Back in my college days, in Atlanta, whenever I got a craving for something Texas-y that didn’t involve Fritos or Wolf Brand Chili, I’d rustle up my roommate and we’d hie down Peachtree Street to LongHorn Steaks, the very first location of a humble concept later gobbled up by the corporate overlords of Olive Garden. It was a pretty fair facsimile of a Texas roadhouse then, with its neon and taxidermy and discarded peanut shells, but all I cared about was getting my hands on a raspberry margarita and an order of fried jalapeños. I bypassed those sizzling slabs of beef in favor of Texas’s official pepper, deemed by the Seventy-fourth Legislature “a culinary, economic, and medical blessing to the citizens of the Lone Star State” (in a declaration that really could have used the words “in moderation” somewhere in there, just sayin’).
Stuffed with cheese, the fried jalapeño is a scrapper in an otherwise peaceable playground of happy-hour chow like mozzarella sticks and potato skins. Even its various names—poppers, rattlesnake eggs, torpedoes—portend bodily insult of some kind. But it also unites a few of Texans’ favorite things in one fiery, addictive, delectable morsel that those lacking our born-and-bred fortitude may want to steer clear of. At least without a raspberry margarita close at hand.
Makes a dozen
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
cumin, to taste
granulated garlic, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup whole milk
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
12 whole pickled jalapeños (you may want to experiment with different brands, as some hold up to slicing and stuffing better than others; we liked Trappey’s)
a block of Muenster cheese (or any easy-melting cheese), shredded or cut into fat matchsticks
a block of cream cheese (optional; if you’re feeling indulgent, you can mix a little in with the other cheese)
vegetable oil, for frying
In a shallow bowl, combine the flour with the cumin, garlic, salt, and pepper. In another shallow bowl, whisk the egg with the milk. Add the bread crumbs to a third bowl.
Make a slit in the side of the jalapeños from top to bottom, being careful not to cut all the way through. Remove ribs and seeds (this is a little tricky but gets easier with practice; a grapefruit spoon is helpful). Stuff each chile with cheese (amount will depend on size), pressing it in and bringing the edges together as best you can. Dunk each jalapeño in the egg wash, then roll in the seasoned flour, coating thoroughly, and place on a parchment paper–lined plate or tray.
Heat 2 to 3 inches of oil to 350 degrees. Return the floured jalapeños to the egg wash and then roll in the bread crumbs. Fry the jalapeños, a few at a time, until they’re golden-brown. Season with salt and allow them to drain on paper towels. Serve shamelessly with ranch dressing, a splendid counterpoint to the piquant heat of the jalapeño.