How to make crispy fried onions and store them

paper towel with lots of crispy golden brown onion slices on it against a grey background

Frying the perfect crispy crunchy golden brown onions is almost equivalent to the perfect gol roti (flatbread). In brown people world, its a sign of a “perfect wife/bahu or watever” I could give a rat’s behind as to what it makes me. All I know is I want my food to taste frikkin awesome ok? Whether I am making Biryani or Chicken curry or Pulao, I want my taste buds happy!

Just like garlic ginger paste, crispy fried onions is one of the basis of all South Asian cooking and if you nail it, you pretty much have MASTERED one of the CORE ingredients in almost ALL Indian/Pakistani curries.

So getting these beautiful crispy onions is honestly just a few tips and tricks away. But behold...since it is something we struggle with, the internet has come up with WEIRD and absolutely useless tips and tricks as well. I’ll mention some really popular myths below as well so that you know what to stay away from as well.

Where are fried onions used?

Fried onions are a staple in South Asian cooking. Here’s where they are used

  • Used in gravies and curries like Chicken ka saalan
  • They are used for layering and adding flavor. like in Biryanis and Pulaos
  • Also used as garnishing or toppings on dals, and haleems.
  • They are also used in certain kebab marinations and dam keema etc.

Different levels of fried onions.

Light translucent color Used for omelettes etc not
crispy
Light golden color Use in vegetable curries and
most International cooking.
Also known as caramelized onions
not
crispy
Light golden brown Used in Spicy rices, curries, and
marination
slightly
crispy
Golden Brown onionsUsed heavily in South Asian cooking
as garnish, masala base, layering,
can be stored for very long time
crispy

A glimpse of what topics this post covers

Here’s are a few key things to know about frying onions.

Choosing the right onions

There are 6 kinds of onions:

  • Red onion
  • white onions,
  • yellow onions,
  • sweet onions,
  • shallots and
  • Scallions / Green onions

    The internet will tell you that the ideal onions for frying are the sweet onions. And it won’t be completely wrong. They do have a uniform color through out and the perfect amount of natural sugars that fry up to give you a uniform golden brown color. But they don’t have thin layers, which when sliced, will not give you nice thin slivers. Thin layers are important for that crispy frying. You can use any, white onion, red onion, or sweet onion, as long as they have thin layers. And you will great results! Where I live, red onions are the ones with the thinnest layers so I pick those.
a sweet onion and red onion side by side. peeled, unpealed, and cut versions
Thin layers of red onion compared to sweet onion.

Peeling Onions

Keep dipping your peeled onions in a pot or bowl of cold water. Helps with the tears (more on that below)

peeled red onions dipped in a container with water

Cutting the onions

red onions cut through the centre and their roots removed
Onions cut in halves and with their roots removed from the bottom.

The onions are peeled, halved vertically and their roots are removed. And then cut into long thin slices. This is also known as the “biryani cut” onions. Obviously this is a tedious task to do by hand and when done in bulk can feel like a truckload of work. You can use the slicer option in your food processor to slice your onions the easy way. You can also use a manual mandoline slicer to do the deed as well. Of course the food processor is quicker, but a mandoline is also twice as fast as manual slicing.

How to avoid crying while cutting the onions

So, so far with all the methods I’ve tried, all I can say is, crying a li’l is inevitable (yeah you hate me I know). Maybe do it in a well ventilated area or near a candle so the gases don’t effect you as much? But here’s a good read on how to avoid crying if you wanna check it out.

Selecting the pot

bulk of red sliced onions in a pot
Wide pot for frying onions

So it all comes down to size and area. Imagine frying french fries. Your fries are going to get clumpy and soggy if you toss them in a small space. The same rule applies while frying onions. So opt for a wider shallow utensil with a thick base. Give your sliced onions room to crisp up individually. 

Ideal pot:
Thick base, wide and can withstand high temperatures.

Selecting the oil

When frying onions, or any other thing for that matter, you want to make sure that your oil has a neutral flavor and a high smoke point. The temperatures can go up to 190 C while frying onions and you want to use an oil that can stay stable for that long. Basic vegetable oil like sunflower oil and canola oil can easily stay stable at those temperatures. If you are on a keto diet or are trying to live a healthier lifestyle, coconut oil is also a good option for frying as it can stay stable up to 180 C. As an alternative, you can also use ghee.

Important: Always use fresh oil when you want the perfectly nice brown onions. Oil that has been used once to fry before is going to take double or triple time to brown onions and you will end up with onions that have soaked up a LOT of oil!

How much quantity of oil to use

bulk of sliced red onions in a pot submerged in oil
onions submerged in oil

When frying onions for one time use, you can get away with using very little oil and stirring constantly to get a good color. But for a large batch, you will definitely need to use oil enough for deep frying. So adding a truck load of oil in the onions seems like OMG this is soooooo frikking unhealthy. But trust me when I say this. If you fry your onions right, your onions will NOTTT absorb a lot of oil. You can even measure the amount of oil you put in the pan before frying and how much oil is left AFTER frying.

While growing up I kept hearing this very popular TOTKA (aka tip) that adding onions in cold oil makes it crispier. This, of ALL THE hacks out there, is the only one that LEGIT works. All it does is absorb more oil. Always add onions to oil that has already started to heat up. Doesn’t need to be boiling hot, just warmed up. And keep frying your onions at high heat. 

