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Shallots vs. Onions


NulloModo
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Hiya,

I have always enjoyed the flavor of all manner of onions, but time and time again on this board I see reference to shallots. Now, I am aware that shallots are a smaller, much more expensive version of an onion, but that is about where it ends. All of the online material I have found seems to infer that shallots are more tender and mild than onions, but after picking some up in the grocery store and promptly eating them once home (yes, raw) I felt that the taste was far more similar to a strong spanish onion than to a mild sweet onion like a Vidalia.

What do you do with shallots? Should I use them as I would onions? Does it make a difference? Are there dishes that would turn out much better through the use of shallot instead of onion, or vice versa?

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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Good question.

In my mind they are different but not much. Shallots tend to cook more quickly and are less likely to have a dominant flavor in a finished dish to me, they seem a bit more subtle. But I've always kind of viewed them as an expensive cousin to onions. I'll be interested to see what others have to say.

I've wondered if they are more in the onion family or are related to garlic?

What's wrong with peanut butter and mustard? What else is a guy supposed to do when we are out of jelly?

-Dad

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Cooked shallots are milder than onions and have unique aromatics. When you caramelize them carefully, they're very rich and almost garlicky yet they don't overpower other ingredients.

You can substitute onions for shallots in almost any recipe and it will come out fine. But it won't come out the same.

It's like substituting chicken stock for veal stock in a dish. You can do it. The dish will retain its identity. And depending on the complexity of the dish and the quantities involved, the difference in the end may only be noticeable to a small percentage of tasters. But the difference will be there. And if the dish is very forward about that ingredient, the change will be very noticeable. Like, try making a bordelaise sauce with onions instead of shallots -- it will be quite different.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think they are from the onion family. I vaguely recall hearing somewhere that shallots have a more consistent flavor than onions.

Natasha

"The main thing to remember about Italian food is that when you put your groceries in the car, the quality of your dinner has already been decided." – Mario Batali
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it depends on how deep your pallette digs when eating. Someone who doesn't necessarily care too much would taste onion regardless of whether it was an onion or a shallot...but someone else would certianly segregate the two flavors...

I like shallots in sauces where you want a mild (as mentioned above) lilly flavor is desired, but onions lend not only flavor, but also texture and bulk to food.

"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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it depends on how deep your pallette digs when eating. Someone who doesn't necessarily care too much would taste onion regardless of whether it was an onion or a shallot...but someone else would certianly segregate the two flavors...

I like shallots in sauces where you want a mild (as mentioned above) lilly flavor is desired, but onions lend not only flavor, but also texture and bulk to food.

To further that point, in a sauce that is seived, I have much more difficulty discerning the difference between shallots and onions. In fact, if scratch cooking for just the two of us, I often choose a mild onion over shallot (especially if I have none in-house) for economic reasons.

Rice pie is nice.

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this is off topic, but....

LYLE: I LOVE your signature...

Thanks, but you don't understand the importance of it. I was THERE. It WAS ample. It is a very pertinant point.

Now back to onion nutrition food speak talk.

Rice pie is nice.

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One of my favorite things in Kitchen Confidential is where Bourdain says that one of the differences between home cooking and restaurant food is that home cooks never buy shallots and he goes through an enormous sack of them weekly.

A great dish for comparing onions and shallots is larb. I think we may have a thread about larb somewhere. :smile:

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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My favorite sauce for steak is to simply saute a few shallots in a little olive oil until just limp; then, off-heat, swirl in a few tablespoons of butter and pour over.

I've tried it with onions when I don't have shallots and it's not the same at all. The difference is readily ascertainable.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Interesting.... perhaps I shall try to cook some shallots, and in a pan next to them, some onions, and then compare the tastes cooked....

The raw shallots didn't taste bad, but they certainly didn't taste mild and subtle, perhaps the cooking brings it out....

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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I have always felt that shallots were used in traditional French recipes because they are safer, more likely to add the cormish flavour, than onions, which can be substantially stronger and will not break down into a sauce as easily. When sieved, there might be no real difference. In fact onions are hard to control in a quickly made sauce. Better for soups and compotes.

If I am making a dish that has to be right, au point, I would lean to the bag of shallots.

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I have always felt that shallots were used in traditional French recipes because they are safer, more likely to add the cormish flavour, than onions

The what flavor?

Edited by Pan (log)

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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The raw shallots didn't taste bad, but they certainly didn't taste mild and subtle, perhaps the cooking brings it out....

I don't know that I've personally ever thought of them as being "mild onions." Certainly not when compared to actual mild onions. I've always understood them to be a sort of cross between onions and garlic. Could be completely wrong about that of course. Not sure even where I first heard that.

When a recipe calls for shallots (which I usually do try to have on hand) and I am not in a position to get them, I chop up the whites of some green onions and then add a sliver or two of garlic.

But again....I've always basically just been guessing.

I use them in lots of things....in addition to the steak sauce, green beans & shallots come immediately to mind.

