I can’t imagine serving an Indian Biriyani without including crispy fried onions on top of the dish. Indeed, this rather simple ingredient is not only just pretty much de rigueur for a Biriyani) where it is sometimes called ‘Birista’), rather, you can find also the condiment being added to many rice, meat and vegetable dishes in India, Indonesia, and a host of other eastern cuisines.
In the west, however, fried onions, either in the form of flakes or ‘strings’ are quite easily available commercially in many supermarkets but they still don’t seem to be as popular or as widely used as in Asia. One does find them being used toppings for salads or burgers, from time to time, but not, as it happens, in a great deal else. This is unfortunate, really , as the sweet and savory flavor these onions provide could easily be adapted to many sorts of dishes , including omelets, ground meat mixtures, vegetable seasonings, or plain old sandwich toppings.
That being said, the commercial varieties available here, are often not all that good (being frequently stale or tasteless) but, luckily, the making the condiment at home is not at all complicated…
The secret to producing a good crispy end result is to slice your onions as thinly as possible. Ideally, they should be thin enough to be almost transparent and, if you desire ‘strings’ rather than ‘flakes’ you may wish to remove the center of each onion beforehand (as you can see on the second onion half in the above picture. .
A large amount of onion produces a fairly small amount of fried product, so be aware of that when estimating what you need. Luckily, once fried, onion keeps quite well so making large amounts (4 – 5 pounds at once, for example) is a good idea. Here, though, I am making just enough for just a couple of uses, so one medium onion is sufficient.
There are different methods for making crispy onion strings;… Some merely involve deep frying raw, unadulterated onion slices, while others actually coat the slices or pieces on flour before frying. My method is a bit more involved but, in my opinion, it produces a quicker and better result.
To begin, toss your thin onion with about 1 teaspoon of salt per cup or so of slices. This may seem like a lot of salt, but most of it will be rinsed away later. Allow the onion and salt to sit for about 30 minutes or so until the onion is soft and has thrown off a good deal of liquid (as seen above).
After the above treatment, rinse the onion shreds in several changes of cold water to remove the excess salt and then squeeze dry to remove as much liquid as possible. Once done, lay the shreds out and let sit to dry a bit further.
To fry the onion, heat deep-frying oil to a medium, or medium high heat, and then add the shreds. For a small amount, say… one or two onions worth… you can cook everything at once but, otherwise, it is best to work in batches.
When you add your onion, the oil will bubble and froth and you will see a lot of steam rising from your pot. You need to cook until the steaming stops and the excess water from the onion has evaporated. Depending on the size of the onion pieces and how thoroughly they have been dried, this will take a good 20 to 30 minutes.
Once the pot stops steaming, the onions will begin to turn golden. From here, the cooking process will happen very quickly so keep a weather eye on the process. Once the first few strands start to brown, the progression from just done to burned in short order, so be prepared to act quickly.
At the appropriate moment, drain the shreds and blot free on paper towels. As soon as they cool, they will crisp up and you can use them immediately. If not intended for immediate use, you can store in a a dry container for a week or two or, if desired, in the freezer.
BTW … The batch I have made here is to be used for a purpose I mean to blog about in due course. If you have any interesting uses for crispy onion shreds, please share….