There’s nothing more annoying than a recipe that calls for 1 shallot (or 2, 3 or 4…). How much is that?
There are small and big shallots and when shopping for them most of us hedge our bets and buy a handful of mixed sizes to ensure we’ve got enough for the recipe in our sights. Everything looks fine until you peel away the papery skin and see that the shallot is made up of two or more smaller bulbs. How much is 1 shallot? Is it the whole clump of bulbs, or like garlic, is it one bulb from the clump?
Most shallots will break apart into several bulbs when peeled. If a recipe calls for 1 shallot a rule of thumb when making a delicate dish or using shallot raw, would be to choose a small shallot initially, or to use a few small bulbs from one. Choose a larger shallot for a more robust cooked dish. Another point to consider is that small shallots tend to be milder than large ones, but, here’s the rub, large ones are easier to peel. Banana shallots, pictured, are the easiest to peel.
How to measure shallots
A small amount of chopped shallot is easy to measure in a tablespoon and larger amounts in a cup, and that’s the method I use in Shared Kitchen recipes (mostly!). But it is worth remembering that shallots, just like onion and spring onions (scallions), oxidize quite quickly once they are cut, so they’re best chopped just before use. And just like with garlic, while you are doing the job of peeling a few bulbs and getting stinky fingers, you may as well do enough for your week’s requirement, which will save time later on. Store the peeled shallots or garlic bulbs in a covered container in the fridge; they’ll stay fresh for many days.
Shallots are a species of onion that form clusters of small bulbs. They are either rounded, like a small plump onion, or elongated, with brown, copper-coloured, dusty grey or pinky red skins. The flesh is white, yellow or pink or mauve-tinged. Grey-skinned ones are considered to be the best, although they are not long keepers, and they’re not grown commercially in New Zealand.
Shallots are generally milder and slightly sweeter than onions and less pungent than garlic, although they possess characteristics of both. They’re finer in structure than onions and are easier to chop, and seem to soften and meld into cooked dishes more readily. Use them wherever you want a touch of onion and garlic flavour. Shallots brown more quickly than onions, especially when cooked in butter, taking just 3-4 minutes to become tender and lightly golden, so it is best to stay with the pan in case you forget them and come back to burnt shallots! They can be pickled like small onions, producing a pickle that is milder in flavour and not as hot or pungent to eat.
Crunchy caramelized shallots are a popular ingredient in Asian dishes. Sprinkle them over rice dishes, stir-fries, noodle dishes, soups such as laksa, salads, satay, in fact, wherever you fancy a crunchy crisp sweet-pungent hit. They’re easy enough to make at home in small batches, but if you get a taste for them – and they are addictive – you might find it easier to buy them ready made from an Asian store. Transfer to a glass jar and use as desired.
When choosing shallots, it’s wise to check them one by one. Each shallot should feel heavy and firm, not papery and dry, and should not be sprouting or showing any signs of mould or insect infestation.
Store them in a cool dry place, in a ventilated bag or basket. They will sprout and go soft if stored in a warm place, and if stored in plastic, they can rot. Keeping shallots in the fridge is not recommended for long-term storage because it encourages them to go mouldy, but just like with onions, chilling shallots before peeling will bring about fewer tears when chopping (chill them for several hours, or overnight).
Good for you
There’s a good reason to eat them apart from the sweet savoury notes they give to food: shallots are particularly high in anti-cancer compounds, help lower blood cholesterol and blood pressure, and help blood ‘thin’ and prevent clotting. Their natural antibiotics help with bronchitis, colds and ‘flu. They’re a good source of Vitamin B6, and also contain Vitamins C and A, and folate. And for those who have trouble digesting onions, shallots are more easily digested than regular brown onions, especially when cooked.