Shallots (SHAL-uhts, shuh-LOTS) are the lesser known member of the lily family, closely related to onions and garlic. They may not be as gregarious as onions, but they do have their advantages. For one, they’re milder in flavor (hence not as toxic for your breath), and because of their small size, one is frequently the right amount, relieving you of having to store half a smelly onion in the crisper drawer.
French cooks have a great affinity for shallots. A key ingredient in Béarnaise sauce, shallots flavor compound butters and are widely used in salads and vinaigrettes. They’re also important in the cuisines of Asia.
If you confuse shallots and scallions, you’re far from alone. Older cookbooks used the term “shallot” to refer broadly to any small or immature onion, including green onions, or scallions. When purchasing shallots, choose firm, plump examples with dry skin.
Shallots can be a bit laborious, since each bulb needs to be individually peeled. Drop the whole shallot into a bowl of very hot water and let it stand for a minute; the skins will slip off easily.
Store shallots in a cool, well-ventilated spot—they’ll last longer than if you put them in the fridge. And cover any leftovers with oil then refrigerate. The oil will help preserve the shallot, and the shallot will add a lovely flavor to the oil, ready for your next vinaigrette. But it’s unlikely you’ll have leftovers.
—By Jo Marshall, a food writer in Deephaven, Minn.