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Deep-Fried Onion Rings
Onion rings have been popular for decades -- but in the eighties and nineties they graduated from bar food to one of the pet dishes of New American chefs.

Ingredients:
1 large sweet white onion (about 1 1/4 pounds), peeled, sliced 1/3 inch thick, and separated into rings
1 quart buttermilk
vegetable oil for deep-frying (about 6 cups)
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup stone-ground yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt plus additional for sprinkling, if desired
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon smoky chili powder (optional)*

Directions:
1. Soak the onion rings in a bowl with the buttermilk, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.
2. Heat the oil to 375 degrees in a large kettle over moderately high heat.
3. While the oil is heating, stir together the flour, cornmeal, coarse salt, pepper, and chili powder (if using) on a plate.
4. When the oil is hot enough, begin making the rings. One by one, remove the onion rings from the buttermilk (taking care to leave lots of clinging buttermilk), and coat each one with the flour mixture. (Don't shake off excess flour.) When you've coated 5 or 6, put them carefully in the hot oil. Deep-fry until they are golden brown on both sides, stirring and turning them if necessary, 2 to 3 minutes. (When you first add them, they will sink to the bottom, but should float to the top very quickly; stir the onions so they don't stick together.) Drain the onion rings on paper towels, and serve immediately if possible. Otherwise, keep them warm (in a preheated 250 degrees oven). Wait for the oil to get hot again and repeat with remaining onions, skimming any burned bits from the oil between batches. Serve hot, sprinkled with additional coarse salt (if desired).

Onion rings have been popular for decades -- but in the eighties and nineties they graduated from bar food to one of the pet dishes of New American chefs. Thankfully, this didn't mean a new generation of creative onion ring dishes (balsamic-marinated onion rings with goat cheese batter?) -- but it did mean special care and attention paid to these addictive halos, and lots of subtle variations in thickness and texture on the basic theme. There's one type we know we hate: the super thick crust, from which a thin, wet, stringy piece of onion slithers, leaving behind a deep-fried tunnel of dough. The following recipe has a light coating that sticks to its onion. And we've chosen to cut that onion thick, since we emphasize the onion itself by using the sweetest, most delicious onions we can find -- such as Vidalias, Walla Wallas, or Maui onions. Particularly good for onion rings are the thick-ringed Texas 1015 Super Sweets. Serves 6 as a side dish