My mother, she’s a very wise woman. When I was still rather young, she impressed on me the importance of my someday finding a partner who loved onions (and garlic) as much as I did. “Otherwise, they won’t want to kiss you.”*
You see, I love onions. I love them raw, I love them sautéed, I love them caramelized, baked, roasted, fried, pickled…well, you get the picture. In all of their pungent, tear-inducing, breath-polluting glory, onions hold a prominent place in my culinary heart.
Growing up in an Indian household, as I did, onions (or piaj) were a regular feature on the table, raw and sliced thinly as an accompaniment to rice, daal (lentils), dahi (yogurt), and kheera (cucumber). I learned to love the wet bite of onion as a foil for spicy, complex dishes, a way to slice through grease and access the tastebuds.
Quickly, I started eating my piaj with a lot of other, non-Indian things: pizza, hamburgers, turkey sandwiches, grilled cheese. I know. Some of you are out there gagging (like blog photographer Sonya, who is no fan of the raw onion), but hopefully even the biggest onion-skeptic can appreciate these:
Behold the onion ring, a thing of beauty! It comes in many variations (shoe-string, tempura-battered, jumbo-sized, etc.) but like most fried stuff, even a bad onion ring is a tempting one.
I’ve been an onion ring connoisseur for a long time, often preferring them (gasp!) to French fries when eating out, but had never tried to make them on my own until a few months ago. Needless to say, in a household where I am lucky to have met & settled down with a fellow-onion-lover*, they were a hit.
Jill proclaimed them the best onion rings she’d ever eaten. And girlfriend’s from Louisiana, so she knows her fried foods. These are, I admit, a little bit labor-intensive. But hot damn!, they are worth it.
These rings, as you can see, do not sport a heavy jacket of batter. Rather, they’re lightly coated and extremely crisp. I use a three-layer breading: flour first, then buttermilk, then cornmeal/breadcrumbs. The secret is using one hand for the buttermilk step and the other hand for the last step. If you don’t, things will become gummy realllll fast. Be sure to have everything set up before you begin!
1-2 red onions (more if you’re feeling extra-ambitious)
buttermilk or regular milk
Panko breadcrumbs (look for them in Asian/Japanese aisle)
Tony’s or another all-purpose seasoning
Salt & pepper
A fair amount of Canola or peanut oil
Pour oil into a deep, heavy-bottomed pot until it reaches 2-3 inches up the sides. Heat on medium high while prepping the onions.
Peel the onions and cut off the ends, discarding. Slice carefully into thin (¼-inch) rounds. Separate out into individual rings, then place in a large Ziploc bag.
Dump between ½ – 1 cup of flour in the bag, depending on your quantity of rings. Season lightly with salt & pepper.
You’ll need two wide and shallow bowls. In one, pour in the (butter)milk. In another, mix equal amounts of cornmeal and breadcrumbs. Add 1 tsp. of Tony’s seasoning and stir to distribute evenly.
Now, for a trick: drizzle a small amount of buttermilk into the cornmeal/breadcrumb mixture, then rake through it all with a fork. This will create small clumps which, when fried, will equal extra-crunchy goodness.
Part One: seal the Ziploc bag with the onions and flour inside, then shake the heck out of it, coating all of the rings.
Part Two: Transfer between 4-5 rings (depending upon the size of your bowls) to the buttermilk mixture. Muddle them around with your LEFT HAND to get them wet.
Part Three: Transfer the same rings into the cornmeal/breadcrumb mixture. Press down with your RIGHT hand to coat one side, tossing some of the mixture up and around to all sides. Don’t worry if the rings aren’t totally coated.
Part Four: Fry away! Your oil should be hot and shimmery at this point, not smoking. (Remove from the burner to cool if it is.) Test your oil with a single ring—the oil should immediately bubble around it.
Add a small handful of rings when the oil is ready, keeping an eye on the heat. If the onions brown too quickly, turn the heat down. After a few batches, though, you may very well need to turn the heat up to compensate for loss of heat.
Fry the onion rings in batches, approximately 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and serve hot. They’re excellent plain, but also go nicely with ketchup, Sriacha, aioli, ranch, etc.