Why limit this Thanksgiving staple to just Thanksgiving?
This post originally appeared in the October 18, 2021 edition of The Move, a place for Eater’s editors to reveal their recommendations and pro dining tips — sometimes thoughtful, sometimes weird, but always someone’s go-to move. Subscribe now.
A few weeks before Thanksgiving every year my family inevitably asks if anyone would object to swapping the traditional green bean casserole for some sort of sauteed haricot vert kinda thing. Something a bit “fresher” and “lighter” and “respectful of beans as actual living produce.” And every single year I nix these plans. Not because I’m a traditionalist, but because I am one of a rarified few who think green bean casserole is the best Thanksgiving side. Yeah, mac and cheese is great; the beans are better.
Never one to turn down a moment of vegetable-induced introspection, when last year’s exchange happened, I asked myself what it is, exactly, that I love so much about the casserole? It’s obviously not the beans, and the mushroom soupiness is just fine. It was then that I realized the best thing about green bean casserole is actually the fried onions throughout. Why, I wondered, don’t I just put them on everything? And now I do.
When I say “fried onions,” I don’t mean, like, onions that I sliced and battered and fried myself until they become crisp little wisps of sweet onion flavor. I mean the pop-top can with the shelf-stable morsels of chemical onion-ish crunch that have as much in common with an actual onion as Funyuns — another magnificent creation. On top of a green bean casserole, they add just enough salt and texture but most importantly flavor to contrast all the creamy beaniness. Mixed into pretty much anything else, they are just magnificent.
The inspired scribes behind the can’s label, aware of the limited Thanksgiving market for their product, constantly goad people to find more uses for onions, showing photos of onion-topped burgers, and recipes for various dips and salads. So I took their suggestions as gospel, and opened myself up to a new world where canned fried onions are a pantry staple. And oh, how I lived!
I swapped croutons for onions, stuffed sandwiches with onions, topped mac and cheese with onions, and filled my tacos with them. I put onions on my eggs, my soups, my stir-fries, my Brussels sprouts, my meatloaf. Everything, I mean everything, was improved. That’s because fried onions aren’t pure crunch like panko — flavorless bread shrapnel that adds texture and nothing else. And they aren’t pure umami, fat, and salt either, like, say, a bacon bit. There’s dimension to fried onions. Nor are they just crispy — they have some give, varying layers for your teeth to explore. But again, I cannot stress this enough, they’re also just delicious. I’m now to the point where I eat them plain as a snack — like sour cream and onion chips, hold the sour cream.
Do my rings fit anymore due to sodium intake? Not every day. Is the roof of my mouth occasionally shredded? Sure — but pain is feeling and feeling is life. This year I will again be asked to make the green bean casserole, and I will again be the one taking home 90 percent of it as leftovers while everyone else eats roasted broccolini or whatever “fresh” vegetable side they settled upon. And I will once again be fine with that, comforted by the knowledge that the only thing better than hot, crispy canned fried onions is slightly soggy ones.