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~ Tempura-Dipped Onion Rings: Light, Airy & Crisp! ~

IMG_1022I love onions and a day rarely goes by in my kitchen that I am not using or serving some type of onion in some way, shape or form.  Today, I'm going to address onion "shape", more specifically: the onion ring.  Batter-dipped and deep-fried, onion rings are on the menu (usually just below or to the right of French fries) at diners, drive-ins, dives, carnivals and county fairs all across our country.  They are an American institution, and, June 22 is National Onion Ring Day in the USA!

Best-tony-onion-ringsNo one knows exactly who invented deep-fried onion rings, but, we do know that in 1933 a recipe appeared in a Crisco advertisement in The New York Times Magazine. The A&W restaurant chain is credited with popularizing onion rings in their fast-food restaurants during the 1960's (which is where I first ate them),  and, who can forget that last episode of The Sopranos!

IMG_1019Onion rings are easy to make (definitely easier than French fries), but (and this is a big but):  if I'm going to indulge in deep-fried anything, it better taste great and look as good as it tastes. Simply stated, it better be cooked to perfection (in the proper oil at the proper temperature for the proper amount of time), crispy on the outside, moist tender and juicy on the inside (not heavy or greasy), and, pretty as a picture. I've tried onion rings in a lot of places, and, in my opinion, the best ones are:

My Onion Rings Dipped in Tempura Beer-Batter & Deep-Fried!

IMG_1027It just makes sense.  Onions contain lots of water.  In order for them to maintain structural integrity, they need to be fried quickly.  They also need a batter that won't weigh them down in an armorlike coating.  Airy, Japanese tempura is that batter. Tempura, made with beer is even better.  Why?  Beer is loaded with carbon dioxide, foaming agents and alcohol, which creates a light, crispy crust with a slight yeasty tang to it!

IMG_0745Tempura is traditionally mixed in small batches, using a pair of chopsticks, and kept cold by placing the bowl of batter in a larger bowl of ice water.  The batter is made just prior to deep-frying and it is never allowed to stand.  Chopsticks are intentionally used because they are not an efficient tool for mixing, which makes them perfect for this task.  Leaving lumps in the batter results in the unique fluffy and crisp texture, so it is only mixed for a few seconds.  For Westerners like myself, "lumpy batter" can be a hard concept to grasp, because we are accustomed to trying to achieve velvety, smooth batters.

The mark of a well-made tempura batter are the lumps of dry-flour throughout the batter and the tell-tale powdery ring of flour around the sides of the bowl!

IMG_0900For the onions:

1  large Vidalia onion, or other sweet onion (1 large onion per batch of batter)

For the batter:

3/4  cup all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons rice flour

1  tablespoon cornstarch

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  large egg yolk, cold (taken straight from refrigerator, separated & used as as directed)

1  cup ice-cold Japanese beer, plus a small amount of additional beer, only if necessary

6  tablespoons cornstarch, more or less for dredging

corn or peanut oil, for deep-frying, placed in a deep-fryer according to manufacturer's specifications and heated to 360 degrees

freshly ground sea salt, for sprinkling on onion rings as they come out of the fryer

IMG_0129For the dipping sauce:

ranch dressing  (Note:  Feel free to dip onion rings into anything that pleases you, but, in my opinion, onion rings deserve something creamy that clings to their crunchy exterior and, in my play book, nothing beats the flavor of ~ Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~.  It is another American-born institution and you can find my recipe in Categories 1, 2, 8, 10, 17, 19 or 20!)

IMG_0930Step 1.  Slice the root and tip ends from the onions.  Peel the onions and cut them crosswise into 1/2" slices, then, separate the slices into individual rings.  Depending upon the size of the onions, plan on getting 4-5 slices from each one, or 24-30 onion rings per onion.  

Note:  I do not use the small centers of the onions, which you can do if you want to, but, I do dice and refrigerate them to have on hand to use for other purposes.

IMG_0787 IMG_0774~ Step 2.  In a small mixing bowl, using a fork, stir together the flour, rice flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

~ Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, lightly beat the egg yolk.  Add enough of beer to the measuring container to total 1 cup of liquid.

IMG_0805 IMG_0791                                         ~ Step 4. Add the beer/egg mixture to the flour mixture, and, using a pair of chopsticks, whisk until the mixture is just combined, drizzly, and slightly lumpy.  If the mixture is a bit too thick, add a bit more beer.  Error on the side of a drizzly, lumpy consistency rather than a "gloppy" lumpy consistency.

IMG_0972 IMG_0960~ Step 5. Working in assembly line fashion, one-at-a-time, lightly dredge each of 6 onion rings in the cornstarch (shaking off the excess)...

... Next, dip each onion ring into the tempura batter (allowing excess to drip back into the bowl) and lower it into the hot oil.  When 6 onion rings have been dredged, dipped and added to the 360 degree oil:

IMG_0988 IMG_1003~ Step 6. Close the lid on the fryer and cook for 3 1/2-4 minutes.  Using an an Asian spider (the basket of the deep-fryer works fine too), transfer to a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with paper towels to drain. Immediately sprinkle with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  

Repeat this process 3-4 more times, until all onion rings are deep-fried.

IMG_1062Tempura-Dipped Onion Rings:  Light, Airy & Crisp!:  Recipe yields 24-30 onion rings/3-4 servings allowing 6-8 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; fork; 1-cup measuring container; chopsticks; deep-fryer; Asian spider or basket of deep-fryer; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; paper towels

IMG_3779Cook's Note:  Making real-deal French fries are a bit more work, but well worth the effort!  

My recipe for ~ Do You Want (Perfect "French") Fries with That? ~ can be found in Categories 2, 4, 15, 20, or 21!

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2013)


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