You know what shallots are, right? Little oniony-lookin’ things, often sold in those weird little meshy bags and are kind of spendy if you want any decent amount of them…
I remember standing in slack-jawed astonishment at a farmer’s market in France (way to represent: hey, check out the American mouth-breather!), not only because they look like this:
But also because they had shallots by the overflowing boxfuls. Buy ’em by the pound! Or the…It’s Europe, so whatever, kilogram, buy as many as you’d like because they wouldn’t go bad around me, and I’m only a very little bit joking as I have been known to get like Forrest Gump’s Bubba when he waxes nostalgic about shrimp…you got’cha braised shallots, shallot vinaigrette, crispy shallots on Thai food, sauteed in olive oil over pasta…I’m sure you get my point. So. Imagine my
surprise delight unbridled joy when, on a visit to Philadelphia’s 9th St. Italian Market, I saw one of the vendors with a giant box of by-the-pound shallots. And I bought them. By the pound. I’ve had kind of an iffy relationship with Philly in the past, but the 9th St. Market did a LOT to restore my faith in the city, and not just for the produce; have lunch at Ralph’s Italian Restaurant, get the spaghetti and meatballs, it will change your life. (Side note: if you’re in an ethnically defined neighborhood–like one that boasts a many-blocks-long Italian marketplace–and you see some of the older locals meet for lunch somewhere? That’s where you want to eat, too. And I digress.)
Anyway, back to the shallots. So I braised them. Start, naturally, by peeling them. Cookery books will often tell you to blanch them for a minute to loosen the skins, but that can take *forever* as you still have to trim the root ends and make little X’s in the skins and then wait for them to cool so you can handle them and then peel them…and the peel doesn’t always come off as easily as they tell you it should. Meh. I have no patience for that. I just go at ’em with a paring knife and if I lose a layer, I lose a layer. I’m not a restaurant, I don’t have to mind my margins, I’m just a girl who wants to tear into some braised shallots ASAP. So peel them, however you deem appropriate for your time and shallot-preparation sensibilities, and cut the larger ones in half.
And so, get a little oil, a little butter going in a pan (you CAN have the best of both worlds!) and add the shallots. I also like to add in a bunch of garlic, because I love it and why not? But you can also forgo the garlic if you’re not feeling it that day.
Let them start to brown, give them a few minutes, but keep an eye on them because while the shallots can take some browning, garlic can get ruined if you’re not careful, and if the garlic gets killed, the dish gets killed. When you think they’re ready, toss in some herbs (for this batch, I used herbes de Provence, because, you know, they’re shallots and sort of Frenchish and nyah, I had them on hand. But thyme is delicious in this dish…tarragon would probably be lovely…see what you have and use what you like) and pepper and balsamic vinegar and a good glob of honey. Let those ingredients mingle for a few minutes in the pan, start to get all friendly-like. Almost immediately the shallots will start to draw in the vinegar and look something like this:
And THEN, pour in your braising liquid. I use vegetable stock to keep it vegetarian (and if you wanted to keep it vegan, just leave the butter out and voila!), but you can put in whatever kind of liquid you want, provided it will contribute to shallotcentric deliciosity. White wine + vegetable stock? Sure. Red wine instead? OK! Chicken stock? Why not? Even water will work, though you won’t get quite as rich-tasting a product in the end. Use what you like, but you want to make the pan look, approximately, like this.
Keep the heat at a medium-ish temperature, cover it, and just let them cook. Let them get to know each other in the pan, become besties with the vinegar, take in the stock and exude their shalloty goodness into the braising liquid. It will probably take anywhere from twenty minutes to a half-hour to get where you need to go, so check on it every so often and give the pan a whirl to make sure nothing sticks during cooking. Poke one with a sharp knife; if it goes in like butter, then you’re almost home. Leave the lid off so the liquid will reduce to a nice, rich, thick, sticky, “OMFG how can something on this Earth really be this good” sort of sauce, and when it gets to that stage…throw in a little more butter for good measure. (Really, I’m not trying to channel Paula Deen, and you don’t need much but mounting it with some butter at the end will add that little extra bit of richtasticness and gloss to the dish that it would be OK without but is sooooo much better with.) When it’s all said and done, your beautiful shallots will look something like this:
Serve as a side. Serve with crusty bread and a little shave of Emmental or Gruyere. Serve on orzo. Just for your own safety, don’t serve them around me because I will knock. You. Down. To get my hands on them. It’s what I told my mother I’d do, and if I said that to my own mother, then you’d better believe you’re going down, people.
(I didn’t really knock my mom down.)
Enjoy, with my most sincere wishes.