Shallots are a member of the allium family, just like onions, leeks, and garlic. While often thought of as smaller, milder onions, shallots are their own species and aren't simply small onions.
How to Choose Shallots
Shallots have a burnished brown skin covering their faded purple crunchy layers inside. As with onions, choose shallots that feel heavy for their size and are firm. Avoid shallots with soft spots or that are sprouting (sprouting shallots have a green sprout growing from their stem end, while perfectly edible, they have a stronger, more bitter flavor than other shallots).
When Is Shallot Season?
In most climates, shallots are planted in the fall to harvest the following summer and fall. Since shallots keep well if kept in a cool, dark, dry place, fresh shallots are often available into early winter.
What Do Shallots Taste Like?
Shallots are less bitter than onions. When cooked, they take on a sweet edge that is lovely.
How to Use Shallots
Since they're milder than onions or garlic, shallots are often used when they're going to be eaten raw, particularly in salad dressings, such as this Sherry Shallot Vinaigrette or these Green Beans Marinated in Shallot Dressing.
Shallots are also delicious with milder vegetables that benefit from the flavor kick of an allium but might be overwhelmed by garlic, like Sautéed Fiddleheads or this Warm Asparagus. Shallots are also great with mushrooms, fava beans, Swiss chard, and peas.
When slowly cooked or roasted, shallots become meltingly sweet. Toss them with oil, sprinkle them with salt, and cook the shallots in a hot oven until they are soft. Or, simply toss them in the pan when roasting a chicken, as in this Roasted Chicken With Shallots.
To prep shallots for cooking: cut off the the stem end of the shallot and remove the papery peel (larger shallots will be easier to peel if you cut them in half lengthwise). Slice, chop, or mince as needed to the recipe.