Are You Cooking with Authentic French Shallots? How You Can Tell
Are you cooking with authentic French shallots?
We didn’t know the answer to that question until we attended a June 30th cooking demonstration and three-course lunch at Haven’s Kitchen in New York City hosted by Pierre Gelebart of France’s Echalotes Traditionnelles.
Turns out that “shallots” can be grown in the traditional way — from a multiplied shallot bulb, on a single bulbous plant — or from seed, the way onions are grown. The former results in a hard end on the shallot you hold in your hand, which is where it was separated from the bulbous plant, while the end of the latter has soft “whiskers” like a scallion (note the scallion on the left in the photo below).
Because France produces 80 percent of all the traditional shallots in Europe, it’s obviously interested in getting the word out to consumers who might not be aware of the differences. Indeed, over the past five years, less expensive, industrially-produced, seed-grown shallots have captured 10-15 percent of the market in France, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Traditional French Shallots vs. Seed-Grown “Shallots”
Planted vs. Sowed
Hard “Scar” vs. Soft “Whiskers”
Elongated & Asymmetrical vs. Plumper & Uniform
Melting Texture vs. Firm Texture (when cooked)
“Traditional shallots are firm, with a uniform color;
they appear both shiny and dry.”
In the middle photo above, you can see a cross-section of a sliced authentic shallot, which will have two or three inner sections. (Seed-grown shallots will have more concentric circles, like an onion.)
Tips for Cooking Authentic French Shallots:
– Cut shallots, then rinse, and dry before cooking for a milder flavor.
– Avoid browning shallots, which can make them taste bitter.
– Cook shallots in their skins by brushing unpeeled shallots with olive oil before wrapping in aluminum foil and cooking for an hour at 350 degrees.
Why should you care? Echalotes Traditionnelles reports, “Great chefs, when asked to compare the two, came back with a final judgment: the traditional shallot is finer, more subtle, and holds up better.” While this event did not include a comparative tasting of the two, we found ourselves with renewed enthusiasm for real French shallots’ delicate flavor — whether raw, sauteed or caramelized, with the latter two also evoking extraordinary richness.
And now that we know the difference, we’re planning to look for “Traditional Shallots” on the label when shopping for shallots, which are available at better food stores, including Whole Foods.