Sunday, June 16, 2024

Good things do come in small packages

Why use shallots? Aren’t they just the same as onions?

I used to think that way too — until I really started using them. Shallots have a subtler, milder flavor, with just a hint of garlic. When cooked, they caramelize differently and break down more easily and quickly than other onions. Shallots are great on their own or used as a base for sauces and more complex dishes.

Small and round with pinkish papery skins, shallot bulbs have several sections, much like cloves of garlic. (I find them quite cute.) They’ll keep, refrigerated, for several months depending on how fresh they were when you bought them. Look for firm bulbs without a green stem starting to grow. The flesh inside is purply-white like a mini-onion.

While I see shallots (chalotes) in Mazatlan’s larger grocery stores, I don’t know any local person who uses them. Nor have I ever noticed them anywhere on any menu — except at one new-ish Asian restaurant in the historic center. The chef/owner lived, trained and cooked professionally in Thailand — where shallots are an integral part of the cuisine.

Chicken stew with shallots
Shallots are a great base for soups, sauces and stews.

They are a mainstay in Asian gastronomy, including in Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Korea, China, India and Nepal. My guess is that the sizable Chinese population in Mazatlán is the reason behind the availability of shallots, but quien sabe?

Shallots can be used in salsas, moles, any soup or stew, salad dressings and salads, as accompaniments to beef, chicken or fish. Plus they feature as the star ingredient in a wide range of recipes. And classic Thai fried shallots (recipe below) transcend any nationality.

Caramelized Shallots

Enjoy as a condiment, on toast or a sandwich, or with steak.

  • 4 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 lbs. fresh shallots, peeled, with roots intact
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garnish: fresh parsley

Melt butter in a skillet over medium heat. Slice shallots crosswise into rings. Add to skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots begin to brown, about 5 minutes. Turn to low; continue cooking until shallots soften but do not burn, 10–15 minutes.

Top with fresh parsley.

Pickled Shallots

  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • About 18 very small shallots (8 ounces)

In small saucepan, bring vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil, stirring to dissolve. Add shallots; return to boil. Transfer shallots and liquid to bowl or jar; cool. Store, covered, in refrigerator.

Roasted Salsa

  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1-3 serrano or jalapeno chiles
  • 1½ cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • ¼ cup minced fresh cilantro
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lime juice

Heat barbecue grill or comal on medium-high. Place onion, shallot, garlic, tomatoes and chiles on a comal or baking tray on the grill; drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Sauté about 15 minutes, stirring, until vegetables are charred and blackened. Remove from heat into a mortar and pestle, adding lime juice a spoon at a time until desired consistency. Stir in cilantro and serve.

Shallot Vinaigrette

  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Optional: 1 Tbsp. minced fresh herbs (cilantro, dill, basil, oregano, thyme)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker jar. Add fresh herbs if using. Shake well to combine.

fried shallots
Bet you can’t eat just one of these crispy fried shallots!

One-Pot Chicken with Shallots

  • 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 12-15 whole medium shallots, peeled
  • 2 cups white wine
  • 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 2 tarragon sprigs
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved

Pat chicken very dry with paper towels. Sprinkle chicken pieces with flour, salt and pepper.

Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed pot or skillet over medium-high heat. When it foams, cook the chicken, in batches if necessary, until well browned and crisp on all sides. Remove from pan; set aside.

Add shallots to pan; sauté in the butter and chicken fat until soft and caramelized, 10–12 minutes. Stir in wine to deglaze the pan. Add mustard and tarragon, then chicken. Cover, turn heat to low; simmer 30 minutes.

Remove lid and cook 15–20 minutes more to allow the sauce to reduce and thicken. Stir in cherry tomatoes and serve.

Crispy Fried Shallots

Save the oil the shallots are cooked in — it will have a subtle spicy flavor

  • 1 pound of shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
  • 1½-2 cups vegetable oil
  • Salt

Line a rimmed baking sheet with paper towels. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large heatproof bowl or saucepan.

On the stovetop: Combine shallots and oil in medium saucepan or wok. Place over high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots begin to bubble, 2–3 minutes. Continue cooking until shallots turn pale golden brown, 8–10 minutes longer, stirring constantly to ensure even cooking. Working quickly, pour oil and shallots (contents of saucepan) into prepared strainer set over a bowl. (Shallots continue cooking after draining, so don’t let them get too dark.)

In the microwaveCombine shallots and oil in large microwave-safe bowl. Stir with a fork to separate. Microwave on high for 5 minutes. Stir, loosening any shallots clinging to sides. Continue to microwave in 2-minute increments, stirring between each round, until shallots begin turning lightly golden, 6–8 minutes total. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between each round, until they’re evenly pale golden brown, 30 seconds to 1 minute longer.

Working quickly, pour contents of bowl into prepared strainer set over a different bowl. (Shallots continue cooking after draining, so don’t let them get too dark.) Continue with directions below.

Immediately transfer shallots to prepared baking sheet, spreading into an even layer. Season with salt. Allow shallots and oil to cool to room temperature, then transfer to separate airtight containers. Store fried shallots at room temperature; refrigerate shallot oil for later use in other dishes.

Janet Blaser is the author of the best-selling book, Why We Left: An Anthology of American Women Expatsfeatured on CNBC and MarketWatch. She has lived in Mexico since 2006. You can find her on Facebook.

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