Never have I known a place to have such a love of a seasoning as the mid-Atlantic does for Old Bay. Moving here, we knew it was popular, especially since the company is based out of Baltimore, but the following for this seasoning is impressive. It’s like the Pabst Blue Ribbon of the spice cabinet, only mainstream and regionally hipster at the same time… a feat I tell you. To give you an idea of how much Old Bay seasoning is part of the local food culture, we bought a rotisserie chicken at the store with Old Bay seasoning. This isn’t just for crab legs anymore.
Somehow, one a recent road trip, the Godfather and I got to talking about regional food obsessions and the love affair between Old Bay seasoning and the mid-Atlantic came up. We started talking about all the non-steamed crab or shrimp dishes we had tried with Old Bay, and then suddenly, I stopped. And I looked at the Godfather and whispered, “… onion rings. We haven’t had Old Bay onion rings. I must create them, and put it on the internet!” He gave me a bit of side eye (he was driving). I continued… (still whispering)… “and it must contain a local beer. (end whispering) Beer battered Old Bay onion rings will be BRILLIANT!!!” He intensified the side-eye, because who gets that excited about onion rings??? (Hint: Me.) But he was pleased at the prospect of heading to a local brewery to research for the recipe.
A few weekends later, we were out running errands and planned it all to end in said research trip. We stopped by local Ashburn, VA brewery, Old Ox Brewery, and shared a tasting flight, hoping to find the perfect beer for cooking and pairing. The staff was great, the beers were good. Some were not really my cup of tea, others were quite good, the French Saison D’Ox Farmhouse Style Ale was golden perfection in a glass. One sip and I knew it was the perfect local beer pairing for this recipe! If you don’t live close enough to Ashburn, Virginia to visit Old Ox and get your own cute little growler, find a French Farmhouse-style Ale. It should be golden in color, some light citrus notes, but a touch of hoppiness to balance. Bonus points if you find a local-to-you small brewery to support.
These onion rings are mid-Atlantic flavor wonderfulness. The batter is light but gives that perfectly satisfying crispy crunch onion rings need, and the hint of Old Bay seasoning just adds something special that makes it feel like a seaside meal, even if you happen to be hours away from the closest beach. The piece de resistance though, what isn’t necessary yet totally makes the side dish go from “side dish” to “why doesn’t my favorite restaurant serve this because I need some during the game?” level, is the creamy lemon dipping sauce.
Old Bay seasoning, for me, is synonymous with seafood, and seafood is synonymous with lemons. These flavors just have to be together, and I wanted a bright accompaniment sauce to pair with the fried onion rings to keep the dish from getting heavy. This sauce was just the thing! It makes about 3/4 cup, which is more than what we needed for the onion rings, and we ended up using the extra with chicken, in sandwiches, and I think over a rice bowl. It’s got that balance of tangy, creamy, citrus, savory, sweet that balances the onion rings in a way that just leaves you reaching for another… and another… and a third or tenth for good measure. The Godfather is not usually a mayo-based/creamy sauce fan, and he was all about this lemon dipping sauce.
I fried these in a pan, and could only do about 3-4 at a time, so I held the rest on a paper towel lined baking sheet in an oven that had been warmed to 170 F and then shut off. If you have a deep fryer, I would imagine it would go a little faster, but if you don’t, plan about 25 minutes to fry if you have one pan going, and definitely keep the onion rings warm using the “prewarmed then shut off” oven trick so they don’t get soggy and they all taste fresh when served. I’d recommend making the dipping sauce at least an hour in advance of serving, but you may also make it up to a day or two early and just store in the refrigerator.
I hope you enjoy this recipe for crispy beer battered Old Bay onion rings before summer is out, or when it’s cooler and you need a little something that tastes like a seaside vacation.
- 2 large Vidalia (sweet) onions
- 1 cup + 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1½ tbsp Old Bay Seasoning + a little more for sprinkling
- 1⅓ c farmhouse style ale (see notes)
- 3-4 cups vegetable oil for frying
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- zest from 1 lemon
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 tbsp yellow mustard
- 1 tsp honey or sugar
- ½ tsp salt
- Make the sauce by mixing together all ingredients in a bowl until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste, then cover and refrigerate until serving.
- Pour the vegetable oil into your frying pan and place over medium heat.
- Slice the onions into ¾" rounds and soak in a large mixing bowl of ice water while you prepare the batter.
- In a medium mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, and Old Bay seasoning. Pour in the light beer and stir until smooth.
- Remove the onions from the ice water and place on a clean dishtowel to dry well.
- Pour out the ice water, add more ice to the bowl, and rest the onion ring batter bowl over the ice. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.
- Dip an onion ring into the batter, shake off the excess gently, and place into your frying pan. Dip as many more onion rings as will fit. I could make them 3-4 at a time in my pan.
- Cook about 2 minutes per side until the batter turns a light golden brown and is crispy. Remove from the oil and place on the baking sheet to drain. Keep the baking sheet in a warm location so the onion rings stay warm while you cook. Repeat until you've made all the rings.
- Serve immediately with the creamy lemon dipping sauce.
- I used the reduced sodium Old Bay seasoning, and found that I did need to add a pinch of salt to the recipe. Since I am listing "regular" Old Bay seasoning in the ingredients, I did not add the salt, but I thought it was important to note in case you also purchase the reduced sodium version.