Alliums are a staple item in most kitchens. Some are spicy, some are incredibly sweet once they have been cooked. They will either make or break the dish you are preparing. To me they are the glue for a recipe that holds everything together.

Yellow onions and garlic are the most commonly used members of the allium family. Green, red and white onions, chives, and leeks are the next most common. That leaves one of my favorite alliums in the produce department, the shallot.

Shallots are considered an important ingredient in Asian, Indian, Mediterranean, French, American, and Flemish cuisines. The varieties found in the different parts of the world vary, but the flavors are still basically the same. Shallots grow in clusters of small onions, and their skins vary in color from brown to yellow to red. The flesh of a shallot tends to be off-white with a tinge of red or a tinge of green.

Shallots tend to be overlooked or considered an extravagant ingredient. Perhaps this is because they have a more delicate flavor than most other alliums. Shallots are often replaced in a recipe with a combination of yellow onion and garlic. I feel like people cheat themselves out of an opportunity to cook with this fabulous a l l ium whe n they substitute it instead of using the real thing.

So why use a shallot? If you are looking for a smoother texture in a sauce or dressing, shallots are the way to go. When you finely mince shallots they tend to disappear easier in the dish while the flavor remains.

Flavor is something else that should be taken into consideration when deciding between shallots and onions. Shallots tend to have a sweeter, milder flavor, where as onions tend to have more of a bite to them. Onions will retain a strong, bold flavor if cooked quickly in a dish. The flavor of shallots tend to mellow out a lot faster than onions, giving the shallot the ability to blend in with the flavors of the dish you are preparing.

Because of their sweet mellow flavor, shallots are an excellent choice for using raw in dressings. Because shallots have a bit of a garlic flavor to them, they are a great choice when you are looking for a subtle garlic flavor without over powering the entire dish. Shallots will caramelize like an onion or almost completely cook down to nothing with the only trace they leave behind being flavor and aroma. For these reasons they are preferred by chefs and home cook alike. They are excellent when pureed in with mashed potatoes, or simply sliced up raw and used as a garnish.

When selecting shallots be sure they are firm, without out any discoloration on the skin. Avoid shallots that are sprouting, this is a sign of their age and can affect their flavor. Shallots should be the size of elephant garlic or smaller. When they are larger they are most likely a Jersey or “false” shallot. Jersey shallots tend to have a stronger, more pungent flavor.

Roasted Shallots

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Melt the butter in a 12-inch ovenproof saute pan, add the shallots and sugar, and toss to coat.
  3. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, tossing occasionally, until the shallots start to brown.
  4. Add the vinegar, salt, and pepper and toss well.
  5. Place the saute pan in the oven and roast for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the size of the shallots, until they are tender.
  6. Season to taste, sprinkle with parsley and serve hot.