They are more subtle than onion and less pungent than garlic.
Shallots are most often used as a condiment to enhance the flavor of other foods, but they can be cooked alone as a vegetable.
The sweetest shallots come to market in mid-summer. Fresh green shallots with the subtlest of flavor start coming to market in spring. Dry shallots are available year-round.
Cooking ideas. Shallots are a key ingredient in many sauces—beurre blanc, béarnaise sauce, white- and red-wine sauces, and seafood sauces. Unlike onions or garlic, shallots will not make a sauce more pungent but will sweeten the flavor.
- Shallots also are added to soups, salads, and sautéed vegetables. Where a recipe calls for a small amount of onions, shallots can be used.
- Shallots can be finely sliced and added uncooked to salads.
- When cooked, shallots “melt” or dissolve into the pan juices of ragouts or stews and need not be strained or puréed. Shallots will both flavor and thicken a stew.
- Whole shallot cloves can be tossed with a little oil and baked at 350°F for about 30 minutes until they are caramelized and then served as a vegetable side dish.
Common Shallot Types
There are many varieties of shallots. Three types are common:
Jersey shallot is a short, round bulb that looks something like a small onion. It has an orange to reddish pink skin and mild taste. It is named for the Isle of Jersey and is sometimes called a “false” shallot, orange shallot, or red shallot. The Dutch shallot is a variety of Jersey shallot.
Gray shallot is smaller and more elongated than the Jersey shallot. It has a pale—not actually gray—skin with a slightly purple colored head. The gray shallot—which is also called a common shallot, “true” shallot, or French shallot—has a firm flesh with a mild and more subtle flavor than the Jersey shallot.
Cuisse de poulet shallot is a very elongated shallot with a deep golden skin and very sweet flavor. It takes its French name from its resemblance to a chicken thigh. Sometimes these shallots are also called frog’s leg shallot for their resemblance to a bull frog’s leg.
The shallot is a biennial bulb grown as an annual. Shallots form basal clumps of about a dozen (called “bunches”) red, brown, or gray tear-drop shaped bulbs each about ½-inch (13 mm) in diameter. Because shallot bulbs grow in clusters they are sometimes categorized as “multiplier onions.” From the bulbs grows narrow green leaves to about 8 inches (20 cm) tall.
Shallot bulbs are divided into 2 or 3 cloves similar in looks to garlic cloves. Each clove is covered with a thin papery skin.
Choose. Select shallots that are plump, firm, and dry skinned. Avoid shallots that are wrinkled or sprouting, or that show any signs of black mold.
Store. Fresh harvested shallots will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week. It is best to allow harvested bulbs to dry for a month in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place before use or storage. You can clip the stems and store the bulbs in mesh bags.
Shallots also can be minced and packed into ice cube trays, frozen, then sealed in plastic bags and stored in the freezer for up to 8 months. Each cube will contain about 2 tablespoons (25 ml).
Prepare. To remove the outer skin, top and tail each bulb and then peel off the outer skin and then pull apart the cloves.
Another approach is to top the shallot but leave the root end attached so you have something to hang on to. Next, peel off the skin and cut the shallot bulb in half, place the cut side down, then make horizontal cuts toward the root. Slice thinly.
Shallots should be diced when used as an aromatic in various dishes.
Serve. Shallots can be served raw or cooked—roasted, stewed, caramelized, and double-poached.
- The greens of immature shallots can be chopped and used like chives. Shallots cloves can be diced and lightly added to green salads.
- Minced shallots will flavor soups, stews, and sauces. Use shallots as you would onions in quiche, omelets, coq au vin, and other delicately flavored dishes.
- Shallots should be cooked slowly until they are soft. Peel the shallots, sweat them in butter, sprinkle them with a pinch of sugar and salt, and cover them lightly with water. Simmer over a low heat until the liquid evaporates stirring occasionally. Serve hot or cold.
Flavor partners. Shallots have a flavor affinity for beef, beets, Brussels sprouts, butter, chervil, chicken, chives, cream, duck, fish, lentils, potatoes, tarragon, thyme, turkey, veal, white beans, and wine.
Nutrition. Shallots have little nutritional value, but they serve as a catalyst for the consumption of other nutritive foods.
Shallot facts and trivia. Shallots are believed to have originated in Turkestan in Central Asia more than 2,000 years ago. It is likely that they were introduced next to India and then to Persia and Egypt and to the Mediterranean region by traders.
The ancient Greeks gave shallots their name when Greek traders found them in the ancient Palestinian port trading city of Ascalon (now Ashkelon in Israel) and named them after the city.
Shallots were introduced into European cookery during the Middle Ages by crusaders returning from the Holy Land.
The word shallot comes from the Old French escalogne from the Latin Ascalonia caepa (onion of Ascalon).
Shallots today are commonplace in French, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian, and Creole cookery.
The botanical name for shallots is Allium cepa var. ascalonium. Shallots are sometimes classed with multiplier onions Allium cepa var. aggregatum.