If you grew up where I did, chances are diners were a part of your life. A big part. Regardless of whether it was a six booth and counter aluminum room or acropolis of 24-hour neon and naugahyde, the local diner usually served the same purpose. It was the auxiliary kitchen table. And just like at home, important things happened across diner tables. Life changing events were shared. Met a new guy and things starting to get serious? The besties were summoned to a booth, and the details dished over dishes of cheese fries. Break-up eminent and you needed your girlfriend’s shoulders to sob on? Just tell them to meet you at the diner for cheesecake. That’s all the explaining you had to do. By the time you got there they’d have reserved your usual booth, kleenex in hand.
Diners in the NY-Metro area could be small or large, but never understated. Neon, chrome-rimmed, with sparkly vinyl seats befitting a tricked out 70s corvette were par for the course. Decor could vary from Elivs-movie raceway to Athens via the BQE, but one thing you could always count on. The autographed picture behind the counter. For a time Telly Savalas was popular, but as time and television programming changed, Don Johnson, John Travolta, and my favorite, Abe Vigoda were often enshrined behind the butter cookies and melt-away mints at the register.
I miss diners, as much for the ritual as for the food. I loved the weekend diner breakfasts, catching up over eggs, planning the day. And as the last stop of the evening, nothing capped off a fun night with friends better than a plate of pancakes or onion rings in the wee hours. I’ve moved pretty far away from the local diner, but I’m not too worried about that. Because even if there’s no autographed Telly, and “diner” isn’t in the name, as long as there’s a booth and friends to share it, I’ll aways have a kitchen table away from home.
When I think of diners, I think of onion rings. Battered and fried onion rings. Probably because this was the dish most often consumed in the wee hours after work as a waitress at the Rustler Steak House. Yes, my first foray into the culinary arts was done while wearing a plastic cowboy hat.
Anyway, I recently got back from a trip to Salt Lake City, during which I spent a lot of time enjoying some pretty great cider with a cider maker who’s pretty great too. Which brings me back to onion rings. In honor of my diner nostalgia, the Superbowl, and because I’ve been playing with cider recipes lately, here’s my take on a favorite late night treat – Cider Battered Onion Rings.
Cider Battered Onion Rings
The amounts below are for about two portions, but the recipe is easy doubled
- 1/2 cup flour plus extra for dusting the onions
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup dry hard cider like Ruby
- Two large onions
- 1/2 cup oil (I used coconut oil and it worked great!)
- 2 tablespoons dried minced onions
- 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
For the Onion Salt:
These rings are good, but a sprinkle of onion salt makes them great. Take the minced onions and the coarse sea salt and grind them up together in a food processor or spice grinder to a fairly fine powder. You’ll have much more than you need for the rings, but this stuff is pretty great on taters, steak, etc.
For the Onion Rings:
Peel and slice the onions into rings about 1/4″ thick, and separate the rings. You could also do these in half moons if that’s easier.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Add the cider and whisk until there are no lumps. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes.
When your batter is ready, heat the oil in a deep frying pan (I use cast iron for this). You can test when the oil is hot enough by dropping a tiny bit of batter in once the oil is “shimmering” (about 350F on a thermometer if you want to go that way). If the batter sizzles and cooks, you’re good to go.
You’ll want to set up a place to put the cooked rings before starting to fry, since things go fast once you’re sizzling rings. Here’s how I do it: I cover my counter closest to the stove with a brown paper grocery bag. It sops up grease well, makes an easy place to season with onion salt, no waste of expensive paper towels, and easy clean up. Once I’ve laid out the bag, I put a dish of the onion salt right next to it for easy sprinkling once the rings come out of the oil and are still hot.
Now to the frying: Throw a little flour in a bowl, and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Dredge the first batch of onions in the flour, then in the batter, and carefully place in the hot oil. Don’t overcrowd the pan. The battered ring will puff up, which is exactly what you want. Fry for about 3 minutes on one side or until golden. Carefully turn over, and fry another few minutes til done. Remove to paper bag, and sprinkle on a little of the onion salt. Repeat with the remaining rings. If I’m making a bunch, I’ll put a cooling rack on a baking sheet, put the finished rings on it and keep them warm on it in a 300F oven while frying the next batch
Serve with a cold glass of Ruby or your favorite hard cider.
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