It’s a pro move – keeping a brown bag full of shallots in your pantry. Why, you ask? Because you can toss a shallot in just about anything you cook, instantly adding a layer of flavor and refinement with minimal effort. Those perplexing little purple bulbs make up in aroma and versatility what they lack in size. There are so many reasons restaurants stock peeled shallots by the jug in their walk-in coolers, and they’re all the same reasons shallots should become not only an item used often in your own kitchen, but indispensable.
What Is a Shallot?
Shallots are smaller members of the allium family (aka onions, garlic, leeks, chives, etc). They grow in bulbs like onions, but clustered together like garlic, and are recognized by their thin, coppery-pink, papery skin and pale purple and white flesh. They may be plum and more round or thinner and tapered like little torpedoes.
Shallots are a flavor-building block, like onions, and are therefore used in the aromatic cooking steps of a recipe, like onions, before searing or sautéing vegetables or proteins or adding the other ingredients to a soup or stew. Their flavor acts as a seasoning for dishes, allowing them to shine in so many uses in both raw and cooked states.
Asia and the Middle East have been using shallots since ancient times. Crusaders eventually brought them to Europe in the 11th century and once they made it to France, they became a staple in the cuisine. Hence their association with the classical style to this day, even though they’re utilized in foods all over the world.
Get the recipe: Greek-Style Beef Stew (Stifado)
What Does a Shallot Taste Like?
A shallot is not as sharp as standard onions, boasting soft, beautiful notes and a bit of sweetness, especially when cooked.
Their milder quality makes them easier to eat in this state than other onions. When cooked, shallots have a melt-in-your-mouth quality and obtain a rich, caramel-like flavor, providing a key component to traditional sauces like Beurre Blanc.
Shallots vs. Onions
Besides the obvious similarity of being a part of the same family, shallots and onions share similar structures and preparations/uses in recipes.
Shallots, being smaller and a bit thinner in nature, break down more quickly during sauteing or when added to oil, whereas onions take a bit to soften and become translucent. Onions have a stronger aroma and like to make chopping them a stinging affair, whereas shallots don’t typically make you tear up when doing so.
The more subtle flavor of a shallot increases its versatility in the kitchen.
How to Cook With Shallots
When raw, mince them and add them to a dressing, brighten a vinaigrette, or make a classic mignonette for oysters.
Toss sliced or chopped shallots in the aromatic step of recipes; use them in a sauce for pasta or steak, or whip up a scrumptious gravy. Caramelize them for decadent mashed potatoes. Add them to a meatloaf or burger. Roast them whole alongside chicken or as a side dish on their own.
Bake them in a quiche or other savory pie or slice and fry them to sprinkle on top of dishes for a crispy finishing touch. Slice and pickle shallots for a fresh burst of acidity on rich dishes.
Get the recipe: Roasted Green Beans and Shallots
How to Store Shallots
Like other alliums, shallots enjoy a cool, dry, dark place with lots of air circulation. Hang them from the ceiling in a cellar, dry garage, or large closet in a metal mesh basket or knotted in clean pantyhose. A paper bag, left open, folded down, and with holed punched along the side about 1 inch apart is also good.
Storing shallots in the fridge, ideally in a crisper drawer, is also a viable option. It offers a good temperature and humidity for their comfort. Remember, shallots are still good if they sprout.
You can also freeze your shallots for up to 3 months. Chop or slice them, spread them in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze completely before transferring them to one zip-top bag. (Be prepared for your freezer to be a bit pungent for a while.) Once thawed, they’ll be like a lightly sauteed shallot, so don’t eat them raw or expect a crunch, but they could be a time savor in a lot of recipes.
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