For our summer series Deep Frydays, we take some of Chicago’s favorite foods and, like the name says, we deep-fry them and deal with the big questions: How do you deep-fry deep-dish? Will it collapse in the heat like a poorly filled pothole? Can you deep-fry a feeling? Will we keep our jobs? Where’s the defibrillator in this building? Let’s find out together!
Today’s sacrifice to the gods of hot oil: ramps.
The story goes like this: upon their arrival at the mouth of the Chicago River, the first French settlers to what would become our fair city wrinkled their noses and exclaimed, “Zut alors! Quelle est cette odeur?!” When they learned the pungent funk was from the wild onion Native Americans called “chicagoua” that ran rampant in the area, the settlers settled upon that name for their new … settlement. Little did they know that the cause of the smell they derided would wind up naming one of the great culinary centers of America.
Joke’s on you, Frenchy.
Probably a million jokes have been made about Chicago’s odorous namesake (and we’re not above making a couple more here) but the thing that really stinks about ramps is that their rise to gastronomic prominence, coupled with unchecked foraging, has made them tough to find. Ramps reproduce in two ways – by multiplying bulbs or by seed after they’ve completed their growth cycle. When they’re pulled from the ground, that ends both processes. And they’re tough to grow in a farm environment, which makes foraging pretty much the only way they can get into a stand at your local farmers market or fancy grocery store.
So if you’re looking to ramp up your culinary prowess with these oniony delights, make sure you’re getting responsibly sourced ones. And if you can’t find them, try using young spring onions and add a little garlic powder to the breading – similar deliciousness, far less environmental destruction.
Now for the frying! We trimmed off the leaves (save those for ramp pesto!) and sliced the stems lengthwise to create a sort of French-fry shape for easier eating and give the breading something to stick to. A buttermilk dunk during breading and a lemon squeeze after frying give them a pleasant tang. Trust us – they don’t stink!
• 1 pint ramps, trimmed of leaves and roots and sliced lengthwise
• 1 cup flour (gluten-free works fine as a substitute)
• 2 cups buttermilk
• 1 tsp salt
• ½ tsp pepper
• Cayenne powder to taste
• Lemon wedges
Mix flour, salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste (we used about half a teaspoon). Toss ramps in flour, then dip in buttermilk, then dredge again in flour. Fry in hot oil until golden brown and drain, then sprinkle with fresh lemon juice.