when Las Vegas chefs decided to start putting interesting items in the deep fryer, we didn’t bat an eye. You may have heard of deep fried catfish, perhaps in the bayous of New Orleans or among Southerners, as one of the ultimate comfort foods. And at Khotan in Treasure Island, you can enjoy a unique version of this Southern speciality.
At first, seeing the whole Catfish PA can be a little intimidating. The entire fish is presented butterflied on a large (more than a foot-long) white dish. Sink your teeth into the tender filet with audibly crispy exterior and your fears go away. Served with a citrus soy ponzu dipping sauce, the Catfish PA is one of the best versions of catfish in Vegas. A few unusual details: the whole catfish gets baked before it’s fried and there is no batter on the catfish at all. The process of baking, then frying the fish gives it a perfectly crispy exterior.
The idea of having a whole fish come to the table doesn’t always go over well with guests at first.
“I think they’re a little overwhelmed,” explains Perry when guests get a first look at the whole fish. “They are a little intimidated by it. I’ve had guests actually ask if they can turn the head facing another way. However, once they try it, it’s devoured.”
Old standbys done right
If it’s traditional favorites you crave, Vegas has ‘em. There are upscale takes on down home food and traditional dishes done, well, traditionally.
T-bones Chophouse at Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa is a steak house with style. The large dining room is simple and elegant with wood panel detailing and an illuminated marble bar – the perfect place to try T-bones’ tater tots. An upscale take on kid-friendly favorites, these aren’t your average tots. The recipe calls for a savory pâte à choux dough (a sweet version is usually used in profiteroles) to be combined with a smooth potato puree. The mixture is then piped onto a sheet pan, cut into segments and deep fried so the exterior is crispy golden brown and the interior is soft and fluffy. Though it’s not currently on the menu, you can ask for your tots to be truffled, that is, a little truffle oil can be added to the finished tater tots for extra flavor.
It’s not easy doing classic food in traditional form, so when Executive Chef David Joy makes traditional beer battered fish-and-chips at J.C.Wooloughan’s Irish Pub at Rampart Casino, you have to give him props. He uses Killian Irish beer, granulated garlic, white pepper and paprika in his batter, just for starters. The end result is a perfectly crispy batter with tender cod filets inside.
On any given weekend, the pub serves upwards of 200 orders a night.
“They love it. Everybody I’ve ever sent that fish-and-chips to goes crazy over it,” says Kelle Holomalia, general manager of J.C. Wooloughan’s.
So crazy they made Tuesday nights all-you-can-eat fish-and-chips night.
“Tuesday nights are very busy here,” says Holomalia.
As for the best thing to complement the fish, Holomalia says, “Almost always beer. Almost always draft. Usually Harps or Guiness. Malt vinegar is definitely the condiment of choice.”
Fried foods have great flavor, texture and an intoxicating aroma when fresh out of the fryer. Try some of these fried foods next time you’re out late partying in Vegas and get hungry. They won’t disappoint.
See how Fish-and-Chips are made at J.C. Wooloughan’s:
See how the Whole Catfish PA is made at Khotan: