What is a shallot?
The delicate onion flavour of shallots is perfect for the classic French dish of slow-cooked shallot confit. Shallots are cooked on low heat in oil, herbs and wine, then the syrupy concoction is used as a garnish to add intense flavour to meat or vegetables.
Shallots originally grew in Central or Southeast Asia and were carried by the Crusader armies to India and the eastern Mediterranean region.
Shallots are an essential part of French-inspired sauces and they are now common in Asian cuisines where they are crispy-fried. They are also used in salads, made into shallot vinegar and sautéed with green beans.
Shallots are related to onions but have a milder flavour. They usually grow in clusters of cloves, similar to garlic. Golden shallots (brown-gold skin) and red shallots (with pink-purple skin) are available in Australia.
Why shallots are good to eat
- Shallots are a good source of vitamins A, C and folate.
- They also contain minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function).
- Shallots contain some dietary fibre.
- Energy – 100 g of shallots supplies around 100 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Shallots grow best in mild conditions and need frequent watering. Shallots grow as cloves, and cloves from the previous harvest are used for planting. Plant individual cloves in the soil with the pointy end facing up.
Shallots are ready for harvesting about 10 to 12 weeks after planting, when the leaves become wilted and dry. Pull the shallots out of the ground by hand and leave them in a well- ventilated area to dry out completely.
If you prefer, you can pull the shallots out before the leaves dry and use the green leaves and the bulb in recipes.
Choose shallots that are firm and heavy for their size. Avoid shallots with soft spots or those that are sprouting (an indicator of a long storage time). Smaller (younger) shallots have a milder taste than large shallots.
How to store and keep shallots
Store whole shallots in a cool, dark well-ventilated area (such as a pantry). Shallots will keep for two to three weeks when stored this way.
Whole shallots should not be stored in the fridge or in plastic bag because condensation forms and the shallots will spoil.
Peeled, cut shallots can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the fridge. These should be used as soon as possible as the quality quickly deteriorates.
How to use
- Make a shallot-based sauce – cook shallots with red wine, sherry and vinegar, add a squeeze of lemon juice, chopped parsley and whisk in some butter, then season and serve over grilled meat or chicken.
- Bake fish with a shallot and ginger topping – mix chopped shallots with grated ginger and scatter over fish, drizzle with soy sauce and cook, then serve with a side of vegetables.
- Try a slow-roasted shallot and beetroot side dish – roast shallots and beetroot in oil, garlic and wine vinegar, then add crispy bacon pieces and shredded fresh mint before serving.
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