Vegetables are a sure way to add taste and flavor to any recipe. Chefs will often use garlic and onions to add flavor to recipes, but will mostly forget the many varieties of shallots available. Blessed with a variety of tastes, shallots are readily available and can be used in place of onions and garlic.
So what are shallots? How do they taste? How different are they from onions? How many varieties of shallots are there?
This article will help you answer these questions and guide you through how to cultivate shallots.
What Is a Shallot?
Closely related to onions, chives, and garlic, the shallot plant (Allium ascalonicum) shares many attributes with these fragrant culinary favorites.
The shallot is a cool-season perennial believed to be originally from the Middle East to South Asia, and they come in a variety of different flavors, often described as a mix of onions and garlic, making them suitable for seasoning dishes.
Shallots vary in texture, color, shape, size, and even flavors, depending on the type of shallot. Regardless of the type, shallots have a very long shelf-life.
Although they are quite delicious and nutritious, most people haven’t tried them out, or do not know how to add them to their recipes. Shallots are commonly used to spice up a variety of recipes but are most popular in a range of Asian dishes.
When cut and cooked or pickled, they offer chefs a softer and milder taste compared to that of onions, hence their use as a substitute for onions when in need of a softer flavor.
What Do Shallots Look Like?
- As aforementioned, different varieties of shallots will vary from each other in terms of shape, texture, color, size, and flavors. However, shallots have shared features like the protective papery skin that is stripped off before cutting the shallot. This coat is often coppery pink and papery dry.
- Although most shallots are bulb-shaped, other varieties can either be elongated or teardrop-shaped, just as in the case of the banana shallot and ambition shallot respectively.
- Shallots are also smaller in size compared to onions, but larger than garlic.
- Just like onions and garlic bulbs, shallot plants grow in clusters.
- When cut, shallots have pale purple and white flesh, and they will make you cry, too.
As a general rule, always look for the shallots with the firmest skin texture when shopping.
What Do Shallots Taste Like?
Compared to regular onions, a shallot’s taste is milder and more delicate. Some classify the shallot flavor as a blend of onions and garlic. Either way, shallots can comfortably be used in place of white or yellow onions.
What’s the Difference between Shallots and Onions?
Distinguishing between shallots and onions can be a bit problematic. Shallots look like small onions. Making it even more difficult, the shallot shoots look similar to onion shoots and scallions.
So how are shallots precisely different from onions?
Besides the strength of flavor which is very distinct, main differences appear in the shapes of the bulbs. Unlike onions that have a large continuous bulb, shallots bulbs often appear in clusters like garlic and often assume an oblong shape.
Shallots also have a looser cellular structure compared to onions. This allows them to easily detach when chopped and cooked, making it easy for caramelization and to create a foundation for sauces.
Lastly, compared to onions, shallots possess a thicker outer skin that has a range of coloration from red to tan.
How Are Shallots and Onions Similar?
Despite their differences, shallots and onions have several similarities. They include:
- They have a similar though distinct flavor.
- They can either be consumed raw or cooked.
- Both plants belong to the Allium family.
- Both offer incredible health benefits, such as lowering blood pressure.
- Both vegetables will make you cry.
Types of Shallots
Shallots are available in a range of varieties, and their physical appearance changes between the available varieties along with the flavor. The list below entails a few common varieties of shallots.
This is a French shallot variety that matures about 100 days after planting. When fully matured, its bulb assumes a teardrop shape, and its flesh assumes a characteristically pink to a rusty-brown shallot color.
The Ambition shallot has a very long shelf life, making it popular for many recipes.
This is another French variety recognized by its distinct mahogany or brown coat color, but with red or pinkish flesh. The Pikant shallot has a very strong taste, making it a favorite for a string of recipes.
Pikant shallots are quick to grow and they attain maximum maturity in just about 80 days, making them among the fastest-growing shallot type. Pikants also have incredible shelf lives and can be stored for extended periods.
Also known as echalions, banana shallots are a cross-product of regular shallots and onions. The cross explains why they are the biggest shallot variety available. They have an elongated shape when fully mature and look larger than other shallot varieties.
The banana shallot has a brown or rust-colored coat that is easy to peel and has a softer and milder flavor compared to onions.
Also known as the red shallot, Prisma shallots are entirely red, both on the outside and the inside. They have characteristically smooth skin that is easy to peel. Their plants have a fast growth rate, and the bulbs will always be ready to harvest within 100 days of planting.
Flavor-wise, the Prisma shallot has a strong and pungent taste compared to other shallots and is most likely to be used in place of onions when used in any recipe because of its strong flavor.
Also known as the golden shallot, the yellow shallot is a small type of onion. It has gained its place in most recipes for its sought-after mild and sweeter taste, famously lacing your soups and stews with a hint of onion.
French Gray Shallot
Also known as the Griselle shallot, the French gray shallot is a French-style shallot famously considered a true shallot. Its fame is evident enough through its consistency both at the grocery stores and in gourmet kitchens.
The Griselle shallot has a grey exterior coat with bright purple flesh. It usually takes about 200 days for the Griselle to hit maturity, making it a little slow in development, and its bulbs assume an elongated shape when fully mature.
On the downside, French gray shallots do not have a long shelf life and do not make the best choice for extended shelf storage.
Growth and Propagation of Shallots
If you want to cultivate shallots, there are a few requirements to set up a garden.
You will need well-drained, organically rich, and neutral soil that retains moderate moisture in a weed-free environment, preferably with full sun exposure. Shallots will thrive in growing zones 3-10.
Upon maturity, shallot plants reach a maximum height of 2 feet and spread out by a width of 1 foot. When approaching maturity, clusters of bulbs will often form around the parent bulb, with each bulb averaging a diameter of 1 to 4 inches.
Shallot propagation occurs in two ways; either by seed during the early spring or through bulb propagation during fall. Either way, shallots are frost-tolerant and are less likely to experience serious pest infestations or plant disease issues.
However, you should consider adding mulch to the small shallots to help protect them from possible cold snaps, and further help keep down the weeds and retain moisture.
When planting shallots, you should space the shallot transplants about 4 to 6 inches away from each other, and plant them about 2 inches deep into the soil.
Once planted, remember that shallots are heavy feeders, and will need the soil to be constantly fertile and moist for successful growth.
Both the green stems and the shallot bulbs are edible, so depending on the part desired, harvesting of shallots differs a lot. The green shoots are always mature and ready for consumption after a month. However, you should be keen when pruning them, most preferably using scissors.
For the bulbs underneath, they will take longer to mature. However, upon maturity, the green shoots will dry out and fall off, signifying maximum maturity for the bulbs.
How to Cook With Shallots
Shallots can be applied to a wide range of recipes in different forms. Shallots can be finely diced, pickled, roasted whole, either peeled or with their skins on, or sliced into rings and fried.
On the other hand, raw shallots are a great addition to salads while their green tops are always best for garnish or aromatic seasoning.
Shallots are a great addition to any chef’s kitchen. Regardless of their diversity, all shallots have outstanding flavors that seal the deal for any recipe.