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Three shallots with pink/purple skin in front of green stalks
Marcy Leigh via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Note: In a previously released version of this episode, we recommended storing shallots in olive oil in your fridge. We've since learned that could be dangerous and edited it out of this version. It is better to keep them stored whole in a cool, dry place. Thanks to our listeners for catching that inadvertent error.

One of my favorite vegetables is tremendously useful, totally tasty, and sadly overlooked. In a professional kitchen it is a ubiquitous standby, and it shows up everywhere, often without you knowing about it. And Chef Jerry Pellegrino will tell you, he wouldn't want to live without the humble little shallot.

The shallot, a member of the allium family, is aptly described as a cross between garlic and onion. Shaped like an oversized clove of garlic, the shallot also has a skin and layers like an onion. It also has its own distinct flavor: sweet, earthy and ever so slightly pungent.

Years ago, a chef friend of mine described the shallot as a professional cook's secret ingredient. He used the shallot in everything savory, lending what he called an indefinable "je ne sais quoi" to a dish.

The shallot is such a flexible little veg. You can roast them whole and unpeeled (take your time and go for a long slow roast). You can peel them and slice them crosswise into rings; you can slice them into matchsticks; or you can dice or mince them as finely as you want. Many cooks like to add raw shallots to their salad dressings and vinaigrettes; the finer the cut, the milder the impact.

Regardless, if you cook a shallot it will become soft, almost melted. And it has an uncanny ability to blend in with any other savory flavor. They are welcome additions to sauces, marinades and braising liquids.

Here are a few easy shallot ideas to try.

Crispy Shallots

Great as a garnish, or as a savory nibble. Simply sauté shallot rings in canola oil until they are crisp and brown. Lift them out of the oil and drain on a paper towel. Salt and pepper finish the job. One nice idea is to toss them on a bowl of steamed green beans with sautéed almonds.

Roasted Shallots With Potatoes And Garlic

Peel your shallots, quarter your small white potatoes, break your garlic bulb into cloves (but don't peel them). Place on a roasting rack surrounding a whole roasting chicken and pop it all into a 350° oven for about an hour and a half. Roll the veggies around in the chicken juice that accumulates in the bottom of the pan and serve.

Although shallots often play a supporting role they are the star of the very familiar shallot and red wine sauce. This is an ideal sauce for red meats, be they pan fried steaks or steaks roasted in the oven.

You can go the white wine and chicken stock route and make a great shallot and mushroom sauce that will be perfect with pork, veal or chicken.

Carmelized shallots are easy to make and make a lovely side dish or a kind of relish. Blend in other diced, cooked ingredients like apples, dried berries, garlic, peppers, or citrus and you have a tasty savory compote.

Shallots’ usefulness doesn't stop at the ocean's shore. Recipes abound for scallops and shallots, usually cooked in white wine. Dice up your shallots to cook with spicy sautéed shrimp, or cook with lemon zest, chives, white wine and cream for a creamy shallot sauce, ideal for mild white fish.

Al Spoler, well known to WYPR listeners as the wine-loving co-host of "Cellar Notes" has had a long-standing parallel interest in cooking as well. Al has said, the moment he started getting serious about Sunday night dinners was the same moment he started getting serious about wine. Over the years, he has benefited greatly from being a member of the Cork and Fork Society of Baltimore, a gentlemen's dining club that serves black tie meals cooked by the members themselves who are some of Baltimore's most accomplished amateur cooks.
Executive Chef Jerry Pellegrino of Corks restaurant is fascinated by food and wine, and the way they work in harmony on the palate. His understanding of the two goes all the way to the molecular level, drawing on his advanced education in molecular biology. His cuisine is simple and surprising, pairing unexpected ingredients together to work with Corks' extensive wine offerings.