The Texas Sweet Onion

The perfect circle.
Photograph by Jody Horton

The Texas sweet onion is as distinctive as the state from which it originates and it will no doubt serve as a fitting emblem for the bounties of nature with which our state is blessed.  — House Concurrent Resolution No. 148, designating the Texas sweet onion the state vegetable in 1997

The so-called lily of the kitchen, the humble onion is all too often the workh orse of the kitchen, essential to just about every dish and yet taken for granted, disp araged for bringing on unwanted tears and left to languish in a dusty bin or roll around aimlessly on a cluttered counter. But not the Texas sweet onion, that delicate, ephemeral jewel that makes its short-lived appearance in grocery stores around this time of year. And especially not the iconic 1015, by far the most famous of its ilk, an exceedingly palate-friendly hybrid brought to life in 1986 by Texas A&M’s horticulture program after a decade of research and so much grant money that the little allium came to be called the Million Dollar Baby. ¶ Named for its optimal planting date, the pride and joy of the Rio Grande Valley is said to be mild enough to eat raw, like an apple. But for a minimalist preparation that still glorifies its natural beauty and taste, you can’t do much better than onion rings (what defenseless vegetable doesn’t benefit from a quick dip in hot oil?). The symbiosis of sweet, warm onion and crunchy, salty batter makes those golden hoops the ultimate showcase for the singular 1015. Nobody puts this baby in a corner.  

Chili Onion Rings

(Serves 4)

3 1015 onions
4 cups buttermilk
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons chili powder, homemade or Gebhardt
peanut oil, for deep-frying

Cut the onions into 1/4-inch slices. In a nonreactive dish, soak the onions in the buttermilk for 30 to 60 minutes. In a brown-paper sack, combine the flour, salt, and chili powder. Drain the onions and dredge them in the seasoned flour.

Pour at least 4 inches of oil into a deep, heavy saucepan. Heat the oil to 375 degrees. Fry the onions in batches, about 2 to 3 minutes or until golden. Drain the onions on paper towels, sprinkle with salt, and serve immediately.

Adapted from Texas Home Cooking , by Cheryl Alters Jamison and Bill Jamison. Used by permission of the Harvard Common Press.

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