We at Oh My Veggies are always looking for things that can make your food better. We look at specific ingredients that will help you improve the flavor and nutrition of your dishes. We also look for techniques that will make your life easier and make your food taste better. We wanted to highlight an ingredient that provides increased flavor, and provides technical benefits as well. The ingredient is the shallot. You know, that brownish-purple tiny onion that you never pick up in the store. Shallots have a ton of flavor, and they have properties that can improve your cooking.
the Shallot is in the same family as garlic and onion, but are quite different. A raw shallot is strong and pungent in flavor (similar to raw onion), and when cooked, they are much more mild and slightly sweet. Shallots come in a bulb with two to three cloves in them. They are wrapped in a thin papery skin that is a brownish-purple color. The flesh is off white with a purple skin that makes them look a lot like a red onion.
Shallots can be used in any dishes as a replacement for onion, but they are so different from garlic that they should not be used as a replacement. I have heard stories of people going to the grocery store and grabbing a shallot when the store was out of garlic. This is not a great exchange, and they were not pleased with the results. Indonesian and southern Indian cooking uses the shallot instead of onion, but there is no good replacement for garlic. Shallot is one of the ingredients that separates top-notch restaurant cooking from the home cook. Chefs love them, while most home cooks are scared to use them. We hope that at the end of this article you will be excited to try them.
Another important property of the shallot is that they are high in pectin. Pectin is a substance in fruit and vegetables that gives substance to the cell wall. Pectin breaks down as fruit ripens, and this is why ripe fruit is softer than unripe fruit. This substance is used in making jams and jellies because it is an emulsifier, and it can create stable gels at room temperature. This is important to vegetarians because pectin can be used as a plant-based replacement for gelatin. It is important in shallot because they can be used to add body as well as flavor to dishes.
Pectin breaks down with water and heat, so you have to “bloom” the pectins in the shallot before you add it to colder applications like salad dressings. This can be done by sautéing them in olive oil and salt over medium high heat. When the shallots start to brown slightly, add water, wine, or liquor to deglaze the pan. If you cook them until soft and the liquid is evaporated, then you have activated the pectins, and it will add body to your sauce or dressing. Salad dressing recipes often call for minced raw shallots, but raw shallot can overpower salad dressing recipes. If you combine sautéed shallot and mustard (another emulsifier), you can make great vinaigrettes that can stay combined and will not separate.
If you continue this sautéing/deglazing process all the way to caramelization, you will have the makings of a great sauce. Shallots have a natural richness that can enhance many dishes. French sauces use shallots for the body that the pectins provide as well as the flavor that they bring to the party. A caramelized shallot sauce on top of sautéed mushrooms is delicious.
Raw or cooked, shallots can add a richness and punch to your food. Roasted, sautéed, grilled, or fried, shallots are a fun ingredient to play with. We hope that you will give shallots a try in some of your dishes.
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