My onion ring daydreams involve a very specific type of onion ring. The classic type served in British pubs, the ones with chunky, crisp batter surrounding sweet, juicy onion. Add a small sprinkle of salt and they have that perfect sweet-salty tang.
However, batter is a bit more complex than it looks. Developing this egg free batter recipe made me explore the properties of egg batters and how they can be recreated in vegan cookery in much deeper detail than I thought I’d go, leading to some bonus discoveries I’ll post about soon! However, pancakes are a subject for another day, so back to the important matter of coating and deep frying onions, or peppers…or mushrooms, this batter can work for pretty much anything you’d like to coat and fry.
Every successful variant I’ve found so far for coating batters used eggs. And it seemed for good reason, as omitting the egg consistently made batter that just slipped off more than stuck to food. Perhaps it was too thin? Egg-free batter can be thickened simply enough by increasing the flour to water ratio, but thicker didn’t seem to be the key, because even very thick batter still tended to slip off food, and it didn’t have the right texture when cooked anyway. Onion rings should be crisp and light, not dense and oily.
Thicker batter really isn’t the solution here to egg-free, coating batter needs the right amount of water in it so that during cooking it turns to steam and expands to puff the batter up. Also, as it boils off it stops the batter from absorbing too much oil. Not enough water in your batter leads to a dense, oily outcome. So, we have a conflicting situation, more water makes crisper lighter more desirable batter….which also falls off the food before it makes it in to the fryer. This is where eggs usually come in. The key component is the long protein chains in the eggs, these don’t exactly thicken batter, rather they make it viscous – effectively it clings to itself. The result is when something is dipped in a viscous batter and removed, the batter coating isn’t just sticking to the food, it’s also clinging to itself, creating a coating that is quite uniform in coverage and thickness.
I’ve used wholemeal flour for these onion rings as I like the taste, but you can use white flour. Both work great.
Well, I finally found out how to make vegan batters for coating. This batter has exceptional ability to coat and cling to food, in fact, it beats any egg batter I’ve ever tried. It even coats the trickiest of things to batter – mushrooms – with ease. And it puffs up crisp and light when fried. The secret is the combination of cornflour and flaxseed because at the right ratio they allow for a viscous batter with plenty of water content. So, it coats properly, and then it cooks properly. The amounts given for these ingredients can be adjusted a little, I found for example using 30g flaxseed and 350g water makes for an incredibly crisp batter. Your crispness aims come down to personal taste – and the item you’re frying. Something wet will benefit from a batter than crisps easier. For onions and peppers, I found the amounts given in the recipe below have a good balance of crisp surface and soft inside.
Crisp, light, wholemeal onion rings
- 2 large onions
- 75 g Wholemeal flour
- 1 level teaspoon Baking powder
- 10 g ground flaxseed (aka flaxmeal)
- 10 g Cornflour (aka cornstarch)
- 175 g Water (I prefer to weigh water)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Mix together dry ingredients (flour, cornflour, flax seed, salt, pepper and baking powder), and to these mix in the water to form a smooth batter. Allow to stand for minimum 20 minutes to thicken, then stir once more before use.
- Peel the onions and cut them in to about 1 – 1.5 cm slices horizontal to their top and root, producing slices you can separate in to rings. Use the good sized rings for this recipe, the small pieces from each onion's center can be used in another recipe.
- Heat a pan of oil (need at least 6 cm depth) to 160 °C (320 °F)
- Dip your onion slices (or whatever else you’re coating, eg. pepper slices, mushrooms, etc.) in the batter with a fork, tap off the excess batter and then immediately, and carefully transfer to the hot oil. Add each ring so that it is not touching another ring, so they do not stick together. Be careful to avoid the oil splashing.
- Fry until golden brown and crisp, flipping over once halfway through to cook both sides. Drain on absorbent paper.