The problem with blogging about yummy food is that sometimes by the time you go to take a picture there’s not much left.
I have really fond memories of pre-packaged onion rings. When I was growing up we would often have a brunch on Saturday mornings, usually while listening to Car Talk as a family. (When I was little I more often got to listen to Children’s Bible Hour and Ranger Bill while my father listened to Car Talk in the other room, but as I got older Car Talk became the official family activity.) I didn’t know it was technically a brunch until much later, as we always just called it Big Breakfast, and it usually included scrambled eggs, some kind of potato such as french fries or tater tots, often onion rings, and occasionally juice, which was a huge treat for us. Every so often it shifted to focus more on either creamed eggs or chipped beef gravy over biscuits, but no matter what, Big Breakfast kind of summarized everything that was good about Saturdays: Daddy was home from work, everything was on a later schedule because we got to sleep in (because no schoolwork!) and we got to just hang out together eating fun food and listening to fun radio programs.
I distinctly remember my confusion the first time I watched my father making homemade onion rings. I hadn’t known my father could cook, to start with, and I had no idea that you could make onion rings out of real onions. Onions were a prosaic food, and raw onion was pretty much the only food we were allowed to be picky about eating, as they were deemed too strong for young children to be expected to eat.
And, as it turns out, real homemade onion rings are completely different from the store bought ones. Store bought onion rings are uniformly crispy on the outside, but with a vaguely onion flavored mush on the inside. Homemade onion rings have a more knobbly kind of crispness on the outside, with a whole piece of beautifully tender onion on the inside, which, if you’re not careful as you bite into it, pulls right out of the breading, leaving behind a ring shaped shell that tastes only of crispiness.
I loved both kinds of onion rings.
I remember my father’s recipe as being very much a ‘throw stuff in a bowl and tweak it until it comes out right’ kind of recipe, and also being heavily egg based. Since I was at the height of my egg allergy symptoms around the time I decided to try making my own onion rings, I started searching for a recipe on my own. I didn’t want to have to deal with egg substitutes (flaxseed onion rings anyone?) or complexities like double breading the onion rings. This turned out to be the best and simplest base recipe I could find. I have, of course, tweaked it heavily since discovering it, but the concept of using carbonation to make the batter light and airy was a vital discovery in my onion ring quest.
Healthiness Rating: Healthy
A couple of caveats to the rating of healthy: 1, the healthiness of the onion ring depends on lot on what you fry it in. Choose the healthiest oil you have access to. I would rank lard and tallow as the best frying oils, closely followed by coconut oil, followed by ghee if your frying temperature isn’t too high. If none of those are option you can use a neutral oil such as grapeseed, safflower or rice bran, but stay away from soy oil, corn oil and hydrogenated oils like Crisco if you possibly can. 2, the whole wheat flour is unsoaked in this recipe, leaving a high phytic acid content. I think this is fine for most people, especially for occasional use, but if you have digestive issues or chronic health problems you may want to stay away from unsoaked whole wheat. (For a more full discussion of my opionions on phytic acid, see this post.)
I go back and forth on whether I consider onion rings a full vegetable side in a meal or not, but especially when paired with homemade ketchup, and as part of a diet that includes raw vegetables at other times, I think they can reasonably be considered to fill the vegetable niche for a meal.
Yumminess Rating: Yummy
This one is a favorite at our house. The whole wheat doesn’t seem to bother my husband at all as he raves about homemade onion rings, and it always rates an, “Ooh, onion rings. Yum!” when he comes home from work to find me frying onion rings.
2 cups flour (white or whole wheat, depending on preference)
1 1/3-2 2/3 cups seltzer water (depending on type of flour used)
1-2 tsp salt
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
lard or oil for frying (about two cups)
( The basic ratio of flour to seltzer water is one cup of white flour to one cup of seltzer water. If using a soft white whole wheat (my flour of choice for less ‘wheaty’ flavor), start with 2/3 of a cup seltzer water per cup of flour, and add more seltzer water if needed. If using a hard red wheat, start with 1 1/3 cups of seltzer water per cup of flour, and again, add more seltzer water as needed. I haven’t tried this with hard white wheat, but I would start with the soft white wheat ratio, and plan on slowly adding more seltzer as needed.)
Begin heating lard or oil over a medium heat. (Unsurprisingly, I prefer my cast iron skillet for frying, but you can use any skillet you have around.)
Peel onion and slice into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch slices. Separate slices into rings. Don’t worry if you break some–they make great onion ‘strings’. I also fry up the centers that are too small to separate into rings. Those are onion nuggets, and they taste just as good as the onion rings.
Mix flour with seasonings. Add seltzer water and mix. The batter should be thinner than even a very soft dough, but on the thick side for batter. If in doubt, throw in one onion ring. If the batter clumps and sticks to itself more than the onion, add a bit more liquid. If it coats the onion ring with a very thin layer of batter and drips off quickly, add a bit more flour. If it sticks to the onion ring in a thick layer, it’s perfect.
Drop a small bit of batter into the oil to see if it’s hot enough. The batter should bubble and begin to brown within a few seconds, but not smoke or start to burn quickly. Adjust oil heat if needed.
Drop onion rings into batter, coat thoroughly, and transfer to hot oil. (I like to use tongs or a fork for this part of the process.) Let cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, flipping over when the bottom is light golden brown and lightly crispy. (I like to use a clean pair of tongs for this part, but a metal spatula can also work.)
When light golden brown and crispy on both sides, transfer to a plate lined with a couple of paper towels or a clean rag to absorb the extra grease. If needed, keep the plate in a warm oven to keep the onion rings warm as you continue frying the rest of them.
Serve with ranch dressing, homemade ketchup or other sauce of choice. (We just discovered that homemade french dressing mixed with mayo and just a dash of hot sauce make a great onion ring dipping sauce.)