Michael Lomonaco is one of those quintessential New York chefs who cooks with great conviction. As former chef at the iconic 21 Club and the last executive chef of the ill-fated Windows on the World atop the Twin Towers, he has made a career of transforming staid menus into modern American cuisine. He's still wielding this commitment as the executive chef and partner of Porter House New York, where he's created a chic, contemporary American steak house with all the trimmings.
His spicy-sweet onion rings embody Lomonaco's modern fare. A favorite of his monied and celebrity clientele, the substantial onion rings, deep-fried in an equally substantial buttermilk batter, appear alongside mighty steaks and chops as miraculously light and crisp expressions of simple yet masterful technique – not the sodden clumps of the past. They are eaten just like that, without adornment, or dipped in blue cheese, barbecue, and other signature sauces.
How does he achieve such perfect crunch and flavor? Mainly by air-drying the battered rings for a few minutes before frying; deep-frying small batches at a time in neutral oil "so the flavors shine through"; using sweet onions, which are low in sulfur and water; salting the rings only after they emerge from the fryer ("Salt naturally leaches out moisture and will leave them soggy"); and, most important, serving them as soon as they're cooked ("Cook and consume").
Michael Lomonaco's Buttermilk Onion Rings
- 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dredging
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 2 tbsp hot Hungarian paprika
- 4 sliced Vidalia onions in season. Or Texas sweet onions or other available sweet onions
- Salt to taste
- Canola or other neutral oil for frying
Add oil to an electric deep fryer. Preheat to 360ºF. "There's no getting around it; you have to use a deep fryer," Lomonaco says. If an electric deep fryer is unavailable, use a stovetop fryer or a heavy, high-sided pot filled with oil. But beware, "Stovetop frying is really dangerous," he cautions. Also, change the oil every time you fry for taste and food safety.
To make the batter, combine the flour, buttermilk, and paprika evenly in a large bowl. Dredge the onion rings in plain flour first so the batter adheres better. Then add the dredged onion rings to the seasoned batter; toss and shake well to coat the onions evenly in the batter. Put the onions into a strainer and shake off any excess batter so that what remains is the thinnest coating possible. Lay out rings on a sheet pan and allow to air-dry for 10–15 minutes at room temperature for a crispier crunch.
Place a few coated onions in a fryer basket and carefully submerge in the hot oil. Avoid overcrowding them; fry in small batches so that rings cook more quickly and evenly. Shake the basket to ensure even frying, and remove from the fryer when the onions have cooked to a deep golden, but not dark, brown color. Continue in this manner until all the onions have been cooked.
Season each batch with salt and drain on paper towels. Serve immediately. If necessary, you can keep the rings crunchy and warm for about 10 minutes in a 250ºF oven.