Working as a line cook in the early 2000s, I learned exactly how addictive fried shallots can be: if I leave them out in plain sight after painstaking sautéing, I end up with an empty jar while other chefs nibble on it all day long. . day. Now the same thing happens at home if I leave them out of reach of my wife Adri and my 5 year old daughter Alicia.
But as quickly as they ran out (and how time consuming and painstaking frying them can be), I found myself choosing to buy fried shallots from Asian supermarkets. This is a convenient and economical technique that can add flavor and crunch to so many dishes. Not to mention, with them on hand, I can replace them faster than they disappear in Alicia’s stomach.
They may not taste as good as freshly roasted, but the time, effort, and money you save is more than worth it. And most of the chefs I’ve spoken to refer to them regularly.
“I probably only made them myself a dozen times in my life, and even then most of the time it was because I ran out of store-bought ones,” Malaysian-Australian culinary and chef Adam Liau told me.
Crispy, sweet, and flavorful, fried shallots are a staple condiment in Southeast Asian cuisine, often appearing in salads and noodle dishes, or paired with eggs and rice. When Adri and I spent a few days in Nong Khai, a city on the border between Thailand and Laos, we had some delicious Isan salads at DD Restaurant. One stewed pork belly with fresh red onions, tomatoes and herbs in a sweet and sour and spicy sauce made with fish sauce, lime juice, palm sugar, garlic and Thai chili and topped with fried shallots.
At the beginning of each summer, I make a large batch of this dressing to keep in the fridge. This dressing, along with the shallots in my pantry, is a shortcut to a flavorful lunch or a simple grilled dinner side dish. Think hot chicken thighs, fish, cold slices of leftover steak or pork, or a wide range of vegetables and fruits. The sweet juiciness of summer watermelon or stone fruit with torn mint and crunchy peanuts is especially delicious against the backdrop of crispy fried shallots.
In Myanmar, they add crunch and flavor to many types of toke, salads that can be made with cooked or raw ingredients, or a combination of the two. Mary V., who is behind the popular Burmese pop-up Love Khao Swe in San Francisco, says they are essential in shan tofu toke, a chickpea and lime leaf tofu salad, and in her nan pia toke, coconut chicken salad and noodles, where the tangy sweetness of fried shallots complements the tangy tamarind dressing.
My friend Leela Punyaratabandhu, who has written several Thai cookbooks, calls fried shallots her “best salad mate.” She often uses them to transform familiar Western dishes into something new. They open up in a nicoise salad made with high-quality buttery tuna, rolled up in a tuna or egg salad or topped with a classic iceberg slice with blue cheese sauce.
Like Ms. Punyaratabandhu, I add fried shallots to my Caesar salad in place of (or on top of) the toast, and recently I’ve started adding them straight to the dressing by grinding them with an immersion blender to form a creamy emulsion. with egg, lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, butter and plenty of fish sauce. I’ve used this dressing to dip in greasy spring asparagus stalks and grilled broccoli, and tossed it with sour cream and scallions to serve as French onion dip with chips. I spread it on toasted buns to serve with hamburgers, which I topped with fried and raw onions, pickles, and more fried shallots.
They are also a natural mate for eggs. Both Ms. Punyaratabandhu and Pailin Chongchitnant of the popular YouTube channel Hot Thai Kitchen mentioned khai luk khoi, or son-in-law eggs: deep-fried boiled eggs that are cut open, drizzled with a sweet tamarind sauce and sprinkled with shallots. Sunny eggs fried in plenty of oil are excellent served with fish sauce, chili and fried shallots. Try adding them to eggs before frying, making an omelet with them, or mixing them with eggs for a frittata, Spanish tortilla, or quiche before cooking.
Christopher Tan, a culinary and recipe developer from Singapore, mentioned their ubiquity in both home cooking and peddler dishes such as chee cheong fun (steamed rice noodle rolls) or the Indian Muslim dish mee rebus (chewy wheat noodles in thick sauce with chili and lime). In Vietnam, you’ll find fried shallots topped with bowls of fotron (dry pho) or salads with buns and noodles.
But they can also be the last garnish to just about any pasta dish. Use them to top a classic Italian-style pasta like aglio e olio for a big kick of sweet, caramelized flavor and crunch. My old mentor, chef Ken Oringer (“My favorite ingredient!” he said when I mentioned fried shallots), adds them to his family’s macaroni and cheese, sprinkles them over chili peppers and baked potatoes, and stacks them in quesadillas. .
