Thursday, October 15, 2009

World's Best Onion Rings

Since last posting, I've left my most recent job as the assistant editor of a medical journal, moved into my fiance's home in Philadelphia, started volunteering at Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (better known as PAWS), and, while there, fell in love with a Parson Russell Terrier (formerly Jack Russell)/Papillon/and maybe Spaniel mix, who Brian and I recently adopted and renamed Benji. In the midst of packing, moving, mulling over an idea for a new blog that may never come to fruition, and having some sort of pre-turning 30 depression, I haven't blogged. But I have eaten. A lot.

Here's something perfect to make and eat on a rainy day while holed up in a house with an adolescent dog suffering from kennel cough.

World's Best Onion Rings
Adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson

Onion rings always sound like a delicious, decadent option at a restaurant until you actually eat them. Then they are almost always a mushy, underseasoned, greasy disappointment. When I was growing up in Manhattan, there were not nearly as many fast food restaurants as today. Going to Burger King was an exotic, rare trek uptown and I took this opportunity to order onion rings. They were stale and left an unsettling oily film on my mouth. As an adult, my ideals for onion rings--crisp and seasoned breading without and soft-crisp, sweet onion within--have yet to be met.

Therefore, I don't know exactly why I decided to tackle making homemade onion rings for perhaps the second time in my life (the first time must have been a floury failure I've mostly blocked from recall). But I had this bag of Trader Joe's onions sitting around and a hankering for fried. Surprisingly, none of the vegan cookbooks I own have onion ring recipes. I checked out
How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman but, with it's call for cold beer, chilled sparkling water, and eggs, it was too fussy. I knew Nigella Lawson's Feast (handsdown my all-time favorite cookbook and one of my favorite pieces of writing ever) had an ultimate onion rings recipe but I wasn't sure how simple it would be to veganize.

Luckily, what follows is pretty much the original recipe, except for my own buttermilk concoction, tweaking the flour mixture to accommodate my pantry offerings, and swapping out the shortening for oil.
The key to the perfection of these onion rings is the soured milk mixture and letting the onions marinade in it for several hours. Serve with the usual burgers or over some baby greens dolloped with aioli.

1 large white onion
1 cup plain soy milk
1 tablespoon white vinegar (don't use balsamic or other strongly flavored vinegar)
1 teaspoon arrowroot or cornstarch
canola oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tablespoon Creole seasoning (or 1/2 tablespoon paprika)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
generous pinch or two of sea salt

Chop off the root ends of the onion and peel. Starting from widest part of onion, slice ringed circles about 1/2 inch thick. Put aside smaller or broken rings for another use (I chopped and added them to a pot of black bean soup). You should have anywhere from 12 to 20 of the best looking onion circles.

In a large bowl, mix soy milk, vinegar, and arrowroot. Place onions in mixture and gently stir to coat the pieces. It's okay if not all of the rings are completely submerged but make sure they each get coated and sit in some of the milk mixture. Cover and put in the fridge for anywhere from 2 hours to overnight. Overnight is ideal.

Over medium heat, add about 2 inches of oil to a deep soup pan (don't use a skillet). Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, Creole seasoning, cayenne, and salt in a shallow bowl or plate. Take the marinated rings out of the fridge, shake off excess milk, dip each ring into the flour, and add to the well-heated pan. Only add 5 to 7 rings at a time, being careful not to crowd the pieces. It will take a few batches to complete the process and you may need to add more oil once it starts getting full of flour but be patient. After a few minutes, or until one side is golden brown, flip over each ring with tongs, being careful not to remove the delicate flour batter. Drain them on paper towels and eat as soon as possible. Not that you'll be able to resist doing that anyway.

More Nigella Lawson comes to the States in just a few weeks when she releases the US edition of Nigella Christmas.