I was a bit of a rebel at cooking school, which was kind of surprising considering I was pretty much a nerd in high school. I was always asking a lot of questions, especially ones that began with “Why do we have to….?” One of the hallmarks of great French cooking, I learned very quickly, was that shortcuts were pretty much a no-no. We learned, for example, how to prepare mayonnaise and whip egg whites stiff by hand instead of using mixers or hand blenders just so we would know how if we needed to in the future.
For chefs in a commercial kitchen this may come in handy on occasion, but I think every minute home cooks spend in the kitchen should be enjoyable. This means you should take shortcuts and even cheat a little sometimes. Otherwise, I know for a fact you will avoid certain ingredients, like shallots, which are tedious to peel since you need so many more them than onions, and slicing or dicing may them burn your eyes. You should never avoid such a wonderful ingredient such as shallots since they add so much flavor, being a little less bitter than onions and really sweet when caramelized.
So I’ve come up with a an easy way to caramelize massive amounts of shallots with very little labor after being inspired by a 12-Hour Rabbit Bolognese recipe in Jamie Oliver’s Jamie’s Great Britain (a book by the way everyone should own). He just puts all the ingredients whole into this rabbit stew and the onions just fall apart and assimilate during braising. So smart. I thought that perhaps I could achieve the same results with shallots if I just peel large shallots, quarter them and slowly cook them in a bit of oil. It works!
So what, you say? Shallots cooked this way are a great replacement for onions in stews, or in pureed soups, mixed in with vegetables or mashed potatoes (see Stoemp). You could also add these to a pot pie, fill puff pastry cups with shallots and add a bit of goat cheese for a easy elegant appetizer, or again really use them anywhere you use cooked onions. Today, for example, I used them for a meatloaf. First I added a bit of cognac to the shallots, and let the alcohol burn off. Then I pureed them before adding them to the ground beef and other ingredients (you can also just chop them – fine or coarse – or leave them just the way they are). There’s really no end on how you can use them.
Do you have any go-to ingredient or spice that adds pizzazz to everyday meals? Let us know in the comments, below!
Caramelized Shallots 1-2-3
- 8 large shallots, or 12 smaller ones peeled.
- 4-5 tablespoons canola or sunflower oil (or another oil with a high smoke point)
- Cut off the root of the shallots and quarter them
- Heat a medium size sauté pan and add 4 tablespoons of oil.
- Add the shallots and coat them with the hot oil. Break up the shallots with a firm spatula as they cook until all they have all fallen apart.
- Cook over a low-medium heat until the shallots start to brown, about 25 minutes. Add the last tablespoon or more of canola oil if the shallots stick to the pan
- Remove the shallots from pan and add to your favorite vegetable, stew, soup, or any place else you would use cooked onions. (You may chop or puree them as well.)