1/25/2010

Onion Planting, Onion Rings


I believe I have a lifetime love affair with onion rings. I’m not even sure why, or when I first encountered my first onon ring, but it definitely was love at first bite.

The perfect onion ring, is crisp on the outside and tender and juicy inside. It has to be made fresh - freezing onion rings ruins the texture and the flavor. And those onion “blossoms” that were popular a few years back in restaurants, don’t cut it, either. They tend to be overdone on the tips, and gooey and uncooked in the bottom center of the onion.

The best onion rings I have ever eaten were at the Pioneer Drive-In Restaurants in Wichita Falls, Texas. At that time there were 6 or 8 P restaurants in that local chain, known lovingly as P-3, P-9, and so on. I was stationed there in the Air Force between 1968 and 1972, and found I could order onion rings to go, keep them in the barracks and have them for breakfast the next day. Really, I did. The good thing about them was, they weren’t greasy, and the crispy coating was still crispy the next morning. I tried numerous times to bribe the waitresses for the recipe and all they would ever tell me was that the secret amounted to 2 things: the onions were soaked in milk overnight, and that the batter included cracker meal.

I’ve tried many times over the years to concoct a similar onion ring, without success. I’ve tried making the batter with part cornstarch and flour, including cracker meal. I reject any recipes that contain baking powder, which make a puffy, but not truly crisp ring. I’ve also learned the best liquid to use with the batter is buttermilk. It makes a more crisp-cooking batter than either plain milk or water, which is what a lot of the recipes call for. The best recipe eludes me, but if you have one that is exceptional, and without baking powder and not with bread crumbs, I’d be pleased if you’d share it.

Sonic Drive-Ins have had pretty good onion rings over the years. They actually make them fresh everyday. The trouble with Sonic is they cook a lot of onions rings at once, then when they get an order, they dip them in the oil again. What you get is an over-cooked ring, often burned, or the onion inside is just a shadow.


One key to a good onion ring, is starting with a mild, sweet onion. Varieties like Walla-Walla, Texas Super Sweet and Vidalia, all have thick rings and very little onion bite. All of those onions will grow in my climate, but to reach their fullest potential, they are at their best if grown where they were developed. A Texas Super Sweet is bred to grow in a Southwestern climate, just like the Walla-Walla is best grown in the Pacific Northwest. Those varieties were developed for those climates.

Every year I order my onions from Dixondale Farms, in Texas. I found them on-line because I had become frustrated at the seed companies that will only, “Ship at the proper planting time for your area.” Consistently seed companies think they know more about my region than I do. If I order from them, I’ll only be able to receive my onions, leeks and potatoes, in late March or early April, which is nearly 2 months too late for my region. Dixondale Farms provides a great guide to what onions grow best in your region, and they take the guesswork and mystery out of the Long-Day, Intermediate-Day and Short-Day onion varieties.

To solve the early delivery date problem, I found Dixondale Farms were happy to send my onion plants any time of year I want. That means I can get my onions planted in late January. The problem with potatoes is similar, most potato suppliers won’t ship to home gardeners before mid March. If I wait that late to plant potatoes in the Ozarks, I have potato beetles. Planting in early February means I miss the cycle of potato beetles completely! So I order my potatoes from Wood Prairie Farm in Maine. They don’t blink an eye when I say I want to receive my potatoes before the first of February.


Wood Prairie is offering something really cool this year and I can’t wait to try it. They have an assortment of best flowering potatoes! It’s called the “Organic Potato Blossom Festival” and is an assortment of 3 mid season varieties of potatoes that are known for their good blooming. Just like any other potato, when the vines die down, you dig up the potato crop. But a bed of potato flowers? I just couldn’t pass that up!

So I continue on my quest for the perfect onion ring. Not with a crumb coating, not a tempura battered onion with baking powder, but the equivalent of the Kentucky Fried Chicken extra-crispy coating, on a sweet, tender onion. Suggestions are welcome!

And one more bit of news to share. We just received this great picture from our summer intern, from Switzerland, a few years ago. This is Martin Amstutz and his newborn daughter, Lisa. What a proud papa and we're very happy for him. (Several of my relatives will remember Martin at the Harper family reunion I hosted here at the farm about 1998 and how everyone was charmed by him).


Snow is falling tonight, it hardly feels like potato and onion planting time, but within a few days, it will be. And Ozarks tradition dictates that peas be planted on Valentine's Day. Spring will come again, we can be sure of it. Happy gardening!

10 comments:

Steven Anthony said...

OH how I love onion rings....another thing we have in common.....if ever you are in my area I will take you to Eddies steak shed, they have the best onion rings I have ever had...consider it an open invitation ;)

peace my friend

Judith said...

Planting peas on Valentines Day! Oh envy, envy. I can see where my gardens are, pretty much, but here in Maine, we'll have snow on the ground for a long time to come. Enjoy!

Jim Gerritsen said...

Thanks for your kind words. On a farm we know timing is everything and we're happy to send seed out at the right time for our customers.
One of the prettiest times of the year up here in northern Maine is July when the fields of potatoes are in bloom. I know you'll enjoy that Potato Blossom Festival!
Jim Gerritsen
Wood Prairie Farm
Bridgewater, Maine

Anonymous said...

A Great baby picture!

Interesting to note that yes indeed the gardener has figured out the BEST time to plant. These companies mostly mail for their convenience, it is nice that you have noted companies that strive to provide their product at the right time for a gardeners sucess.chrisq

Steven Anthony said...

I adore onion rings, I know a place that if you are ever in my neck of the woods I will take you for the best onion rings ever, eddies stewak shed;) yummers

mas said...

Jim,

I already have my onions and my potatoes will be here the middle of february.
The best onion rings I ever had was when I lived in La. and there was a place called Gary's Fried Chicken. They made the onion rings when you put in your order and you got a big platter full of them. They were not greasy at all. I sure wish I had some right now.

compost in my shoe said...

The whole post feels greasy to me. I need to clean my screen with Windex, thank you.

Sharon Lovejoy said...

Oh darn it, I'm trying to get back into last spring's clothes-now I'm hankering for a mountainous pile of onion rings.

You're a bad influence on me.

I think I'll order the Wood Prairie potatoes. Thanks for the tip. Of course, most things from Maine are GREAT.

Love you,

Sharon

Jim Long said...

Amazing how many people love onion rings and how difficult good ones are to find! Steven, if you're anywhere between here and there, I'd gladly take you up on the offer of good rings.

Regarding the bhut jalokia peppers, they germinate best if they have bottom heat, like a plant germination pad. Same as with most peppers and tomatoes, the bottom heat just helps immensely.

Ken said...

Hi, I found your blog post via search engine. I also prefer onion ring batters without leavening.

No matter the recipe used, frying temperature is quite important. I have found that oils with relatively high monounsaturated components result in crisper fried products. That is generally olive, peanut, and canola oils. Lard also meets this filter, but these days who wants all that saturated fat? My experience of frying with high polyunsaturated, such as soybean oil, leaves everything fried in it sticky-greasy and far from crisp.

Love your site, best to ya!