Shallots. What are the good for?
July 1, 2004 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Shallots. What good are they? Takes forever to peel like garlic but tastes like onion. Why not just use onion cheaper and easier to peel. What's the big deal with shallots.
posted by stbalbach to Food & Drink (29 answers total)
They're supposed to have a more delicate, less assertive taste than onions, if you're making a delicately flavored sauce and have a mass spectrometer for a tongue. Me, I put catsup on everything.
posted by jfuller at 5:11 PM on July 1, 2004

stbalbach: good shallots are a cross between garlic and onion, being a little sweeter and a little more floral than either, but featuring sharing the same high notes from each... also, in my experience, you can mince shallots much more finely than you can onions, as shallots have a firmer (less watery?) flesh — which means you get more delicately structured sauces.
posted by silusGROK at 5:26 PM on July 1, 2004

(That should read "but sharing the high notes of each...".)
posted by silusGROK at 5:27 PM on July 1, 2004

Garlic is in fact very easy to peel: Place between fingers and thumbs, squeeze firmly, and roll. The appropriate motion is that of rolling a cigarette or a joint, except very firmly. The membranes will peel right off.

That said, I don't have a use for shallots, as I find that if I need an onion-y flavor in a dish, I'll use an actual onion. Or chives, which are also much like onions but green herb-like.
posted by majick at 5:40 PM on July 1, 2004

I only use shallots in cream cheese, for a bagel schmear/paste/mortar/spread/thing . . . but man are they worth it in that application!
posted by littlegreenlights at 5:48 PM on July 1, 2004

Garlic: pull the clove from the bunch. Get out a wide blade knife. Slice off the end where the clove was connected. Turn the knife sideways, parallel to the cutting board, rest the knife blade on the top of the clove. Bring the heel of your hand down hard on the blade, "smashing" the clove. The clove of garlic will slip out of the skins quickly and easily.

(Wow. That sounds a lot more complicated than it is. Actually, it's really easy, just give it a try. Courtesy of my favorite TV cookshow hostess, Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa)
posted by JollyWanker at 6:16 PM on July 1, 2004

Ina Garten is sexxxxxy.
posted by littlegreenlights at 6:22 PM on July 1, 2004

Shallots are always better than onions. Really - they slice better (as has been mentioned) and are just . . . cooler. I guess it doesn't make a difference in the long run, but when trying to impress a date with some decent cooking, shallots make a much better impression than a plain ass onion.
posted by aladfar at 6:23 PM on July 1, 2004

Google Groups brought up quite a few results on the whole shallot vs. onion issue. Warning: thread contains more than you'll probably ever want to know about shallots.
posted by LimePi at 6:54 PM on July 1, 2004

Jollywanker, that's far too refined. I just whack the garlic clove/shallot with the heel of my hand, or maybe the base of a coffee mug.

Shallots are more refined in flavour.

Incidentally, I notice a lot of American recipes use "shallot" to name what I call "spring onions". To me "shallots" are small, reddish skinned, pink fleshed onion arrangements that grow in clusters. Spring onions are long thin stalks like pygmy leeks.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 7:12 PM on July 1, 2004

Basically, I've found two important reasons to use shallots:

1) They really are a useful way to get an "onion-y" flavor into a dish, but more delicately. If you're cooking something with eggs, or making a chicken/vegetable type dish, onions and garlic are almost automatically going to take you down the more rustic, hearty route. (I know, not always, but still, they add strong flavors to the mix, and everything else has to get turned up to compete if you're not really careful.) That's actually my personal preference, and the way I usually cook, but it's not always what one wants, and that's when shallots really come in handy.

2) Combining flavors that are "similar but different" can really add a lot to the flavor and complexity of a dish. In a lot of ways, shallots work even better with onions and garlic than instead of them. Even if onion and/or garlic are the main "savory" flavor components in a dish, adding shallots can help sort of "fill in the spectrum", and help tie all the flavors together. It's not like you can taste the shallots, as a distinct ingredient, but it's a simple approach that can help build a more layered, tasty result.

I find that last point is a really important one in cooking really good tasting food. Just think of a good chili--many folks will use a dozen different types of pepper, or more, by the time they're done creating a really tasty chili. (Dried peppers, roasted peppers, raw peppers, tabasco sauce, cayenne powder...) It applies to all sorts of things, like butter/cream, oregano/parsley/sage, curry/cumin/coriander. Combining multiple, similar flavors always helps create a great meal. (Contrasting flavors, too, of course, but that's not why you use shallots with onions and garlic.)

(Oh yeah--and if you're finding garlic hard to peel, the crushing thing works like a charm.)
posted by LairBob at 7:25 PM on July 1, 2004 [1 favorite]

joe's_spleen, are you sure they aren't referring to the long green things as scallions?

anyway - shallots are worth the trouble. See LairBob for reasons.
posted by stonerose at 7:32 PM on July 1, 2004

Shallots are one of nature's finest flavors. LairBob has it right. He is especially right about their mixture with eggs and chicken (also fish) - superb. He is also very right about their combination with onions and/or garlic.