I use them in place of French-style fried onions in my Thanksgiving green bean casserole, and they are excellent with mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles on hot dogs, as is common in many parts of Europe. I also use them as the “crunchy” element in homemade chili chips, making a quick chili oil and then adding a mountain of store-bought fried shallots (and some fried garlic if I have it) for a quick brew. .
You don’t have to stick to savory apps. Chef Pim Techamuanwiwit of San Francisco’s Nari says he loves them in som chun, a fruit and ice dessert in flavored syrup with ginger and fried shallots. I recently tried a bagel-flavored ice cream from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, whose fried onion and garlic “gravel” inspired me to top plain vanilla ice cream with fried shallots and crushed peanuts. It’s a love or hate combo, but I’m firmly on the side of love.
When buying fried shallots, I always check the ingredients and make sure the package contains nothing but shallots and some oil (sometimes they come with a starch coating or added flavorings), and then season them well with salt before using.
If you want to improve their flavor, Ms. Chongchitnant suggests toasting them in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 400-degree oven for a few minutes to enhance their flavor. If I’m going to add them to a dish that requires stovetop cooking, I’ll fry them in a pan or wok.
Why frying shallots is so difficult
If you’re determined to roast fresh shallots yourself, there are several scientific explanations for why it’s so difficult.
Food science writer Harold McGee says that, like onions, shallots contain the fructose polymer inulin, a polysaccharide that breaks down into a few simple sugars when heated, increasing overall sweetness.
As they continue to heat up, Maillard reactions begin to occur, the same cascade of chemical reactions that complicate toasted bread or fried hamburger patty, creating a golden brown color and a series of flavor molecules (molecules that go up and into our noses and launch aromatic receptors). But at a certain point, he explained, these reactions become exothermic, that is, they themselves release heat, which runs the reactions at full capacity. This is when your shallots can easily turn from sweet to bitter.
The relatively low moisture content of shallots compared to, say, onions exacerbates the problem. When frying food, the water content acts as a kind of temperature buffer, taking heat energy from the oil to convert it to steam and evaporate it. (The tiny bubbles you see when you fry food are actually water turning into steam and evaporating.) In thicker foods with a high moisture content – battered onion rings or breaded chicken cutlets – this happens relatively slowly. In thinly sliced, low-moisture shallots, this is fast.
There are several precautions you can take to improve your chances of success. First, cut the shallots evenly, as the thinner slices will brown before the thicker slices become crispy. A mandoline-style slicer or food processor with a thin-slicing blade is essential. Then, once the shallot rings begin to sizzle a lot, lower the heat to maintain a very tender roast. This will increase the cooking time and the window you have before they burn out. They also need to be stirred constantly at this stage to ensure even cooking.
To improve their consistency, Yenvi Pham of Pho Bac Restaurants in Seattle suggests partially dehydrating sliced shallots in a 140-degree oven for 30 minutes to an hour before frying them. Mr. McGee suggested the opposite approach: put them in hot oil, then drain the water and toast them in the oven to finish them softer. Personally, I stick to the universal method.
I’m guessing you’ll quickly see the benefit of keeping store-bought jars in your pantry. Once cooked, dried, and completely cooled, homemade fried shallots will retain their flavor and crispiness for about two weeks, although whether or not they last that long will depend on your own willpower (and how well covered you have) .
Recipes: Spaghetti Aglio and Olio and fried shallots | Watermelon salad with fried shallots and fish sauce | Caesar salad with fried shallots | Fried Shallot
And drink …
The classic pairing of pasta with rich olive oil and pungent garlic calls for a very specific sharp white wine with lively acidity and no distracting oaky undertones. Adding the sweetness of shallots, or even the saltiness of anchovies or the tangyness of red pepper flakes, doesn’t change that equation. Many Italian white wines fit the bill, whether it’s Etna Bianco from Sicily, Verdicchio from the Marche, Vermentino from Liguria, Vernaccia from Tuscany, Gavi from the Piedmont region or plain Soave from Veneto. But you don’t need to be limited to Italy. My secret combination with this dish is aligote from Burgundy. You can also try a discreet Sancerre or another Sauvignon blanc from the Loire, Cassis from Provence or Muscadet. ERIK ASIMOV