Friday, January 9, 2015

Featured Vegetable: Shallots

By Sarah Janes Ugoretz

Our feature this week is the shallot—specifically the French red shallot. These beauts, with their reddish-pink exterior and pale purple-pink flesh, belong to the Allium genus, along with garlic, chives, scallions, leeks and—many a market-goer’s perennial favorite—ramps. Shallots are often regarded as just a fancy type of onion and while they both belong to the same family, shallots differ widely from your typical onion. For starters, they grow in cloves, more similar to garlic than to onions. Some varieties of shallots can contain up to six cloves per head (though I find that I typically uncover two or three), each protected beneath a thin, papery skin. This feature designates shallots as multiplier onions.

Now let’s consider flavor. Shallots, in general, are recognized as having a rather delicate taste. When used raw they bring a subtle pungency to a dish and, as such, are a natural addition to salads, sautés, gratins and vinaigrettes. When soaked in vinegar (if you’re making a vinaigrette, for instance), their flavor will become even more mild. On the other hand, gently cooked shallots become, much like fennel, a very rich and sweet treat. In general, know that you can typically use shallots in place of onions. Be warned though, that despite their delicacy, I often find the tears flowing just as often when cutting and preparing shallots as when working with red or yellow onions. Look to our earlier vegetable feature on onions (from August 29, 2014) for suggestions on how to avoid this.

The name shallot comes from Ashkelon, an ancient Philistine city where the shallot is believed to have originated. From there, merchants transported the shallot to India and the eastern Mediterranean, and by 800, it had been widely popularized throughout France by Emperor Charlemagne. Shallots are frequently used in traditional French sauces for fish and meat. Shallots are also an important feature in Chinese, Burmese and other Asian cuisines. In fact, if you’re looking to expand your culinary horizons, I would suggest you check out Burma: Rivers of Flavor by Naomi Duguid—it’s one of my most valued cookbooks and many of the recipes also prominently feature shallots.

Nutritionally, shallots are an excellent source of iron and dietary fiber, aiding in optimal red blood cell function and digestion, and working to lower blood cholesterol levels. Shallots are also high in potassium, which plays an important role in nerve and muscle cell function and in supporting your body’s metabolism. Shallots should be stored in a cool, dry, well-ventilated place. If stored in the appropriate conditions, they will keep for several months.

Potted Cheddar with Bacon and Shallots
This recipe is borrowed from
The combination of bacon, heritage organic, grass-fed cheddar and caramelized shallots blends together beautifully for a satisfying potted cheese spread. It assembles in about a half hour. I spread it against homemade crackers or toasted sourdough bread, or take it along to potlucks and holiday parties.

Yield: about 1 pint

2 Tablespoons ghee or clarified butter (I buy grass-fed organic ghee here.)
8 ounces bacon
2 medium shallots, sliced paper thin
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese (I used and recommend Kingdom Cheddar in this recipe.), shredded
1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons dry sherry

  1. Melt ghee in a pan and fry bacon over medium-high heat until cooked through and crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan, and set the strips on a pan to cool slightly. Drain the bacon fat, and reserve two tablespoons in the pan.
  2. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Toss the shallots into the hot fat, and saute them until deeply fragrant and browned, about 15 minutes.
  3. Combine bacon and cheddar in a food processor and pulse until well-blended. Add the cream, shallots, and sherry to the bacon and cheddar, and continue to process them together until they form a smooth, spreadable paste.
  4. Spoon the cheese spread into a jar or into ramekins, and either serve right away or store, carefully covered, in the fridge for up to a month. Remember to bring the potted cheddar to room temperature before serving, and spread over crackers or bread as an appetizer or starter.

Sherried Mushroom Soup
Recipe from Cooking Light, Annual Recipes 2003.

Yield: 12 servings

2 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
1 pound shallots, coarsely chopped
6 (14 ounce) cans fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 ounces dried porcini mushrooms
Remaining Ingredients:
2 cups thinly sliced shiitake mushroom caps (about 4 ounces mushrooms)
¼ cup dry sherry
3 Tbsp chopped fresh chives
  1. To prepare broth, melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add thyme and shallots; cook 10 minutes or until shallots are golden brown. Stir in broth and porcini mushrooms; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 1 hour. Strain broth mixture through a sieve into a bowl. Discard solids. 
  2. Return broth to pan. Stir in shiitake mushrooms and sherry; cook 10 minutes over low heat. Stir in chives. Serve immediately. 

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