TIP: Add onions and oil together in a pot first and then putting them on a flame to fry for crispy onions

You can easily eyeball the amount of oil you want to add. Toss in your onions in the pot you are going to fry them in. And THEN add oil to it till it comes up to the level of the onions roughly.

TIP: Don’t I repeat DON’t Add stuff to your oil

Lots of internet groups and articles suggest to add baking soda or salt or sugar to your oil in hopes of achieving a uniform brown color. PLEASE do NOT commit this heinous crime! Not only will these ingredients make your onions absorb MORE oil, but it will also alter the natural sweet taste of the fried onions, and eventually might also effect the dish you are preparing your fried onions for.

TIP: Use a slotted stainless steel spoon or skimmer for stirring through the onions. Try not to stir too much, just occasionally a stir here and there, making sure all the onions are getting evenly fried.

Reaching the right color

When you keep your pot with onions and oils onto the stove, turn on the flame directly at a high. You will begin to notice the changes that the onions will go through during its frying journey.

(TIMINGS FOR BULK FRYING)

5 to 10 min mark – The oil will get hot and the onions will start releasing water of their own. (Stir from sides once in 5 mins)

15 min mark– The onions will start to dehydrate at the water evaporates and will start to shrink in size. (Stir once or twice to check even browning)

20 min mark – The onions will turn very light gold and have now officially started to crisp up. (stir once or twice and now stay close)

25 min mark – Onions have started to crisp up. Some thinner ones are golden already. Reduce the flame to medium and stir constantly. Start removing onions that have turned golden.

Between 25 to 30 min – This is a critical time. When you see your onions are just ABOUT to reach the perfect color, reduce the flame to low and start removing them with the skimmer. The oil is hot and the onions will turn a shade darker after getting removed as well. If you wait till you reach the right color and THEN start removing onions, the last batch you remove will be burnt.

Letting the onions cool down.

You should have a large tray or plate lined with paper towel ready on the side when you start frying the onions. Remove all your fried onions from the oil and place them directly on top of these paper towels. Make sure they are spread out evenly. Allow the onions to cool down. Its important for the onions to cool down in as much space as possible, in order to crisp up properly. You can press the onions together once they cool down, and you’ll hear a gentle crisp. Which will say, all of your effort, was well WORTH IT!

Serving Size

1 medium onion is equal to 1/2 cup of fried onions and 1/4 cup of crushed fried onions.

Storing the onions

golden brown strands of fried onions in 3 ziplock bags

The best part about all of this hard work is that you can savor it! You can batch fry lots of onions in one go and freeze them! They are totally freeezer friendly and can last indefinitely! (I’ve always used them within 4 months, but I don’t see a reason why they won’t last longer than that) Once the onions cool down, bag them up in a ziplock bag and keep it in the freezer. If you want to use them in the coming days, they can even stay outside in a jar for a week.

What to do with the left over oil?

oil with some strands in it in a pot

I usually fry my onions when I have a fresh bottle of cooking oil, and a big batch of onions, i.e. when I have freshly done my groceries. Let the remaining oil cool down and use a funnel to transfer it back to the bottle you had used it from. This oil has a nice sweet oniony flavor to it and can be used basically for everything savory. Of course not for sweets, and definitely not for more deep frying.

golden brown fried onions close up

Bonus: If you are using pre-fried onions in your curry etc, you can make those with about 1 tbsp of oil, because all the oil that goes in a gravy is usually to fry the onions. And if that’s already done, you don’t need anymore!

How to fry onions

How to fry onions

Yield: 1 pack
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes

A batch of perfectly fried brown onions to use in all Pakistani Indian Recipes

Ingredients

  • 1 kg onions
  • Oil for frying

Instructions

  1. Peel the onions and remove the root.
  2. Cut the onions from the center vertically, and slice the halves thinly in vertical cuts
  3. Add sliced onions in a wide pot and add oil till it comes at the level of the onions. Eye ball the quantity.
  4. Increase heat to high flame and fry the onions until golden brown.
  5. Keep stirring the onions every 5 mins to check its getting cooked evenly.
  6. Use a slotted stainless steel spoon to stir the onions.
  7. The onions will release water over time and then will start to fry.
  8. At about 20 min mark your onions will start to look very slightly brown. Reduce the flame to medium at this point and don't leave the onions un-attended anymore.
  9. Stir constantly to make sure all the onions turn evenly golden.
  10. When the onions turn light gold, reduce the flame to low and start removing the onions from the oil slowly.
  11. Spread the onions on a tray covered with paper towel. And try not to crowd them.
  12. Allow the onions to cool down and you will have crispy golden onions.
  13. Use directly in recipes or make a pack in save it in the freezer.

Notes

for more detailed information, read the entire post with tips, tricks and onion selection

if you use these pre-fried onions in your gravies, you can make them with a tbsp of oil.

Did you make this recipe?

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Anonymous
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Anonymous

Loved all the tips and tricks . Great effort !!

Fatimq
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Fatimq

This is exactly what I was looking for! Thank you for the detailed instructions.

sabinasalam
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sabinasalam

Thank you for sharing. This is so helpful.