Edited by Jaymes (log)

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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I use them in lots of things....in addition to the steak sauce, green beans & shallots come immediately to mind.

Also never substitiute anything for poached shallots. Obviously.

And yes, Jaymes, I can discern a definite difference in dishes that contain the sauteed or raw or boiled versions of onion versus shallot. But when it's limited to their essence I have some problems.

Rice pie is nice.

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I have always felt that shallots were used in traditional French recipes because they are safer, more likely to add the cormish flavour, than onions

The what flavor?

Type of root...

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I have always found that shallots have a distinct, garlicky edge - though I can't call them a cross between garlic and onion, as the flavor is not exactly between the two, but unique.

I echo FG's comments on glazed shallots. Whole, glazed...can't be beat.

Paul

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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I rarely buy shallots for home cookery, unless there's some special occasion. I love the richer flavor of slow-cooked shallots but I also like the sweetness of onion. I like to use a combination of the two in reductions for beurre blanc, which is probably the classic sauce I prepare most often.

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I agree that onions can be a reasonable substitute for shallots in many applications. However the subtle flavor that has just a hint of garlic really can't be developed by combining onion and garlic. There is also a difference in texture when the sauces are not strained and in a reduction the flavor becomes more intense but never overpowers the other flavors as onion can. A good taste test is to simply blend finely minced shallot with butter, spread it on a slice of bread and toast briefly under the broiler. Try the same exercise with onion and you will notice the difference.

Incidentally, shallots are very easy to grow even in a window box. One bulb will morph into 2, 3 or more in about 65 to 100 days. Dry conditions encourages them to divide and multiply.

The green tops can be used also.

Tasting raw shallots simply can't give one the full range of flavor that develops with heat and exposure to fat.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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A curious & ignorant question but hey! I wanna know :raz:

From where do the shallots in America come from? Are they grown locally or imported? I ask because here in my country we generally get 2 different types of shallots as well as big onions. And the (red/purple) shallots from India are really flavorful as compared to the ones from Thailand which are a pale purple and less flavorful.

Anyways ......

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However the subtle flavor that has just a hint of garlic really can't be developed by combining onion and garlic. There is also a difference in texture when the sauces are not strained and in a reduction the flavor becomes more intense but never overpowers the other flavors as onion can. A good taste test is to simply blend finely minced shallot with butter, spread it on a slice of bread and toast briefly under the broiler. Try the same exercise with onion and you will notice the difference.

Absolutely true. But I have lived places where one simply cannot get shallots....like in the middle of Alaska in the dead of winter. Whereupon one has to sub something and I found that the bulb of scallions plus a sliver of garlic seemed to work best.

I'm not suggesting it as any sort of first choice, you understand.

I don't understand why rappers have to hunch over while they stomp around the stage hollering.  It hurts my back to watch them. On the other hand, I've been thinking that perhaps I should start a rap group here at the Old Folks' Home.  Most of us already walk like that.

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Absolutely true. But I have lived places where one simply cannot get shallots....like in the middle of Alaska in the dead of winter.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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The raw shallots didn't taste bad, but they certainly didn't taste mild and subtle, perhaps the cooking brings it out....

I don't know that I've personally ever thought of them as being "mild onions." Certainly not when compared to actual mild onions. I've always understood them to be a sort of cross between onions and garlic. Could be completely wrong about that of course. Not sure even where I first heard that.

When a recipe calls for shallots (which I usually do try to have on hand) and I am not in a position to get them, I chop up the whites of some green onions and then add a sliver or two of garlic.

But again....I've always basically just been guessing.

I use them in lots of things....in addition to the steak sauce, green beans & shallots come immediately to mind.

That sounds similar to what I read aeons ago. One book said that if a recipe calls for shallots and you don't have any, just substitute onion with a little bit of garlic.

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A good taste test is to simply blend finely minced shallot with butter, spread it on a slice of bread and toast briefly under the broiler. Try the same exercise with onion and you will notice the difference.

I had all the ingredients lying around, plus some almost-stale bread, so I just tried this on 4 pieces of bread, making what was essentially garlic bread but with 1) onion, 2) onion plus garlic, 3) garlic, and 4) shallot. In each case I used finely diced product plus butter on a slice of bread and baked it for about 8 minutes at 325 degrees (American degrees).

There's no confusing any of these substances in their relatively pure butter-on-bread form. Onion is sweet. Garlic is harsh. Onion plus garlic is sweet and harsh. Shallot is something else -- it has the aromatics of the onion-plus-garlic mixture but a much milder flavor and also some sort of winey or syrupy flavor at the back of the palate that's sui generis.

I'm sure as you start combining shallots with other ingredients, straining them out, or watever, the differences become less noticeable. But taken straight the differences are significant.

I didn't have any scallions around for comparison.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Shallots are a key ingredient in Vietnamese food and Thai food. It can't be substituted for those cusines -- its a very important player in the dishes that use them (in both raw and cooked forms) and the flavors are distinct.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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