Okay, you know how sometimes you’ll be scanning a restaurant menu, looking through the entrees first and then the sandwiches, trying as hard as you can to narrow it down to a few options before the waiter shows up to ask you about it, scanning and scanning, maybe the French dip or patty melt or maybe a greasy cheeseburger, and then as you’re struggling to finalize everything — ohhhh, what about a crab cake sandwich? — you look up to the little italicized blurb under the bold heading and see something like “Served with french fries and a pickle (upgrade to onion rings for $0.99)”? Well, let me make one part of this process easier for you: Upgrade to the onion rings. Always upgrade to the onion rings. You deserve it.
It’s nothing against french fries. French fries are incredible, a gift from the gods, crispy and mushy and almost perfect, except for steak fries, which are an abomination that should be thrown into the nearest toilet as quickly as possible. And yes, I’m willing to concede that the upcharge is madness, borderline robbery even, management approved theft that should be abolished at once. I know it doesn’t cost an extra dollar to make 8-10 onion rings instead of fries. Something should be done about it at some point. Not today, though. Today we are talking about food, not policy. Today we are talking about onion rings.
Seriously, how good are onion rings? This isn’t a rhetorical question. Think about it right now. Think about how good onion rings are. Think about how excited you are to see them land in front of you on that plate, how it feels to crunch through the crispy coating with both rows of teeth at once, how sometimes, if you don’t get your front teeth slicing to completion, a little string of onion slithers out of the coating and you slurp it up like a salty, buttery noodle. Then you have a real treat on your hands: a hunk of straight fried batter, golden and greasy and empty, the type of thing you would normally feel guilty about jamming into your face, but now you can do it remorse-free. Why, it would be wasteful to just leave it there. Eat that greasy fried batter, my friends. Enjoy it. Be decadent. You paid that extra $0.99, after all.
You know what else is great about onion rings? I’ll tell you: the range. My god, the unbelievable range. It’s thrilling. Ordering onion rings blind — no knowledge of how the place prepares them, no knowledge of the quality — is a real roll of the dice, because while good onion rings are great, bad onion rings are heartbreaking. You know the kind I’m talking about. The sad little circles, more onion-flavored than onion-filled, pulled out of a freezer in a big economy-sized bag labeled “ONION RINGS” and dumped into the oil. There a few things worse than ordering onion rings and seeing those pathetic little O’s. Murder, sure. Murder is worse. Arson, too, probably. But beyond that…?
That’s what makes it so thrilling, though. You get to feel like a riverboat gambler for the 10-15 minutes between placing the order and seeing the result. And when it works? Oh baby, when it works?! The rush you feel. The power that starts flowing through your veins and into your stomach, to whatever degree this is how the vascular system works. (This is not how the vascular system works.) It’s not just you, either. Everyone else at the table feels it, too, especially the chumps who didn’t make the call to upgrade, especially if they found out just then that the house fries piled next to their pulled pork sandwich are the god-forsaken toilet-bound steak fries. Only fajitas are a more jealousy-inducing food at the moment of service, and that’s partially due to the sizzle-related presentation. Once we work out the science to make onion rings sizzle, it’s over.
We can go beyond sides, too. Sometimes, if you scan the list of burgers at the type of place that has lots of burger options, you’ll spot one that’s usually titled something like The Cowboy BBQ Burger and has a barbecue-slathered onion ring on the burger. This is good business, for a couple reasons: one, because the type of place that has lots of fun burger options usually has good onion rings; two, and I’ll just go ahead and repeat myself here, barbecue-slathered onion ring. Find a single flaw in that phrase. Look long and hard. And after you’re done, when you don’t find a flaw, meet me in the next paragraph to discuss sauces.
Sauces! Sauces are an underrated aspect of onion rings. Almost any sauce tastes good on an onion ring. Barbecue, yes, we’ve discussed. Honey mustard, sure. Ranch, tangy horseradish, some sort of spicy mayo-based concoction that comes out a mixture between pink and orange, yes yes yes. I cannot possibly state this more clearly: if you serve me onion rings and put a little dish of sauce — any sauce, you don’t even have to tell me what it is — on the plate next to them, I am dunking the first ring I grab straight into the sauce and then shoving the ring into my face sauce-side first. I won’t think twice about it. I won’t even think once about, to be honest. I’ll just do it. It would be a great way to poison me, if you’re trying to poison me. Please do not poison me.
