Green bean casseroles — with their beloved fried onions — are an American holiday staple. Every Thanksgiving, I have to stop myself from eating an entire bag of these crunchy delights all by themselves. After the holidays, I crave their distinctive flavor, and I wonder why we don't see them in pantries year-round. It's why I'm writing this now: to make the case for fried onions as more than mere holiday food.
In search of creative ways to integrate them into something other than casseroles, I spoke to Hadar Cohen Aviram, Executive Chef at McCormick, the parent company for French’s Crispy Fried Onions. Keep reading for the 411 on fried onions, plus a tasty recipe to add to your weeknight recipe repertoire.
A Short History of Fried Onions
The original recipe for french-fried onions dates back more than hundred years. They started being mass-produced in the US during the '30s, and in 1955, Dorcas Reilly, a chef working in the Campbell’s test kitchen, came up with the the idea to mix the packaged onions with canned cream of mushroom soup and canned green beans; now, green bean casserole is an American Thanksgiving requirement. According to Chef Hadar, crispy onions are a perfect example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Their taste, which is akin to a lighter, more onion-y potato chip, conjures instant nostalgia.
Are fried onions healthy?
To start, 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 to be used in main dishes. In a 2 tablespoon serving, there are just 45 calories, 3.5 grams of fat, and 3 grams of carbs.
So, while they’re not exactly a health food, a few fried onions pack a lot of flavor — making them the perfect topper for veggies, salads, and grain bowls. They make eating greens more appealing to kids and grandkids, too.
How can I use fried onions?
Chef Hadar describes the distinctive flavor of fried onions as “savory, 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 might pair with a cracker, crouton, cheese, or chip, you can also throw fried onions on,” she says. Her top picks include sprinkling them into a salad or sandwich for extra crunch; serving them at a party as a fried onion twist on classic onion dip; and pairing them with dinner party staples like deviled eggs and shrimp cocktail.
For an even more creative take, Chef Hadar recommends a sweet-and-savory combo.A cheese board that includes crispy onions alongside a tart cherry or apricot jam is a fun surprise; or, if you’re feeling really wild, push them into charred marshmallows as a crispy, salty counterbalance to the confection's soft texture and sugary taste. (Be warned that your family might look at you from across the campfire like you're a little odd.)
For more conventional weeknight dinners, Chef Hadar likes using fried onions in burgers, mashed potatoes, soups, stews, and chilis. All of these dishes pair well with regular onions, so packaged fried onions can add the same flavor without all the hassle of chopping or frying. They can also be easily incorporated into kid-friendly dishes like chicken parmesan and macaroni and cheese — in both meals, they create a crust without breadcrumbs.
Ultimately, crispy onions are underrated as a shortcut ingredient. When you're busy and struggling to pull together a quick meal, anything that adds instant flavor and texture without additional work is a win.
A Cozy Winter Dish: Crunchy Onion Chili
Chef Hadar shared McCormick’s recipe beef chili with crispy fried onions. It's a new take on a classic that swaps standard onions to surprisingly delicious effect. The recipe cooks in one pot, and yields eight servings, making it a perfect big batch meal that's easy to clean up.
Ingredients (Serves 8):
2 pounds ground beef
3 cups crispy fried onions
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes in purée
1 can (15 to 19 ounces) red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
Cook beef and 1 ½ cups fried onions in large nonstick pot on medium heat until meat is browned, stirring to separate meat. Drain well.
Stir in remaining ingredients. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, 15 minutes.
Spoon chili into bowls and serve with remaining fried onions. Garnish as desired.
No matter how you plan to use your crispy onions, we hope you agree they’re worth keeping in your pantry for more than just two months of the year. After all, you never know when a dish might need some extra crunch and pizzazz.