Spring in Georgia brings with it the highly anticipated Vidalia® Onion season. Named as the official State vegetable in 1990, the Vidalia onion is a sweet onion of hybridized Granex parentage (or other similar varieties). Only onions grown in a production area defined by Georgia and U.S. law can be labeled as “Vidalia Onions.” Due to the low amount of sulfur in the soil, the onions grown in the region near Vidalia, Georgia are unusually sweet and mild. Vidalia® onions are hand-planted and hand-harvested each year, with sweet, juicy bulbs revered by chefs and cooks throughout the world. They are treasured not only for their size and their mild, sweet taste, but for their nutritive merits. They are low in calories, low-fat, low-cholesterol, sodium-free and packed with Vitamin C.
To celebrate the opening of Vidalia® Onion season, a four-day festival featuring a parade, arts & crafts, Miss Vidalia Onion Pageant and fireworks is held each year. The Vidalia® Onion Festival has been recognized by MSNBC as one of the “Five Don’t-Miss Festivals Across the U.S.” For the second year, the festival also included the Golden Onion Chef Competition.
The Golden Onion is a professional cooking competition in which 12 challengers display their skills and creativity. The 2013 roster included competing chefs from the mountains to the islands, from fine dining to casual eateries represent a cross-section of Georgia restaurants and cuisine. They were given one hour to prepare and present dishes featuring Vidalia® onions. Chef Daniel Chance of nearby Campagnolo Restaurant + Bar whose winning dish was a Scallop-Stuffed Vidalia® Onion with Onion Puree and Pickled Onion topped with fresh raw Vidalia® Onion, says “the flavor of the Vidalia® Onion is one of the few that can stand on its own or elevate any dish.”
For those Georgia natives who prefer to enjoy the illustrious state vegetable in its least assuming glory, fried onion rings are the way to go. These crispy-on-the-outside, sweet-on-the-inside rings have an extra crunchy coating.
Buttermilk Onion Rings
- 2 large Vidalia® onions (or other sweet onions)
- 1 quart peanut oil
- 2 cups buttermilk
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder (optional)
Peel the onions and slice them crosswise into 1-inch-thick slices. Separate each slice into individual rings, and remove the slick thin membrane covering the inside of each ring.
In a heavy skillet over medium heat, or in a tabletop deep fryer, heat the oil to 375 degrees F and then line a baking sheet with paper towels and set aside.
Divide the flour between 2 large baking dishes and season each dish liberally with salt and pepper and 1/4 teaspoon of the cayenne (if using). Place the buttermilk in a large baking dish and season liberally with salt and pepper as well.
Work in batches, dredging some of the onion rings in one of the flour dishes and tap off the excess. Next, dip the rings in the buttermilk allowing the excess to drain off, and then dredge the rings in the second dish of flour, making sure to coat the rings evenly. Tap off any excess and transfer the batch of coated rings to the hot oil.
Fry the rings, turning once or twice, until golden brown and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove with a wire skimmer and drain on paper towel-lined baking sheet. Season immediately with salt. Repeat until all of the rings have been cooked. Serve hot with your favorite sauce or dip like Thai sweet chili sauce, horseradish cream, steak sauce or just plain ketchup.
For those of you die hard onion fanatics, make plans to travel to Vidalia this weekend for the 36th Annual Vidalia Onion Festival. Saturday’s events include an Air Show, Arts & Crafts Fair, Carnival, Onion eating contest, and the Charlie Daniels Band in Concert. For details, directions or tickets, visit http://www.vidaliaonionfestival.com.
This post was originally written for inclusion on the Virginia-Highland Civic Association website on April 17, 2013.