God, I want onion rings now. I want a whole plate of them. An appetizer of onion rings and then the buck-extra onion ring upgrade next to the patty melt I’ll finally decide on in the five seconds before the waiter gets to the table. Onion rings are truly one of our greatest foods. We should spend more time discussing that. Consider this article us doing our part: me, with this borderline deranged rant, and Zach, who is actually being helpful, by providing a recipe you can make at home. It’s right below this sentence. Look!
– Brian Grubb
Old Fashioned Onion Rings — A DIY Recipe
I think the way to go with onion rings is always “old fashioned.” I like beer-battered just fine, but they can get too soggy too fast. The crunch of the bread crumbs in the coating makes for a much better textural experience that just feels classic. I think that’s the style Grubb is ranting about above.
The thing with frying foods like this though is that it’s time-consuming. If we could go to diners or dives right now, you’d usually get an order of onion rings in five minutes or less. Doing this at home is closer to 45 minutes from top to bottom. While that isn’t a crazy amount of time, that’s also only one batch. Add another ten minutes per batch and things get tedious.
Still, this is a great treat that’s worth doing once in a while at home.
- 2 Yellow Onions
- 2 cups AP Flour
- 2 tsp. Baking Powder
- 2 cups Panko Bread Crumbs
- 1 cup Whole Milk
- 1 large Egg
- 4 tsp. Salt
- 1-quart Vegetable Oil
A quick note, if you can’t get panko, regular, coarse bread crumbs are fine. If you don’t have an allergy to it, use peanut oil if you like. It’ll add a little more flavor to the fry. If you really want to amp up the flavor, fry them in beef tallow (like how McD’s used to do with fries).
Lastly, if you want to veganize this recipe, use heavy oat milk, and lose the egg.
First things first, peel the onions. I chop them in about 1/2-inch slices which ends up meaning I cut the onion into around five pieces along its horizontal axis. I then use my fingers to gently press out the rings into a large bowl. I cover the raw rings with water and about two tablespoons of salt. I let them rest for around 15 minutes while I get my dredging station ready.
The point here is to bring out a bit of the sweetness of the onions in the saltwater bath. You can skip this, but you’ll get more malodorous and less sweet rings in the end.
The dredging station from left-to-right is flour mixed with baking powder, milk whisked with egg, and panko with the remaining two tablespoons of salt.
Before I start dredging, I get a wok on the stovetop with the vegetable oil. I’m aiming for 350F for frying on a medium-high flame.
After the raw onion has rested in the saltwater, I drain it off and start dredging my rings. First in flour then the milk/egg mixture and finally the bread crumbs.
I place the rings on a large plate, one layer at a time. Don’t stack them. I make it through about half the rings.
As I wait for the oil to hit 350F, I set up a cookie sheet with a wire rack over it (saves on paper towels). Once the oil hits 350F, we’re ready to fry.
I gently place the rings into the oil one at a time. I make a single layer. Again, try not to stack, it’ll damage the crust and slow the cook. I end up cooking five to six rings at a time. So, for a single batch, expect to cook twice.
The rings take around three to four minutes to cook. After two minutes, I flip the rings. You’ll know they’re done two ways. One, they’ll be golden brown. Two, you’ll get a whiff of cooked onion not unlike sweated onion from the beginnings of making a sauce.
After the rings are crispy and golden brown, I let them rest on a wire rack so excess oil can drip away. I then stack around ten in a bowl.
While you have to flip the rings, you don’t have to hover over the frier. So while my second batch was in the oil, I made a quick quasi Comeback Sauce.
- 2 tbsp. Mayonaisse
- 2 tbsp. Ketchup
- 1 tbsp. Chili Sauce (I used Smoked Sriracha)
- 1/2 tsp. Garlic Powder
- 1/2 tsp. Onion Powder
- 1/2 tsp. Smoked Paprika
- Large pinch of Dried Thyme
- White Pepper
- A squeeze of Lemon Juice
It’s super simple. Add everything to a small bowl and stir with a spoon until smooth. Serve.
The rings were wonderfully crisped and added the perfect crunch to the soft and mildly sweet onion beneath. The sauce was a great dipper that added umami, spice, tart, and a nice silky fattiness to the whole thing. Put these rings and dippin’ sauce next to a burger and you’ll need a long nap afterword.
Or better yet: just have the rings as a meal! They call that going “full Grubb.”