This article first appeared in the 15 October 2005 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).
R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website www.foodservice411.com
The onions can be cut thick or thin, the texture of each quite different -from lacy to sturdy. At South Water Kitchen in Chicago, Executive Chef Heather Tehrune cuts hefty slices, then coats them in rice flour, cornstarch, dark beer, soda water and seasonings. The result? Rings that sport a light, crunchy and perfectly golden coat.
Tehrune understands that fried foods are a necessary element of her menu. "That's what our clientele wants," she says of choices such as country-fried chicken, shoestring fries and beer-battered cod. "It's too much of a hassle to fry food at home, so when people go to a restaurant and see fried chicken or onion rings, they order them."
Purists may prefer plain rings, but others like to layer on flavor with sauces such as barbecue, spicy mustard, rémoulade, blue cheese, roasted red pepper or even ketchup.
Experiment with ingredients to lighten batters; compare results yielded by beer, club soda, sparkling water or baking powder.
Regular white or seasoned breadcrumbs do the trick for simple breadings; try Japanese panko crumbs for a finer, smoother texture.
Frozen product is an option in many operations. In addition to ease and consistency, a range of cuts, coatings and flavours is available.
1. Lord of the Rings Chicago's South Water Kitchen uses large Spanish onions, favoring them for flavor and availability, but most any variety - from whites and yellows to sweet Vidalias, Mauis and Walla Wallas - are fit for frying.
2. Batter up to the plate
A wide range of breadings and batters as well as simple blends of seasoned flour and cornstarch protect delicate products from the deep-fryer's intense heat and also yield variety in taste and texture.
3. Dash, dash, dash Seasonings are the final element of successful fried foods. Although more complex flavors can be added to the batter or breading, coarse salt, applied immediately out of the fryer, brings rings one step closer to perfection.