Shallots are not baby onions but a separate
member of the onion family. They have a delicate flavor, less intense
than most onions and they also dissolve easily into liquids, which is
why they are favored for sauces. Shallots grow in small, tight clusters
so that when you break one open there may be two or three bunched
together at the root.
Their size makes them convenient for a
recipe where only a little onion is required. Use shallots when only a
small amount of onion is needed or when only a fine onion flavor is
required. Shallots are a pleasant, if maybe extravagant, alternative to
onions, but where recipes specify shallots (especially sauce recipes),
they should be used if possible.
History : Shallots are probably as
ancient as onions. Roman commentators wrote eloquently about the
excellence of shallots in sauces.
Varieties : Shallots are small
slender onions with long necks and golden, copper-colored skins. There
are a number of varieties, although there is unlikely to be a choice in
the supermarkets. In any case, differences are more in size and color of
skin than in flavor.
Buying and Storing : Like onions,
shallots should be firmed without any green shoots. They will keep well
for several months in a cool dry place.
Preparing and Cooking : Skin shallots
in the same way as onions, i.e. top and tail them and then peel off the
outer skin. Pull apart the bulbs. Slice them carefully and thinly using
a sharp knife - shallots are so small, it is easy to slip and cut
yourself. When cooking them whole, fry over a very gentle heat without
browning too much.