Green bean casseroles — with their beloved sauteed onions — are an American holiday staple. Every Thanksgiving I have to stop myself from eating an entire bag of these crunchy treats on my own. After the holidays, I crave their signature flavor, and wonder why we don’t see them in pantries year-round. That’s why I’m writing this now: to advocate for fried onions as more than just holiday food.
Looking for creative ways to incorporate them into something other than casseroles, I spoke with Hadar Cohen Aviram, executive chef at McCormick, the parent company of French’s Crispy Fried Onions. Keep reading for the 411 on sauteed onions, plus a tasty recipe to add to your weeknight recipe repertoire.
A brief history of fried onions
The original fried onion recipe dates back over a hundred years. They were mass-produced in the US in the 1930s, and in 1955 Dorcas Reilly, a chef working in Campbell’s test kitchen, came up with the idea of mixing the packaged onions with canned mushroom cream soup and canned green beans; now green bean casserole is an American Thanksgiving staple. According to Chef Hadar, crispy onions are a perfect example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Their flavor, which resembles a lighter, more oniony potato chip, evokes instant nostalgia.
Are fried onions healthy?
For starters, fried onions are different from onion rings, which are also technically a form of fried onion. While onion rings have a similarly satisfying flavor profile, fried onions are shelf stable and have both a lower calorie count and lower fat content. Where onion rings are a side dish, fried onions are an ingredient for main dishes. In a 2 tablespoon serving, there are only 45 calories, 3.5 grams of fat and 3 grams of carbohydrates.
So while they’re not exactly healthy foods, a few sautéed onions pack a lot of flavor—making them the perfect topper for veggies, salads, and grain bowls. They also make eating vegetables more appealing to children and grandchildren.
How can I use fried onions?
Chef Hadar describes the distinctive taste of fried onions as “savoury, umami and subtly sweet”. She notes that because they don’t have an overpowering taste, they can enhance a variety of different dishes. “Anything you could pair with a cracker, crouton, cheese, or fries. You can also throw fried onions on top,” she says. Her top picks include sprinkling them into a salad or sandwich for extra crunch; serve them at a party as a fried onion twist on a classic onion dip; and pair them with dinner party staples like deviled eggs and shrimp cocktail.
For an even more creative take, Chef Hadar recommends a sweet and savory combination. A cheese board with crunchy onions next to a sour cherry or apricot jam is a nice surprise; or, if you feel real wild, shove them into charred marshmallows as a crunchy, salty counterbalance to the treat’s soft texture and sweet taste. (Be warned that from across the campfire, your family might look at you like you’re a little weird.)
For more conventional weeknight dinners, Chef Hadar likes to use fried onions in burgers, mashed potatoes, soups, stews, and chilis. All of these dishes pair well with regular onions, so packaged sauteed onions can add the same flavor without all the hassle of chopping or frying. They can also be easily incorporated into kid-friendly dishes such as chicken parmesan and macaroni and cheese – they provide a crust without breadcrumbs for both meals.
Ultimately, crunchy onions are underrated as a shortcut ingredient. When you’re busy and struggling to put together a quick meal, anything that instantly adds flavor and texture without any extra work is a win.
A cozy winter dish: Crunchy Onion Chili
Chef Hadar shared McCormick’s recipe for beef chili with crispy fried onions. It’s a new take on a classic that swaps out standard onions for a surprisingly delicious effect. The recipe cooks in one pan and yields eight servings, making it a perfect big batch meal that’s easy to clean up.
Ingredients (for 8 people):
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 3 cups crispy fried onions
- 1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in puree
- 1 can (15 to 19 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- ¼ cup of chili powder
- 2 tablespoons of ground cumin
- Cook beef and 1 ½ cups sautéed onions in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until meat is browned, stirring to separate meat. Drain well.
- Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, 15 minutes.
- Spoon chili into bowls and serve with remaining sauteed onions. Garnish as desired.
No matter how you want to use your crunchy onions, we hope you’ll agree that they’re worth having in your pantry for more than two months a year. After all, you never know when a dish might need some extra crunch and spice.