A word on shallots. Onions, garlic, shallots, and leeks are all in the same family, but therein lies a world of nuance. For the French, the shallot is un légume bien de chez nous (a vegetable that’s very much us) since we have quasi-cornered its production (it grows in Brittany, the Loire, the south and southwest). It wouldn’t be French if there weren’t different varieties to enjoy, from the strongest, which is called grise and has thick skin, to the “chicken leg,” which is longer, more coppery in color, and more subtle in flavor, to the medium-sized specimen with its mild taste and pinkish color, and finally to the rarest one of all, the small round one. We have recently turned our neighbors in Germany into voracious shallot consumers and are making headway in other countries as well. It’s easy to see why: the shallot is low in calories but filled with vitamin C, iron, calcium, selenium, and sulfuric anti-germ components. Besides, it influences and accents a dish’s flavor like you wouldn’t believe. As the cooks in my family used to say, the shallot adds tonus dans vos plats (tone). We use it in every way, everywhere: raw and finely minced in salads or with cooked vegetables, grilled meats, or fresh cheese with fresh herbs. Cooked, it completes classic sauces, is great in an omelet or rice dish, and it can be cooked with butter, a pinch of sugar, and a splash of red wine to accompany fish or white meat. When confites, shallots become a delectable mush—in appearance something like baby food, but in taste something else altogether.
1 pound unpeeled shallots (the long variety is best)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
Yield: 4 servings
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Rub the unpeeled shallots with butter and put them on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Cover with another sheet and fold up all around to seal. Cook in the preheated oven for at least an hour. When soft, remove and cut each shallot in half. Serve as a vegetable with a dish like pork roast; the melted shallot flesh is eaten with a spoon. In Alsace, my grandmother would make big batches of this delicious “Shallot Meat.” At least once a week she would take it out of the fridge before lunch and then serve it at room temperature on a slice of country bread instead of the lunch cheese course. Add a few grains of coarse salt and savor.