The joy of onion rings fresh from the fryer

April 25, 1999|By Rob Kasper

IF THE TRUE TEST of will power is being able to eat only one onion ring, then I fail, repeatedly. The aroma of onion rings, hot from the frying pan, makes my knees weak. The pleasure that comes from biting into their crisp crust, then their soft, sweet innards, is irresistible.

Once I start eating onion rings I don't stop until the supply runs out, or until they turn cold. While I savor hot onion rings, I can't tolerate cold ones. Cool onion rings are like chilly french fries, a dish that has lost its soul.

One of the best ways to get onion rings that are fresh from the fryer is to cook them yourself. It is a messy process, requiring a sweet onion, a skillet of hot oil, two bowls for the batter, and a fair amount of willpower.

There are several sweet onions to choose from. This time of year, Vidalia onions often find their way into my frying pan. The Texas Sweets, or 1015 onions, produce excellent onion rings, as do the Maui Sweets from Hawaii and the Walla Wallas from Washington state. My philosophy is any port in a storm, any sweet onion slice in a fryer.

According to veterans, the keys to making good onion rings are to slice your onions at least 1/2 inch thick, to keep your oil hot (at least 375 F) and to season the cooked rings with popcorn salt.

I follow most of those rules. I do like thick slices of onion. I do keep the oil hot. But I confess that I have never used popcorn salt on my onion rings. I intend to but always seem to forget to buy the fine-grain salt.

Usually I realize that I have forgotten the popcorn salt just as the first batch of rings is coming out of the pan. Then I am faced with the choice of either running to the store and letting the onion rings turn cold, or sprinkling them with ordinary table salt and eating them right away.

It is not much of a choice. I roar through the rings until the onion supply is exhausted. Then there is no need to run to store for popcorn salt.

Onion Rings

Serves 4

1 very large sweet onion

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon table salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups buttermilk

oil for frying

popcorn salt to taste

Peel the onion, removing the tough outer layer of onion with the skin. Cut crosswise into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Separate the slices into individual rings. Do not discard the onion centers.

Combine the flour, salt, black pepper and cayenne in a shallow bowl. Stir to mix. Pour the buttermilk into another bowl. Dredge the onion rings, a few at a time, in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess flour. Immerse the onions, one or two at a time, in the buttermilk. Remove and dredge again in the flour mixture, shaking off the excess. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat the process with all the remaining onion rings.

Pour the oil to a depth of 1/2 to 1 inch in a cast-iron skillet; heat over medium-high heat. When the temperature reaches 375 degrees on a thermometer, add the onion rings, a few at time without overcrowding the pan. Cook, turning once, until deep golden-brown on both sides, about 3 minutes. Remove the onion rings from the oil and drain on a plain brown paper sack. While the onion rings are still hot, season with popcorn salt to taste. Make sure the oil returns to 375 degrees before frying additional rings.

When all the onion rings have been fried and drained, serve at once. If that is not possible, place them on an oven-proof platter and keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.

From "Steak Lover's Cookbook," by William Rice (Workman, 1997)

Pub Date: 04/25/99

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