Home World Cuisine Honey, I Shrunk the Bloomin’ Onion

Honey, I Shrunk the Bloomin’ Onion

by 9999biz.com
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When I pull up to a chain restaurant, I’m usually there for a single item. The Frosty at Wendy’s. The orange chicken at Panda Express. Infinity breadsticks at Olive Garden. One night last October, my boyfriend and I jumped in a Zipcar and drove out to a strip mall in Queens with one goal in mind: a Bloomin’ Onion from Outback Steakhouse.

When Outback tore into the national consciousness by the early 1990s, its star player was a huge, fanned out, deep-fried onion, existing somewhere between decorative art and county fair excess. The staying power has been impressive; it’s still the first thing that pops to mind for most people when I mention the chain. But the dish’s precursor has nothing to do with Australia’s remote areas—it likely took the stage in New Orleans in 1985. At Russell’s Marina Grill, chef Jeff Glowski served an early version of the dish. His friend Tim Gannon was then the Director of Development for Al Copeland Enterprises, a restaurant group that owns several popular Louisiana chains. Gannon (with Glowski’s permission) pulled the deep-fried onion onto the menu of one of his restaurants, Copeland’s. But in 1987, Gannon left Al Copeland Enterprises, and took the crispy, pull-apart onion with him to his new project, a chain of steakhouses with an Aussie accent.

The Bloomin’ Onion was on the menu from day one at Outback, and seems to have inspired quite a few imitators, including the dearly departed Awesome Blossom at Chili’s and the Cactus Blossom at Texas Roadhouse. And that night in a Queens strip mall, it ignited one more imitator. (Me.)

There are a lot of reasons why making a Bloomin’ Onion at home just does not make sense. The original is allegedly seasoned with 17 spices (ridiculous) and the dipping sauce has 37 ingredients (no thank you). It also requires impeccable knife skills and endless patience, a tough barrier to entry for even the most experienced home cooks. But the deep-fried onion is a masterpiece of textures (both crispy and greasy-tender) and flavors (sweet, savory, and salty). As I chomped through layer after layer that night, my mind started racing, looking for a way to capture that great flavor and crunchy satisfaction with way less effort.

A fried cipollini onion topped with flaky sea salt.

You bet it’s crispy.

Photo by Travis Rainey, Food Styling by Judy Haubert

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