James Beard’s Onion Sandwich Recipe

Onion Sandwich – Brioche en Surprise

I first tasted these wonderful onion sandwiches at a wine tasting.  They are fantastic and excellent with wine!  This is quite possibly the perfect reward, along with a glass of wine, for yourself and your guests . They will disappeared in no time and people, even the none onion lovers, were a bit shocked at how good they were.  Give them a try and you will see what I mean.

James Beard referred to these cocktail onion sandwiches in his book Beard on Food in 1974.  He said, “I can easily make a whole meal of onion sandwiches, for to me they are one of the greatest treats I know.”  These sandwiches were very popular when Beard’s catering company introduced them on the New York social scene in 1938.

To learn about the history and legends of favorite sandwiches, check out the History of Sandwiches.


Onion Sandwich


James Beard's Onion Sandwich Recipe:
Prep Time
20 mins
Total Time
20 mins
Course: Appetizer
Cuisine: French
Keyword: Brioche en Surprise Recipe, James Beard's Onion Sandwich Recipe
  • 8 thick slices white bread, firm-textured
  • Butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 1 sweet onion, peeled and sliced into paper-thin slices*
  • Fleur de sel, coarse salt, or sea salt
  • Mayonnaise (preferably homemade)
  • 4 tablespoons parsley, finely minced
  1. Using a glass (I found that a shot glass works great) or a 2-inch round cookie cutter, cut out 2 to 3 bread rounds from each bread slice; discard trimmings or save to Make Homemade Bread Crumbs.

  2. Spread one side of each bread circle with a heavy layer of butter.  Place a thin layer of sliced onions over the butter.  Lightly season the onions with salt. 

  3. Assemble the sandwiches with remaining bread slices, pressing lightly to make them adhere.

  4. Spread some mayonnaise around the outside rim of each sandwich round.  Roll the rim of each sandwich in the minced chives or parsley to coat.

  5. Serve immediately or cover and refrigerator for a few hours.

  6. Makes 16 to 24 sandwich rounds.

  7. Onion Sandwich

  8. Making Sandwiches Ahead of Time:

  9. If you need to make tea sandwiches in advance and need to keep them from drying out, cover them loosely with a sheet of wax paper and then place a damp kitchen towel over the wax paper (never place a damp towel directly on top of the bread because the sandwiches will become soggy).  Refrigerate.

  10. When ready to serve, remove from refrigerator.  Uncover sandwiches just before serving.

Recipe Notes

* Choose from Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui, Imperial, Carzalia, or Texas Spring sweet onions.  You probably will not use all the onion


Appetizers    Onion Appetizers    Onions    Sandwich Recipes   

Comments and Reviews

3 Responses to “James Beard’s Onion Sandwich Recipe”

  1. susyn dragness

    I made these for church luncheon put fresh violets all over with parsley. Stacked Luke wedding cake. Was a hit! I’m making them again fce club, different ladies. Hope will turn out as well have to use pansies, hearts ease. Fun beautiful and marvelous. I have a marbled pump/rye bread so that’s what I’ll be using.

  2. ALICE


  3. Greg

    Ok… These are Great…. But let me help you take this to another level. This is a Two Night project. Cut the Sweet Onions into rounds and then Place them In the Fridge on a tray to DRY OUT overnight. This shall help remove the acids and bitterness you experience with the fresh cuts. The juices will simply evaporate. Next, Frost the Rounds with a cupcake like layer of Mayonnaise, Top, Sides and Bottom, and return to the fridge in a covered refrigerator dish. Again overnight. The fat from the mayonnaise shall soak into the areas where the juices have dried away. UNREAL. You’re Welcome.


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