Fried to golden perfection, crunchy on the outside, and sweetly tender on the inside, beer-battered onion rings are a textural match made in heaven.
Elements of Distress
These bands of gold rarely live up to their promise. More often than not, they are a litany of frying flaws: soggy, doughy, heavy, and raw.
Plan of Attack
We’d crisp up the batter and maximize its yeasty, malty flavor. We’d also treat the underlying onions to play up both their sweetness and tenderness.
First, we needed an ideal onion for our rings. Our tasters were sweet on sweet onions, preferring their mildness.
Now that we had our optimal onion, we turned to our batter. Beer was a good starter—besides adding the richness of malt and hops, its carbonation contributes extra lift—but we still wanted to boost our batter texture. We tried both eggs and baking powder. The latter was paydirt, producing a coating that was thick and substantial, yet light. We also substituted cornstarch for flour to further maximize crispness.
Unfortunately, our rings were as crispy on the inside as they were on the outside. To sequester the crunch in the batter, where it belongs, we tried soaking the onions to soften them. Water, buttermilk, and milk all worked fine, but a soak in a tub of beer not only rendered these onions compliant, but it also injected additional flavor.
To shorten our soak time, we added salt, which helped to break down the exterior cell walls of the onion. Finally, we found that a few teaspoons of malt vinegar subtly echoed the caramel beer notes of the batter.
Now these are (onion) rings that run circles around the competition!