Culinary Arts

What Is a Shallot? Learn How to Use Shallots With Easy Tips and Tricks

Written by MasterClass

Feb 18, 2019 • 3 min read

Often found alongside onions and garlic in the grocery store, shallots are an indispensable ingredient to any pantry, lending a nuanced, soft, and fresh onion flavor to everything from dressings to savory custards, stocks, and quiches. Delicate enough to eat raw and easy to roast to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, shallots are a flexible and supportive building block in most dishes.

Close

What Is a Shallot?

A shallot is a member of the allium family, closely related to onions, garlic, and chives. Whether diced, minced, or slivered, shallots are used for seasoning dishes, either with a soft onion undercurrent or a pop of sharp acidity similar to a hint of garlic. They can also be used to brighten vinaigrettes. Their flavor is milder and more delicate than that of a regular onion (though they can usually be used in place of white onions, and vice versa).

What Do Shallots Look Like?

Fresh shallots are easily identifiable by the following characteristics:

  • They are small in size.
  • Their skin is papery and coppery-pink.
  • Their flesh is pale purple and white.
  • Their bulbs grow in clusters, similar to cloves of garlic.

When shopping for shallots, look for bulbs with a firm texture.

What Are the Varieties of Shallots?

  • French gray shallot. While purists consider the French gray shallot—so named for the grayish hue to its outer skin—to be the ultimate culinary varietal and only “true” shallot, all multiplier onions can be considered shallots.
  • Jersey shallot. The more commonly found “Jersey” shallots are just as functional and delicious as the French gray varietal.

Where Do Shallots Come From?

These small onions are thought to have originated in Central or Southeast Asia, before making their way to India and the Mediterranean. The ancient Greeks discovered shallots while trading in a Palestinian port now known as Ashkelon in Israel; the ancient Egyptians used them as medicinal remedies.

What Are the Health Benefits of Shallots?

Don’t be fooled by their small size: shallots bring an outsized roster of health benefits to the table.

  • Lower blood pressure. Due to their high potassium content, they have been known to help reduce blood pressure.
  • Better circulation. They also contain significantly higher amounts of iron and copper than standard onions, which aids in circulation.
  • Ocular health. They’re rich in Vitamin A, which contributes to eye health—even though slicing them will make you cry just as much as raw onion does.
Chopped Shallots on a cutting board

Close

How to Cut Shallots

To cut a shallot, remove the papery skin and root end; discard. Then, slice longways in half. Place the cut side of the half down, and slice longways, stopping just before you reach the far end; this will keep the layers together and allow for easier slicing. Use the tip tip of the knife to slice. To fine dice, place the shallot back into its original shape, turn it around, and slice inward, horizontally. Then, slice crosswise using the base of the knife. Watch Chef Gordon Ramsay demonstrate how to properly slice and chop a shallot in his Knife Skills lesson video.

How to Cook With Shallots

Shallots can be used in a number of recipes in everything from French to Asian cuisine, and different preparations tune in to different flavor frequencies, taking it from sharp to sweet in an instant. They can be:

  • Finely diced
  • Sliced into rings and fried
  • Roasted whole (either in their skins or peeled)
  • Pickled

Raw shallots also make a great addition to salad dressings, and if you find them fresh, their green tops can used as an aromatic seasoning or garnish, similar to spring onions.

How to Make Caramelized Shallots

To caramelize shallots, melt unsalted butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add shallots, sliced crosswise into rings (or halved and sliced into half moons), and season with kosher salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots begin to brown; turn heat to low and cook until they soften but do not burn. Top with fresh chopped parsley and enjoy as a condiment on a cheese plate or on toast. Shallots can also be caramelized whole: remove their papery outer skins, and toss in a skillet over medium-high heat with butter and 1 tbsp sugar until beginning to brown. Transfer to a baking dish, add a splash of Balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Cook in a 400°F oven until tender and outside is deeply caramelized and golden brown.

What’s the Difference Between Shallots and Onions?

The biggest distinction between shallots and other onions, besides strength of flavor, is the cellular structure. Shallots break down much easier than their larger counterparts when cooked, allowing for a meltier level of caramelization, or a more subtle touch when used to create a foundation in things like sauces.

What’s the Difference Between Shallots and Green Onions (or Scallions)?

Shallots have a sharper, stronger flavor than green onions, whose white ends come closest to capturing the same delicate bite. Learn more about green onions (or scallions) in our guide to the mild allium.