Find a New Tailgating Favorite: Jalapeno Poppers

By: Nealey Dozier

Down South, college football is more than just a way of life. To some, it’s a religion. Which means Saturdays are sacred and meant to be taken seriously. In fact, tailgating is done just a little bit different around here. So if you’ve never attended a game in the SEC, here are a few things to expect.

Southerners dress the part.

There’s an unspoken dress code at stadiums in the South, and it doesn’t include ripped jeans and a school t-shirt. Ladies proudly don designer dresses (in their team colors, of course), sky-high heels, and the mandatory strand of grandmother’s pearls. Gentleman usually sport seersucker pants and a crisp button-down shirt. You may even see a bow tie or two.

Southerners arrive early.

I’m not talking 8 AM early, either. True professionals pull their campers and luxury buses into campus parking lots on the Thursday before a big Saturday game. It would be earlier, too, but where would students park for class? Even for the less avid enthusiasts, pre-gaming always begins with breakfast. And if you need a little boost from the late-night before, it shouldn’t be hard to find the ol’ hair of the dog. Just ask the friendly folks parked next to you.

Southerners keep it classy.

While there is always a bad seed in the bunch, for the most part, fans respect their fellow fans. Team rivalries may run deep, but at the end of the day, it’s not about the final score but the one-of-a-kind experience. Bragging rights are just a bonus. And hey, there’s always next year.

Southerners expect more.

They expect more from the players, more from the coaches, and more from the fans. But most of all, they expect more from the food! Yeah, you heard me right. Game day is the time to enjoy some of the finest dishes the South has to offer. I’m talking deviled eggs, pimento cheese, and potato salads made from top-secret family recipes; smoky pork shoulder and juicy beef ribs cooked low-and-slow to perfection; and 12-layer caramel cakes so divine they would bring an angel to his knees.

Tailgating in the South is a time-tested art not to be taken lightly. Don’t be surprised if you see the family silver at a buffet table or a crystal chandelier hanging from a tree. Because when it comes to football down here, giving it your all is never enough. There is always room for more.

Bacon and Corn Jalapeno Poppers, Two Ways

This recipe for jalapeño poppers will impress any seasoned fan. Crispy bacon and sweet corn -- two classic Southern ingredients -- really take it from ordinary to extraordinary. And don’t worry, there’s room to experiment if you like a little more heat. These poppers can be baked for a party at home or fried when you’re in the stadium parking lot. Either way, they taste delicious.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yields: approximately 24 poppers
For the filling:
12 large jalapeño peppers
8 ounces cream cheese or neufchatel cheese, at room temperature
4 ounces (1 packed cup) sharp cheddar OR pepper jack cheese, grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed if frozen)
4 slices thick cut bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
For breading:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 - 3 eggs, lightly beaten
2 cups dried breadcrumbs or panko

Cut each jalapeño in half. Scoop out the core and remove all of the seeds.

In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the beater attachment, combine the cream cheese, cheddar cheese, cumin, salt, and cayenne. Mix thoroughly; then fold in the corn and bacon. Generously stuff each pepper with a dollop of the cream cheese filling and set aside. (Note: The first two steps can be completed in advance. Store the stuffed peppers in an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to cook. Continue with the remaining steps below.)

Arrange three small to medium-sized bowls side by side. In the first bowl, mix the flour, salt, and a few generous grinds of pepper. In the second bowl add the eggs, and in the third bowl, the breadcrumbs.

Dip a stuffed pepper into the bowl of flour and cover on all sides, brushing to remove any excess. Next dip the pepper into the egg mixture, submerging it completely. Finally dredge the pepper in the breadcrumbs, generously coating it on all sides. Repeat with the remaining peppers.

To bake the poppers: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the breaded peppers, stuffed side up, onto a well-greased sheet pan. Cook for 30 minutes, until bubbly and golden brown. Serve warm.

To fry the poppers: Fill a large cast iron or enamel pot with 3 inches of peanut oil. Heat the oil to 350 degrees over medium-high to high heat. Working in batches, fry the peppers until golden brown, about 2 - 3 minutes per batch. Using a spider, remove the peppers to a sheet pan lined with paper towels or a large brown paper bag. Return the oil to 350 degrees before continuing on to the next batch. Serve warm.

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