And what, Monsieur Louis, are shallots?” When I first came to this country that question almost invariably was asked by Americans to whom I gave recipes. Only my French friends here seemed to know them, but, under the circumstances, that wasn't too strange. Almost no markets, except those where the French chefs traded, sold shallots. During the last forty years, however, shallots have become more familiar and certainly more readily available, at least in the large cities. And yet the same question continues to arise, perhaps a little oftener now that more home cooks are trying their hands at la bonne cuisine française.
Encyclopedias describe shallots as a “member of the onion family,” or a “vegetable of the onion tribe.” Shallots,of course, do look something like onions, but they are much smaller—never bigger than a small fig, often only the size of anolive—and more pear-shaped. Their outer skin is a little browner than that of a yellow onion and also a little thicker, and the inner layers have a purplish cast. Shallots grow in the manner of garlic, forming a compact group of individual “cloves” attached to a common base.
The flavor of shallots resembles that of the onion, but it is mellower and much more subtle. Although onions may be substituted in a recipe when shallots are unavailable, a true gourmet has no trouble recognizing the difference. Because of their subtlety, shallots are always preferred for sauces used with delicate foods such as chicken, fish, and veal, and with some broiled meats. The combination of shallots, butter, and wine blends to a special savor achieved in no other way.
The food stores that sell imported fruits, out-of-season vegetables, and fresh herbs usually carry shallots. In New York, most of the better groceries and vegetable markets stock them. And the owner of a New York restaurant sells them by mail. He told me that he had to buy the entire output of a French province in order to fill his orders. But anyone with even a small piece of ground can grow them. Shallots thrive in the same soil and climate as onions. Mon Dieu, how many times I've started rows of shallots for friends! You plant the bulbs that you use for cooking, placing them about two inches deep in light rich soil, and about four inches apart. If you plant more than one row, leave a space of fifteen inches between the rows. Shallot plants must be weeded and cultivated, of course, all during the season. Slender, hollow leaves, something like chives, shoot up; when these turn brown and die at the end of the summer, it is time to dig up the shallot bulbs. They must be spread out where they will dry, then separated and stored in ventilated baskets in a cool dry place. If thoroughly dried and properly stored, shallots will keep all winter. Some may be put aside to start the following year's crop. Each bulb produces a clump of about five or six shallots, so that a pint of shallots planted may yield as much as three quarts.
In cookery, shallots are always peeled and very finely chopped. They may be used in almost any sauce served with meat, poultry, or fish, but are chosen less frequently for sauces strongly flavored with herbs, spices, garlic, or other ingredients that would overwhelm their delicacy.Shallot Duller
Parboil 4 teaspoons chopped shallots in about ½cup water for 1 or 2 minutes. Drain the shallots and dry them on a towel. Combine them with 6 tablespoons softened butter, crush all together well, and strain the butter through a fine sieve. If desired, add a little finely chopped chives. For broiled meats.Shallot Sauce
In a saucepan combine l tablespoon chopped shallots with ¾ cup dry white wine and cook the mixture until the wine is reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Add 1 ½cups velouté sauce and cook slowly for about 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from the hear, swirl in 2 tablespoons butter, and add 1 teaspoon lemon juice. For fish.Marchand de Vin Butter
In a saucepan combine 2 teaspoons chopped shallots with 5 ounces red wine, cook the mixture until the wine is reduced to 2 or 3 tablespoons, and let it cool. Cream 8 tablespoons butter, add 1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley. and combine the butter with the shallot mixture. Season the butter with a little salt and pepper. For broiled meats.Minute Steaks with Shallot Sauce
Season 6 minute steaks with salt and pepper. In a skillet, in 2 tablespoons very hot butter, cook the steaks quickly cut each side, allowing 1 minute for rare, a little longer for medium, and 3 to 4 minutes for well done. Remove the steaks to a warm platter. To the juices remaining in the pan add 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallots and ¼teaspoon flour and cook the mixture for 1 minute. Do not let the shallots brown. Add 5 ounces dry wine—red, white, or Sherry—and cook the sauce, stirring in the brown bits clinging to the pan, until it is slightly reduced. Pour the sauce over the steaks and sprinkle them with finely chopped parsley.