The key to getting the best flavor from shallots is low heat. Do not fry them in high temperature oil. Rather, sauté them with some oil or butter (or if on the real low fat kick a tiny bit of broth), then add the broth or liquid. When you add them makes a difference. Adding them early adds one type of fuller flavor, adding them at the end after the heat is done, or just at the end of heat application adds mostly aroma and lighter flavors.
posted by caddis at 7:54 PM on July 1, 2004

*aha* stonerose, in my neck of the woods, "scallions" isn't in common use, but when it is used, it's applied to shallots. Hence my confusion.

Lairbob and caddis are both absolutely right.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:47 PM on July 1, 2004

Apologies if this is distasteful in a "yaa! scallions!" thread, but does anyone happen to know how a plant becomes a carrier for hepatitis? It seems odd to me. I do still like them and still eat them, I'm just wondering, and it seems related to the original question, in a "why might I not want to use scallions" kind of way.
posted by milovoo at 9:05 PM on July 1, 2004

Even though they are both oniony, and their names are confusingly similar, shallots are not scallions--as a matter of fact, milo, the article you link to actually recommends shallots as a substitute for scallions.

It's not too hard to see how scallions (or "green onions") might carry something unhealthy, since a large portion of them grows aboveground, and more importantly, you eat the outside of the thing you bought in a store. Anything you eat the outside of--whether it's peppers, or lettuce, or whatever--should be thoroughly washed if you're going to eat it raw. (It's especially easy to be careful of scallions when the typical supermarket ones tend to have that slimy coating on them after sitting around for too long.)

Shallots, on the other hand, you definitely would not want to eat raw, and more to the point, you peel before you use. (And there's no health warning for them.)

The white portions of the scallion are also a nice complement to the "oniony" family of flavors, but they have a more herby, often more bitter flavor than shallots or a good onion. The green stalky parts cook down to mush pretty quickly, and are best used raw, or occasionally towards the end of a soup, in my experience.

(Sorry, don't mean to be snarky at all, but I really wouldn't want to put off anyone from using shallots because of the mistaken identity.)
posted by LairBob at 9:36 PM on July 1, 2004

(I use shallots all the time in pad thai — very tasty. I'll use some onion if I don't have a shallot handy, but the slight difference in taste does seem worthwhile.)
posted by hattifattener at 9:49 PM on July 1, 2004

Oh, I see. I had the same confusion as joe's_spleen.
I think the terms are sometimes transposed by mistake.
posted by milovoo at 10:12 PM on July 1, 2004

related: how do you prounounce shallot? I've heard it as shaLOT. and SHALLit.'s talking dictionary has both pronounciations in it. However, I'm curious how the average jo pronounces it (this means you). I prefer the latter pronounciation.
posted by dobbs at 10:31 PM on July 1, 2004

Scallions become a carrier for disease when they're grown in raw sewage. Or covered in raw sewage. Human waste. Whatever. That's probably what happened with the ones from Mexico in the Chi-Chi's case.

Or so I gather.
posted by geekhorde at 10:47 PM on July 1, 2004

As a New Englander, I've always heard it "SHALLit" for the vegetable we're discussing, and "shaLOT" for the mythical place (as in Tennyson's Lady of Shallot--or sometimes "Lady of Shalott", which would make things clearer).
posted by LairBob at 10:55 PM on July 1, 2004

The thing with Shallots is if their genes go bad, you end up getting snarky movie reviews.
posted by Goofyy at 12:13 AM on July 2, 2004

"Shallots, on the other hand, you definitely would not want to eat raw...."

I use raw shallots all the time. Great in salads.
posted by cardboard at 7:13 AM on July 2, 2004

Actually, cardboard, you're right, and I realized that after I posted it--there's no real reason you couldn't/wouldn't use raw shallots than raw onions for stuff like that. The important food hygiene points are really more that (a) it's grown underground, so the part you eat isn't directly exposed to any bad stuff that's thrown on it in the fields, and (b) that you peel off a pretty tough outer skin before you do eat it, raw or otherwise.
posted by LairBob at 8:09 AM on July 2, 2004

....end up getting snarky movie reviews.

posted by bshort at 9:18 AM on July 2, 2004

In Kitchen Confidential, Tony Bourdain reveals the two primary reasons that restaurant food doesn't taste like (most) food cooked at home: liberal use of both butter and shallots.
posted by hsoltz at 9:27 AM on July 2, 2004

Is "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" acceptable?
posted by bshort at 9:37 AM on July 2, 2004

Yes, in a professional kitchen shallots are always used as the base of sauces, never onions. Mince, add 50/50 vinegar and wine of your choice, reduce until the liquid is almost gone and the shallots are soft and translucent. This is the yummy base of many many sauces, and shallots are esential.

Also of note is the different color between European (yellowish-pink) and American shallots (purpleish), which is imparted to light sauces like beurre blanc.
posted by bradhill at 10:15 AM on July 2, 2004

If you want an onion taste/smell but more delicately (like shallots), then just get red onions! Cheap, easy, and nicer than the normal green ones.
posted by wackybrit at 1:09 PM on July 2, 2004

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