Julia Stephan

Editor at Kitchen Stories

For some people, fried onions are merely the delicious, crunchy topping you treat yourself to on your post-IKEA hotdog. For me, though, fried onions are crispy memories of special moments in my life. One of these memories happened during my childhood when I thought it would be a genius idea to combine my two favorite snacks at that time—jaffa cakes and fried onions.

Let's just put it this way, it was the first and last time I had the pleasure of enjoying this extraordinary combination, as my stomach was a riot all night long. Years later, in homage to the event, my grandmother gifted me a 1 kg (approx. 2.25 lbs) package of fried onions for Christmas. Since I started living vegan, she had a tough time finding any sweets that I could still eat. So on this occasion she looked at me cheerfully and said: "But you always liked fried onions!” She was right. But even this colossal package of fried onions is slowly coming to an end, leading me to wonder: Can I make crispy fried onions at home – or is the hassle even worth the time?

How to prepare homemade fried onions

As the name suggests, you can prepare fried onions just by... frying onions, right? Is it that simple? I consulted various cookbooks and recipe onlines that used different methods – but they all promised super crispy fried onions. There was only one way to find out which is the best one: I tried out 4 methods and evaluated them according to effort and the result.

For this adventure, I was ready to go beyond my limits, which meant: 15 huge onions were waiting to be peeled and cut. Believe it or not, not a single tear rolled down my cheek during. Perhaps I was just lucky and the onions were pretty mild, but in case you think you will be weeping, the “homemade fried onions project” is also a good opportunity to test some tips to prevent crying when cutting onions: From having a mouthful of water, cutting while sitting, to soaking onions in cold water beforehand, or wearing safety glasses. If you have another onion trick for us, please let us know in the comments below!

Fry and bake

Why make a decision when you can have the best of both worlds? The “fry and bake” method starts by frying onions in a pan with some flour, then transferring them to the oven, and baking until crispy. The pan-frying works very well with vegetable oil, but you can also use butter to add even more flavor. In comparison, this method takes the longest, so it’s not the best choice for impatient people who need fried onions right here, right now.

How it’s done:
1. Thinly slice onions and separate them into single layers.
2. Heat some vegetable oil (or butter) in a large frying pan and fry onions until translucent. Add flour, toss to coat, and keep frying until the onions are golden brown.
3. Transfer to a lined baking sheet and bake in the oven at 85°CC/185°F for approx. 90 minutes, or until crispy and darkened. Flip them regularly during the baking process.

In the oven

If you’re looking for a no-fuss solution for homemade fried onions, simply throw them in the oven without any pan-frying before. To become crispy, the sliced onions need to be tossed in a mixture of flour, panko, and salt first. Panko are a coarser-style of breadcrumbs that can be purchased in Asian supermarkets and lead to a crispier result that the finer kind. However, this method requires you to work quickly, as the onions will become soft if you let them stand for too long in this salted flour mixture.

How it’s done:
1. Thinly slice onions and separate them into single layers. Add to a bowl with some flour, panko, and salt, and toss to coat.
2. Transfer the onions onto a lined baking sheet and drizzle with some olive oil.
3. Bake at 230°C/445°F for approx. 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Make sure to flip them regularly.

Deep-fry

This approach probably makes the most sense to everyone: when fried in a lot of very hot fat, how could raw onions not turn into crispy fried onions, right? However, many people have reservations about deep-frying at home – what happens with the oil after deep-frying? How hot should oil be? Do I need a special pan for this? Here’s a more relaxed option for you: use a smaller deep frying pan (a saucepan or small pot work just as will) and fill it with oil until it’s approx. 1 inch high. The oil should be at approx. 180°C/355°F—you can double check this by carefully dipping the end of a wooden skewer into the oil. If bubbles form around the skewer, the fat is hot enough. Afterwards, fry the sliced onions in batches. Once you’re done, let the oil cool down completely, filter it, and just reuse it.

How it’s done:
1. Thinly slice onions and separate them into single layers. Add to a bowl, season with salt, and massage them for a few minutes until softened. Afterwards, squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
2. Heat vegetable oil in a pot or deep frying pan and deep-fry onion rings until golden brown.
3. Let drain on paper towels.

Boil and deep-fry

Last but not least, I tried a refined version of deep-frying. The onions are quickly boiled in hot water first, and the purpose behind it is similar to massaging the onions— you want them to soften a little bit before deep-frying them. This is why this technique is more advisable for those who want to deep-fry the onions but don't necessarily like too much physical contact with the raw product. It’s very important to pat them dry before the deep-frying as you don’t want any additional water to get into contact with hot fat.


How it’s done:
1. Thinly slice onions and separate them into single layers.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add sliced onions, close the lid, and let them simmer for approx. 3-4 minutes. Drain and pat dry thoroughly.
3. Heat vegetable oil in a pot or deep frying pan, and deep-fry the onion rings until golden brown.
4. Let drain on paper towels.

Homemade fried onions—are they worth the time and effort?

It’s definitely more convenient, often cheaper, and also somewhat more reliable to just buy a package of fried onions. But on the other side, there’s an incomparable charm to making, and enjoying, your own homemade crispy onions with pride. And to be honest—I don't miss any opportunity to deep-fry, which is why method #3, the simple deep-frying, is also the perfect one for me. It's simple, quick, and the result is perfectly crunchy fried onions. When stored in an airtight container, they will keep well in the fridge for about 1 - 3 weeks. In my opinion, the frying and baking combination isn’t really worth the time, because the result is no better than with faster methods. The baked onions in the panko mixture were not crunchy all the way through, but still a bit soft in some spots, which I can somehow still imagine as a nice topping for various dishes.

What to do next with fried onions

I guess that’s obvious: enjoy some jaffa cake with fried onions! Jokes aside, when we shot the photos for this article, my already highly-esteemed colleague Kristin did an incredible thing: She tried it. My childish finger food madness. Sadly—or perhaps luckily—my taste buds seem to have matured over the years. It wasn’t a hit.

As a grown up, I enjoy fried onions just as everybody else—with savoury dishes. This includes the classic option as a crispy hot dog topping, but I also add them to mashed potatoes or cheese spaetzle, as this wonderful crunch works so well as a counterpart to creamy textures. Many people also love to add them on top of green beans or served with a variety of Asian dishes.

Cheese spätzle with fried onions

Cheese spätzle with fried onions

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Green bean casserole

Green bean casserole

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Are you also a fan of fried onions? What dishes can’t go without them? Comment below!

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