[Éschalote (France); Scalogno (Italy); Bawang merah kecil (Malay); Hom (Thai); Katem kror hom (Cambodia); Small onion, Kanda, Gandana, Pyaaz, Gundhun, Cheriya ulli, Chuvanna ulli, Chinna vengayam, Sambar vengayam, Praan (India); Allium cepa var. aggregatum, formerly Allium oschaninii]
Shallots, probably originating in Central Asia, have a multi-bulb form similar garlic but with fewer, larger bulbs. Sliced they appear similar to a small red onion. Their flavor is similar to red onion with a touch of garlic blended in. They are sharp with "tear power" that can make an onion cry.
Shallots have been a "gourmet" item in the U.S. and were mostly imported from France and sold at around 2004 US $6.99 / pound, but this has been changing. In California (where large quantities are now grown), produce markets have them at 2014 US $1.99 or less (though you can still pay a lot more in supermarkets and gourmet outlets). This has been brought about by the large and growing Indian and Southeast Asian populations here. Shallots are much used every day items in those regions.
In India, shallots are much used in the south, but little
distinction is made there between shallots and red onions, which are
probably smaller there than they are in North America.
Buying: There are two varieties available in California, the large, often elongated European style and the small round Asian variety, depending on which ethnic communities the market serves. Both are shown in the photo. The typical European shallot is 2-1/2 inches long, 1-1/2 inches across and weighs 1.5 ounces. The typical Asian shallot is about 1-1/4 inch long. 1-1/4 inches diameter and weighs 1/2 ounce.
Storing: Kept in a cool dry place with good air circulation (mesh bag) shallots will keep a month or so.
Usage: While red onions and garlic can replace shallots in some recipes, they have one attribute that makes them essential for other recipes - they dissolve completely into sauces, which onions will not do, even if chopped to equal fineness.
What does a recipe mean when it says "One Shallot"? Here's my best estimate based on the shallots available in areas of Southern California that serve particular shallot using communities:
The way I interpret "1 shallot" is: if the bulbs are separate or wrapped together only with dried skin, each bulb is a shallot. If two bulbs are wrapped together under a layer that's fully living, they count as one shallot. Thus in the photo above, the European at the top and the Asian at bottom left both count as two shallots while the Asian at bottom center would be one shallot.
Prep: Shallots are usually thinly sliced into rings or chopped fairly fine.
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