This Unexpected Appliance is the Key to Crispy, Crunchy Onions

February  8, 2018

Just last week, Ina Garten voiced her affinity for a crispy allium when she shared her go-to Super Bowl snack, a creamy dip chock-full of pan-fried onions. Her recipe calls for an onion on the gooier side, but what if you like yours a bit crispier? You know what I’m talking about: those flaky, crunchy fried onions you can sprinkle on top of mac ‘n cheese or a salad or into a sandwich for a bit of salty texture.

Conventional wisdom would have you slice the onions—or any allium for that matter—paper thin then fry them in hot, hot oil until golden brown, then strain away the oil and leave your alliums to dry on a paper towel. But when have we ever been ones for convention? Plus, pan frying invites all sorts of opportunities for burning, leaving you with brown and bitter shards.

Well, thanks to the team at Cook’s Illustrated, it seems there’s an easier, more consistent approach and all you need is a microwave. For guaranteed success when crisping onions, shallots, leeks or garlic, they recommend turning to the electric hot box. The method requires less stirring and less guesswork, plus all you need is a bowl and bit of oil. They provide directions for shallots, garlic, and leeks:

  • “For Shallots: Place 3 shallots, peeled and sliced thin, in medium bowl with 1/2 cup vegetable oil and microwave at 100 percent power for 5 minutes. Stir and microwave at 100 percent power for 2 more minutes. Repeat stirring and microwaving in 2-minute increments until shallots begin to brown (4 to 6 minutes total), then repeat stirring and microwaving in 30-second increments until shallots are deep golden (30 seconds to 2 minutes total). Using slotted spoon, transfer shallots to paper towel–lined plate; season with salt. Let drain and turn crisp, about 5 minutes, before serving.”
  • “For Garlic: In place of shallots, use 1/2 cup garlic cloves, sliced or minced. After frying, dust garlic with 1 teaspoon confectioners’ sugar (to offset any bitterness) before seasoning with salt.”
  • “For Leeks: In place of shallots, use 1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced into very thin 2-inch-long strips, washed thoroughly, dried, and tossed with 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (which accelerates browning).”

Seems easy enough. We tested out the approach with some shallots and found success. I'd recommend microwaving in two minute increments so as not to burn the alliums or testing out a small sample size at different times to better understand the strength of your microwave. Either way, anything to bring me closer to a crispy onion has my vote. All this talk has me dreaming up burgers and soups with a crunchy onion garnish...

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.


Carol T. April 27, 2020
do you need to cover the bowl with a paper towel to prevent oil splattering??
M.McAwesome February 13, 2018
I have tried this and highly recommend it!
AntoniaJames February 8, 2018
Yes, I read that when it was published, tried it right away, and am now a convert.

As I do with any great idea, I looked for ways to find other applications. To that end, I regularly have been doing this as part of my advance prep activities on the weekend, when making "bases" for soup, stew and similar dishes -- prepping / cooking aromatics, stirring in herbs, cutting vegetables like carrots, potatoes, etc. that will hold in the fridge immersed with broth with the aromatics until I finish cooking the meal mid-week.

This is a trick that I believe I stumbled on in one of the ATK slow cooker books. It's so easy and hands off - no worries about the onion and garlic burning, the herbs "bloom" nicely when they are added with fat, etc.

For a real life example, you can take a look at this slow cooker recipe I recently posted, which incorporates this technique into my "meanwhile" style of focussed advanced prep:

I hope you find this tip helpful. It's taken my efficiency to a whole new level. ;o)