Dean Fearing, the guitar-strumming executive chef at Dallas’ swanky Mansion on Turtle Creek, hits all the right notes when he’s in the kitchen.

The Eastern Kentucky native and graduate of New York’s Culinary Institute came to Texas in 1979 to explore new frontiers in cooking and ended up pioneering Southwestern cuisine. His onion pudding, based on a family recipe from Jim Mills, the chef de cuisine at the Mansion, takes advantage of an abundant East Texas crop. With its crunchy onion-ring topping, this casserole-like dish is a snappy, unusual accompaniment to poultry, fish, or meat—and it’s good enough to bring tears to your eyes.

Dean Fearing’s East Texas Onion Pudding

3 tablespoons peanut oil (or other light oil)
4 yellow Noonday onions, peeled and thinly sliced (yellow, red, or 1015 onions may be substituted)
6 Vidalia onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup heavy cream
4 large eggs
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Tobacco onions (see recipe below)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions, and sauté for 10 to 12 minutes, until transparent and wilted but not brown. Remove from heat, and allow to cool.

In medium mixing bowl whisk together cream, eggs, and garlic. Add onions, and season with salt, cayenne pepper, and lemon juice. Pour into 8-inch-square ceramic baking dish, and place on center rack of oven. Bake 20 minutes, until top begins to set. Place tobacco onions evenly over pudding, then bake 20 minutes more, until center is completely set. If tobacco onions begin to burn, cover dish loosely with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

This recipe calls for sweet onions, but other onions may be substituted for slight variations in taste. Serves 6.

Tobacco Onions

5 cups peanut oil (or other light oil)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large yellow or sweet onions, peeled, thinly sliced, and separated into rings

Heat oil to 350 degrees in deep saucepan over medium heat. In medium bowl combine and mix dry ingredients, then add onions and toss to coat. Remove onion rings, shaking off excess flour mixture. Fry a few rings at a time for 10 minutes, until crisp and golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Tobacco onions are easy to prepare and can also be used as a side dish or an accompaniment to hamburgers.