Sweet allium genus! I love all onions: Vidalias, Big Texas Sweets, red onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, chives, scapes, ramps and garlic. Chives are like bright green grasses inviting bees, while ornamentals on their tall stems provide architectural dynamism to the perennial beds. I’ve been transplanting ramps into the garden beds. They look enough like early tulips to fit in, and they die back completely before the hostas are in full leaf.
This recipe started by way of a tall jar of crispy friend shallots from an Asian market. Fried shallots are essential for many Indonesian, Thai and Malaysian recipes. They impart a sweet, pungent and a slight bitter note to dishes from those countries, and bring a surprise to more familiar fare. With ramps coming up I knew it was time to make some of my own fried onion garnishes.
A little research on frying shallots makes it looks easy and yet I threw out the first two batches after burning them. I was working with a combination of shallots, leeks and slivers of red onion. The first I fried too long – they go too quickly from perfectly golden to walnut brown (aka burned). The second batch I fried to perfect golden doneness. Then following directions for a vadouvan recipe originating in Gourmet, I combined the fried shallots with a spice blend, and set the ingredients on a baking sheet in a low oven to “dry” them. The lowest setting on my oven is 170 – not low enough – the whole batch was burned and bitter.
For the third batch, I was out of leeks and nearly out of shallots, so I slivered my remaining shallots and then sliced the white ends of all the clean, freshly dug ramps I had in the fridge. I wound up with about 1.5 c of raw oniony bits. I was ready to fry again.
Many recipes for fried shallots suggest using a mandoline to slice thin rounds, and the device can certainly sliver very thinly, however, with my mandoline it’s hard to set the bulb in the protecting pusher so I do them by hand. The ramps must be slivered by hand or else you will have crispy fried finger tips.
After slicing, spread shallots/onions, etc out in rings on a large sheet tray, breaking up any concentric circles, avoiding overlapping them to prevents from clumping when frying.
If you have a deep-frying set up with a fine basket it would be the ideal tool to use for crispy fried shallots. I used a cast iron skillet (as I do for most of my cooking) with 1” of oil, set on low flame of my gas stove.
The shallots go from light golden brown to golden brown really quickly. Hence, you need to watch the flame and the browning progress very carefully, especially during the second half of the cooking. Stir the onions while frying to insure even frying and a crispier finished product. Do not crowd the pot, they need space to fry up quickly and crisply. Don’t wait till they’re deep golden brown; get them out when some bits are still a light color. When you take them out there’s still residual heat that will keep cooking the onions.
Any combination of alliums (the onion family), about 1c to 1.5c cup raw will make a perfect garnish for 6 diners. But do make plenty, you will want to use the crispy bites again and again.
Any combination of:
1 leek, the white and a little of the light green, sliced in 1/8th to ¼” rounds
10 -15 shallots (peeled and sliced very thinly crosswise with a knife or mandoline)
1 red onion sliced very thinly
1 c ramp whites, sliced in ¼” rounds
Oil for frying. Oils that are suitable for high heat are: peanut, corn, canola or safflower oil. Most sources recommend 2 or more inches depth for frying, depending on your pot. I found 1” worked fine for me in a skillet.
Add 1” to 3” of a neutral vegetable oil in a heavy pot skillet, or more in deep fryer.
Place over medium heat until a deep-fry thermometer registers 360°F. Since I used the minimum amount of oil, it’s very hard to test for temperature. I set the skillet on my number 2 gas burner (set to a slightly lower flame than my high flame burner). I used the low setting and the oil heated to a perfect frying temperature, finishing each batch quickly.
Separate the shallot slices into rings and place them in a medium bowl. Ramps rings will not easily separate; you can cook them whole, breaking them up with a spoon as they cook.
Working with a small quantity, sprinkle the shallots over the hot oil and stir gently to keep them separated. Fry until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Depending on your stove you may find it takes up to ten minutes for the rings to turn golden.
Remove rings with a slotted spoon or skimmer, drain on an old cloth napkin, brown paper bag or paper towels. (optional: Sprinkle with salt while still warm.) Continue frying the rest of the shallots.
I served this batch with a seared wild salmon fillet, topped with a ramp green goddess dressing and garnished with crispy fried ramps and shallots. Fantastic on a warm beluga lentil salad.
Use your fried onions warm or cool. Allow to cool before storing in a closed, food-safe container. Store refrigerated for a couple weeks.
Save the oil! It is deeply infused with the oniony, garlicky flavor of whatever you fried. Pour the cooled oil into a container with a tight fitting lid. Use it for stir-fries or to dress vegetable before roasting. Some people recommend using it in vinaigrettes.