Nestled near the onions and garlic in the supermarket or in the specialty food section, you'll often find a bin of smaller onions called shallots. We may not use them on a daily or even weekly basis, but they're indispensable in special butter and wine sauces.
Key ingredient: shallots
Shallots are more expensive than onions, but try not to skimp and use onions as a substitute when a recipe specifically calls for shallots. The sweet, subtle flavor will add much to your dish.
The basics: Shallots are part of the onion family and are said to be native to the Middle East. They form in clusters similar to garlic and are generally the size of a small boiling onion. They are covered with a dry paper-like skin ranging in color from copper to grayish brown with white, yellow or pinkish-purple flesh. Shallots are milder in flavor than onions and are utilized extensively by the French for seasoning.
In the United States onions are used more widely because shallots are more labor intensive, and therefore more expensive, to grow.
Selecting: Choose bulbs that are firm and plump, with papery skins that are shiny and not wrinkled. Avoid bulbs that have started to sprout.
Storing: It's best to store shallots in a cool, dry area of the kitchen. But in Hawaii's warm climate you may opt to refrigerate for up to a couple of weeks.
Use: Peel off the skin and trim the base and tops of the shallot. If mincing or chopping, cut in half lengthwise first to make for an easier dice, or slice in thin, round rings. Be careful not to crush or smash shallots as you would garlic because shallots tend to get bitter when treated that way. Ideally, shallots should be lightly swatted in butter, wine or vinegar, especially when making sauces.
"The Joy of Cooking" (Scribner, 1997) offers a unique idea for crispy shallots for a garnish for Asian noodle dishes, stir-fries and sauteed greens.
Heat 1/2 cup of peanut oil and 1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric until hot but not smoking. Drop in 4 large shallots, sliced in thin rounds. Simmer until they turn light gold, then stir in 1/2 teaspoon sugar. Cook until onions just begin to brown. Remove and drain on paper towels.
Where to buy: Shallots can readily be found year-round in most supermarkets. Prices range from $3.99 to $5.69 a pound.
Food Stuffs: Morsels
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