What are Shallots?

Shallots
Anita Schecter

Question: What are Shallots?

I often see shallots in recipes, but I don't know what they are. What exactly are shallots?

Answer: Shallots are technically a variety of onion that, most likely, originated in southwest Asia. The flavor is a bit milder and sweeter than a typical onion, however, and some people find the taste to be a cross between onion and garlic. Just as with garlic, shallots are formed in clusters of multiple cloves.

They have a brown outer skin, but it can also be pinkish and resemble a red onion. Technically shallot crops mature in summer but, in the US, they can be found fresh year round in almost every market.

And, cooks beware, shallots don't like to be sliced anymore than onions do. They also release the same gas that makes us tear up.

Shallots are used in recipes in the same way onions and garlic are. They can be cooked, pickled or eaten raw. In fact, because they don't have as much "bite" as regular onions, they can be a better choice in raw applications. Shallots also have a slightly faster cooking time than onions or garlic.

Buying and Storing Shallots

Shallots can be found in the produce section of your local grocery store, but will be a little more expensive than onions or garlic. Look for ones that are firm and do not have any green shoots. Prepare shallots as you would an onion, by chopping off the ends and peeling off the outer skin.

Also, in the way that you would with onions, store shallots in a cool, dry place, such as a pantry, and they will keep about three weeks to a month.

Culinary Uses

Because of their milder flavor, finely diced shallots are a common and delicious ingredient in salad dressings whereas an onion would be much too strong.

Try adding a tablespoon of the small diced shallots to 3 tablespoons of good quality olive oil, 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of your favorite mustard and a pinch of honey or sugar. Whisk it all together and season with salt and pepper for a gourmet flavored vinaigrette.

Even when cooked, some dishes call for a more onion delicate touch. Shallots are ideal in risottos and blend in well with the white wine and cheese.

Shallots contain the same sugars as a regular onion which means they caramelize beautifully. Make a big batch of caramelized shallots and use them to top your burgers and steaks. Freeze the rest for a treat later on.

And don't forget the ultimate deliciousness. Crispy fried shallots. Put them on everything!