I happen to be a huge fan of great onion rings. I’ve loved the big fat, juicy ones at summer fairs. I’ve relished amazing loaves of crispy skinny ones.
I’ve devoured nuggets and straws, bountiful blooming onions, and all sorts of onion rings from coast to coast and abroad. If you are a fan, you likely agree that biting into a perfect onion ring is scrumptiously satisfying. On the other hand, nibbling on a bready, soggy, greasy option finds me leaving the rest on the plate.
I found myself wondering how the onion ring began. While a few U.S. joints have tried to lay claim, the earliest recipes for a “battered and fried onion” dish hail from Britain back in the early 1800s. That said, it is likely that a Crisco recipe that was distributed in the 1930s boosted their rise to national prominence. Now we celebrate National Onion Ring Day every June 22nd.
Do not confuse true, hand-cut onion rings, be they breaded, battered, or au natural with the items called onion rings at fast-food establishments. To my taste, none make the grade. Regardless, “The Fasties” annual awards for fast foods have an onion ring category that clocked the good (highly questionable), the bad, and the ugly in onion rings at take-out chains.
The awards documented the standard mushy-centered, unseasoned “onion rings” found at Burger King and the crunch of big rings at Dairy Queen up to the allegedly thick-cut sort at Culver’s to the first prize-winner. That distinction went to Sonic Drive-In’s hand-made, thick-cut onion rings. Do as you will. Personally, I avoid fast-food onion rings.
But I relish them at a great many restaurants. Simply ask your server to be honest. My suggestion is simple: If they come from frozen, give them a pass. If made in-house, give them a try.
Before I share the names of a few restaurants where I have enjoyed good onion rings, I will tell you that I will then share my recipe for Super Simple Tobacco Onions… delicate batter-free gems that are perfect atop your steak, grilled chicken, lamb chops, in salads and sandwiches (ooooh-la-la with chicken salad, for example… or in a grilled cheese), stop macaroni & cheese or other baked dishes, on soups (especially a great basil-tomato), on baked or mashed potatoes, or with anything else that suits your fancy! Nibbling them as a snack is over-the-top, too. In fact, when making these, I double or triple the amount of onion…. Yup. That is because I know I will eat at least half while snacking, so they’ll never make it to the meal.
If you love the crispy, curly, crunchy yum of onion rings… read on as I will now just touch on a few of the places where I have enjoyed onion rings. (No slight is intended to all the other wonderful places I have enjoyed… or have yet to enjoy!)
As for restaurant chains, onion rings at New Hampshire and Maine’s Weathervane are basic but worthy of note.
If you prefer the big, greasy, battered beauties, next time you are in Long Island, New York, head for The Lobster Roll (aka “Lunch”) in Montauk.
Speaking of fatties, Mango’s Dockside in Marco Island, Florida serves theirs up on a vertical skewer.
As thick-cut onion rings go, it’s very tough to beat the hand-cut perfection at Buckley’s Great Steaks in Merrimack, New Hampshire.
While Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, FL still has me craving their crazy, amazing onion ring loaf (no longer a menu item), they still make great skinny onion rings. But for similar satisfaction, order the ever so lightly battered (and addictive) onion straws at Street Meet in Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Shibley’s on the Pier in Alton Bay, New Hampshire serves up my essential order-with-the-starter-drinks appetizer.
And in Manchester, New Hampshire, Billy’s Sports Bar offers a crispy, thin-cut pile of onion rings for sharing… or not.
Another great spot for a veritable mountain of light and crispy onion rings is Putnam’s Watervew in Goffstown, New Hampshire.
For more onion and less ring, you may enjoy deep-fried, lightly battered onion nuggets. The Lobster Boat in Merrimack, also in the Granite State.
On Florida’s east coast, you can enjoy the light, crispy batter on the onion rings at Vero Beach’s Ocean Grill.
But I must say that an old haunt called Café Escadrille in Burlington, Massachusetts is tough to top with its absolutely amazing, lightest possible batter.
Now let me get back to serving you up a tobacco onions recipe. Despite the name, tobacco onions are tobacco- and nicotine-free. Their name comes from the fact that they tend to look like dried tobacco leaves. They’re simply cut ultra-thin and barely dusted (if at all) with seasoned flour. There’s no egg, no batter, and no breading. AND they can be completely gluten-free, too.
Super Simple Tobacco Onions
1 (or more) large sweet, Bermuda, red, or yellow onion, peeled & thinly sliced with a mandolin
1-2 c buttermilk, milk, water (or a combo)
½ c flour
1 T each (or just salt): monkfruit (or other granulated sweetener), chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, ground cumin, ground cayenne (non or less, if so desired), salt
Vegetable oil for frying & kosher salt for extra seasoning, if desired
Toss and soak onion slices in milk for 10 – 30 minutes; drain in colander. Meanwhile, combine flour & desired seasonings. Working in batches, shake a few onion slices free of excess moisture and dredge in seasoned flour before carefully placing in a heavy-bottomed pot with the vegetable oil preheated to 375°F. Let fry 2-3 minutes, stirring once or twice, before using slotted spoon to remove them to drain on paper towels & immediately sprinkling with additional salt. Continue with remaining onions. Serve hot with your choice of dip, from catsup, BBQ sauce, or ranch dressing to a spicy remoulade sauce or a favorite boom-boom or bang-bang sauce.
KISS Tips: Keep early batches warm in a 250°F oven while preparing the rest. Soaking briefly before cooking helps neutralize onion’s pungent sharpness, which is very important for red or other sharp-flavored types. (The liquid also helps the seasoned flour adhere better to the onion for a crispier exterior finish. For gluten-free, use gluten-free flour with a binding agent, such as xanthan gum. (Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur both have excellent 1-for-1 gluten-free flour replacements.) Fried is best, but I have made rings on the grill, too. For an air fryer, preheat to 400°F. Prepare onions as directed above and place in oil-sprayed basket or trays in single layers, not overlapping. Lightly spray them with oil and air fry for 5-7 minutes, turning over halfway through; then repeat with remaining onions.
A saucy note: Both boom-boom and bang-bang sauces are slightly sweet & spicy and are made with a mayonnaise & chili sauce base. Boom-boom is usually milder and includes catsup, garlic, and brown sugar. Bang-bang is usually thicker and uses honey instead of brown sugar.
I have prepared Super Simple Tobacco Onions with no flour at all… just seasonings or opt for no seasonings, except for salt when they come out hot from the oil.
Come on… get a little salty. Whether you fry, bake, BBQ, air-fry, or order them at a restaurant, enjoy National Onion Ring Day!