We're in the heart of perhaps the sweetest part of the spring season. It's time for Georgia's gems — Vidalia onions — and this year's crop looks like it will be a very good one, according to Susan Waters, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee.
There are numerous varieties of sweet onions grown throughout the United States, most notably Washington State's Walla Walla onions, Texas' 1085 onions and North Carolina's Mattamuskeets. But what sets Vidalias apart from others is a combination of factors: the seeds, the soil, the season and the special care taken to ensure a good harvest.
The seed is a yellow granex hybrid and, if it's planted in any other soil than the sandy, low-sulfur type found in the Vidalia growing region of Southeastern Georgia, the onions won't taste the same.
Also, Vidalias will only mature during the winter months where the days are short and the temperatures mild. Then there's the care and knowledge that can only come with a history of good farming practices, three generations in most cases, according to the Vidalia Onion Committee.
Vidalias were first planted in the 1930s near the town of Vidalia in Toombs County, Ga., and are now grown in 20 surrounding counties. State and federal law mandates that they cannot be grown elsewhere.
According to a survey from Texas A&M University, 91 percent of consumers questioned were familiar with Vidalia onions, and 71 percent said Vidalias were their favorite sweet onions.
That doesn't surprise Chattanoogan Marianna Blaydes.
"I just wish they'd be available year round," she says recently while looking over onions at Food City. "But then maybe they wouldn't be so special."
The season for Vidalias runs now through Labor Day, but it's possible to keep them in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator well into December if stored correctly. The water content of a Vidalia is much higher than most onions. As a result, the key to keeping them is to make sure they are in a place that is cool and dry.
Waters says her favorite method is to wrap them individually with paper towels and put them in the veggie bin. A few may go bad, but plenty will stay firm, sweet and delicious, she says.
Other good storage methods include:
* In the legs of clean, sheer pantyhose. Tie a knot in between each Vidalia and cut above the knot when you want to use one. Be sure to hang them in a cool, dry, well-ventilated area.
* Store them on elevated racks or screens, not touching each other, in a cool, dry place. Keep them away from potatoes, which make onions go bad more quickly.
Vidalias may be used just like any other onion, though the taste will not be as pungent, but that's what makes the onions so loved and perfect in so many dishes. The following recipe for Smoked Chicken Wings from Whitney Miller, cookbook author and chef de cuisine at the COOP in Winter Park, Fla., is one of the newest from the files at www.vidaliaonion.org, where you'll find many more recipes, ranging from drinks to desserts. Yes, desserts. Ever thought you'd see a recipe for Vidalia onion chocolate chip cookies? Go online and check it out.
Smoked Chicken Wings with Caramelized Vidalia Onions
4 pounds chicken wings
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons kosher salt
10 fresh rosemary sprigs
1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper
1 Vidalia onion
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
First make the marinade. Heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 9 minutes. Toss the onions. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the stock and 1 tablespoon salt. Stir until the salt dissolves. Add 4 rosemary sprigs and cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 6 ice cubes to cool down.
Place the chicken wings in a large resealable bag. Once the marinade is cool, pour it into the bag. Remove as much air as possible and seal. Refrigerate 8 hours or overnight.
When ready to cook, prepare a smoker with soaked oak wood chips and heat to 300 degrees. If you don't have a smoker, you can prepare a charcoal grill for smoking and heat it to medium-low heat (300 degrees).
Transfer the chicken wings from the marinade bag to a baking sheet. Season the chicken with the remaining 2 tablespoons kosher salt and black pepper.
To make the caramelized onions, halve the onion, peel and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place the slices in an aluminum foil packet. Drizzle oil over the onions. Bring the sides of the foil packet up and crimp to close.
Place the chicken wings in the smoker or grill. Add the remaining 6 rosemary sprigs on top of the chicken. Add the onion packet to the smoker or grill.
Smoke the chicken wings for 30 minutes then flip over. Cook another 20 minutes or until the internal temperature of the chicken reaches 165 degrees. If the onions have not caramelized, leave them on the grill another 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown.
To serve, place the chicken wings on a serving platter. Top the wings with the caramelized onions. Serve warm. Makes about 12 chicken wings.
Shane's Rib Shack will be giving away free half racks of their slow-cooked ribs to the first 100 guests who walk through the doors on Saturday at the restaurant's area locations — 4484 Frontage Road in Cleveland, Tenn., and 315 Riverside Parkway in Rome, Ga. In addition to the ribs, each person will receive a 20-ounce beverage and a special edition T-shirt. The doors open at both locations at 11 a.m.
Contact Anne Braly at email@example.com.