Crispy fried tobacco onions with spicy seasoning are one of those snacks there's never enough of. Onions deep fried in crunchy coating, served as a snack or a topping, they re-define the word 'moreish'.
The story behind crispy tobacco onions:
I live with a man who used to hate onions. He hated them so much that for a time I was banned from eating them myself, lest my breath should smell of the hateful stuff. It is now maintained that the anecdote is a complete fabrication and myth, nevertheless – he was a veritable onion hater.
And he likes the crispy tobacco ones. How good must they be then?
Incredibly tasty and totally moreish – that’s how.
The story continues:
I first had them a few weeks ago in a lovely restaurant in New Forest, and they came with a hearty recommendation from the lovely waiter who served us: 'they are our signature side dish'.
I was a little suspicious first. Why on earth are they called 'tobacco' onions? Do they actually soak baccy leaves and then chuck in onions for flavour? Or do they simply smoke lots of fags in the kitchen while frying onions?
But as I am fearless in the face of whatever food is put before me, I tried a forkful. They had me at first bite.
There weren’t too many bites to follow because the Former Onion Hater took care of most of the bowl and looked for more.
So why are they called ‘tobacco onions’?
Tobacco, thankfully is not involved in the preparation process. Rather boringly, they are called ‘tobacco’ due to their colour and curly appearance similar to dried tobacco leaves.
A challenge! I simply had to make them at home. So I followed up with research and here’s my recipe. It’s a compilation of several, the method as in Paul Rankin’s and spices added at my fancy. It does involve a little bit of fuss, because deep frying is always fussy and messy I find. But SO WORTH IT.
How to prepare tobacco onions
Messy it might be but there’s nothing difficult about the preparation apart from slicing onion very thinly. If you own one of those lethal slicing weapons called mandolin, the job is done, you’ll only shed tears while peeling the onions.
Softened with a little salt and separated into feathers, the onions are dredges through seasoned flour, and I mean SEASONED FLOUR. Not merely with a pinch of salt and a grinding of pepper which is what we always do when the recipe says ‘seasoned flour’.
There should be at least spice enough to colour the flour mix vibrant pink. Feel free to experiment with the spices and their amount though, bearing in mind they need to deliver a kick.
Deep fat frying tips
To shake the onions off excess flour it is best to place them in a sieve or a colander and shake vigorously. If too much flour lands in the oil, it will lower its temperature too much and stop the onions from crisping.
Also, don’t overcrowd the oil: it’s much better to fry the onions in batches than see them turn into a soggy and miserable mess.
Frying takes just a few minutes, depending how hot the oil was, so watch the onions like a hawk. Drain them from the oil when dark brown and really crisp.
A tip here: if, like me, you don't own a deep fat fryer, appoint an oldish pan with a lid to be your designated deep fryer. If the oil looks clean after the deep-frying session, I simply leave it in the pan and put it away with the oil into the cupboard, obviously when completely cold. Is that a very slobbish practice?
How to serve tobacco onions?
The crispy tobacco onions go best with steak, chops or burgers.
But they are as gorgeous scattered over vegetable fried rice, or as a side to baked sweet potatoes, so by no means only the realm of meat eaters.
And anyway, you might just polish them on their own as a snack.