Deep-Fried Beets Turn My Frown Upside Down

Before he won Top Chef, before he won a Beard Award, before he got an eponymous restaurant, Austin chef Paul Qui was one of the founders of a host of food trucks—food trailers, actually—throughout the city. Abutting courtyards behind various bars, the three East Side King locations (and one brick-and-mortar spot) serve up Asian-inspired street snacks (ramen, steamed buns, yakitori) transcending the gimmickry that often comes with the food truck territory, and have since become Austin institutions.

deep-fried beets, via
Though I would have loved to do a true trailer crawl throughout Austin during my time there in June, I had to pick and choose my battles. With a group of fellow food writers, and new, dear friends, we set forth to the original East Side King trailer behind Liberty Bar. Grabbing a few Shiner Ruby Redbirds and glasses of the finest boxed house wine from the inside bar, we staked our claim on a picnic table in the buzzingly loud, sweaty courtyard and waited for our feast to arrive: peanut butter curry stuffed into deep-fried buns; crispy, charred Brussels sprouts with a garden’s worth of mint, cilantro, and basil; thai fried chicken over spicy rice; and brilliant deep-fried beets with rich mayonnaise.

So simple. So fresh. So memorable. I ate so much in Austin and I’m far from done sharing all my finds, but today—as that night, despite a table loaded with baskets of juicy, flavorful bites—the beets are the star of the show.

deep-fried beets, via
Qui does his with red beets at Liberty Bar, but I gave ’em a whirl with golden beets from the farm stand up the street. Not only do goldens have a less earthy, more mellow sweetness than their crimson cousins, but they look deceptively like fried potatoes once they’re out of the boiling oil. I realize it might be a long shot to convince any avowed beet-haters to eat a whole plate—the taste still gives them away a little bit—but my beet-averse husband ate a single cube without a fight or complaint. It’s a small victory that I’m happy to take.

The sweet, crispy-crusted beets lend themselves to contrasting flavors, making them an ideal palette for the spicy, saline seasonings frequently used in Japanese cooking. The Liberty Bar beets come dusted with salty and citrusy shichimi togarashi and strewn with scallions; my at-home version adds a little seaweedy furikake seasoning for no other reason than I’m constantly shaking it on everything, and whisks a little sriracha into my favorite mayonnaise to up the spice and garlic quotient.

Keep it simple or add all the seasonings your heart desires: the important thing here is the beets. Fire up your deep fryer and don’t look back.

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  1. says

    I think I’d eat these with joy if someone else cooked them for me, but I love beets, and would have a hard time not just eating them after they’re roasted. Why go to all that work to gild the delicious lily?

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Vera, the answer to “why go to all that work” is the same answer for everything I cook and every edible experiment I undertake – because why not? :) Because I can, and I think it’s fun, and then at the end of the day, I get to eat a pile of deep-fried beets dunked in mayo. That’s an awesome reward for my efforts.

  2. says

    oh, yes! what a fantastic idea. I’m interested also in the fact that frying seems to keep them from oxidizing (makes sense) so they still have their pretty golden color! my roasted golden beets always look a little drab.

    • Casey BarberCasey Barber says

      Janet, unfortunately panko won’t stick unless there’s another underlayer like an egg wash to bind it to the food, and these beets aren’t meant to have a thick breaded coating like a traditional bread crumb-coated cutlet. If you can’t find rice flour (the Bob’s Red Mill brand is usually available in the natural/organic section of most major supermarkets), you can always order it through Amazon or use Wondra flour in a pinch—but be sure to shake your beets well if using Wondra to remove it from any thickly dredged areas.

  3. Janet says

    Wow! I am very impressed with. Your prompt response. If I can’t find rice flour locally at Wally World or the health food store, I know where to purchase it. Thank you.

  4. lorena says

    I have never seen yellow beets only purple, it is posible to make this recipe with them instead? Thank you

  5. Francisco says

    Hi Casey,

    I tried Paul Qui delicious beets last month during the East Side King pop up in DC and I love them! I have some red beats so I am going to try it tonight! Thanks much for posting the recipe.