The world of sweet onions is full of regional pride—Washington's Walla Wallas and Hawaii's Maui onions certainly have their share of devoted fans—but there's no touching the fierce loyalty inspired by the Vidalia. It's Georgia's official state vegetable, taking its name from the town where it was first harvested. The sugary-sweet allium's season runs from April through September, peaking right about now. And though it's versatile enough to be a kitchen staple—and typically is, down in Dixie—Georgia-based chefs like Ford Fry, whose highly lauded restaurants include JCT. Kitchen & Bar and The Optimist, find brilliant ways to let the Southern superstar shine. "Whenever they're in season, that's the only onion we use in my restaurants," says Fry.
To showcase Vidalia onions in a dish, keep the approach simple, he explains. A drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper are all it takes to bring out their best nature, whether they're roasted, sautéed, or grilled. At The Optimist, Fry grills them over a wood fire and then glazes them with chicken jus. Or he might roast them with a splash of sherry for a straightforward yet incredibly satisfying side dish. "They're even great just shaved raw into a salad because their flavor is not too sharp," he says.
In the fast and easy summer salad featured here, Fry grills the baby bulbs to caramelize their sugars and lend a whiff of smoke to complement the natural sweetness. Then he pairs them with juicy heirloom tomatoes and a tangy vinaigrette with some mustardy bite to lend the right balance. "It's a play on the classic French dish—leeks vinaigrette."
Grilled Vidalia Onion SaladHands-on: 22 min. Total: 22 mins3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided8 Vidalia onion bulbs (about 1 pound)½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided1 tablespoon whole-grain Dijon mustard1 tablespoon red wine vinegar2 teaspoons chopped flat-leaf parsley2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon12 heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved2 hard-cooked eggs, sliced2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1. Preheat charcoal or gas grill to medium heat.
2. Rub 1 tablespoon olive oil evenly over onions. Sprinkle evenly with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Grill 6 minutes or until well marked and greens are tender, turning occasionally. Cool completely.
3. Combine Dijon mustard and vinegar in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, stirring with a whisk. Stir in parsley, tarragon, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt, and remaining ¼ teaspoon pepper.
4. Arrange 2 onions on each of 4 plates, and top evenly with tomatoes. Drizzle 1 tablespoon vinaigrette over each salad; top evenly with sliced eggs and minced chives.SERVES 4 (serving size: 1 salad)CALORIES 177; FAT 12.7g (sat 2.2g, mono 8.3g, poly 1.6g); PROTEIN 4.6g; CARB 11.9g; FIBER 1.8g; CHOL 93mg; IRON 1mg; SODIUM 378mg; CALC 47mg
Food Photo: Johnny Autry; Food Styling: Kellie Gerber Kelley; Prop Styling: Cindy BarrPortrait: Andrew Thomas Lee