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It seems that in more advanced cookbooks and when watching professional chefs that shallots are used extensively. They seem to be used in the places where onions are in cookbooks which are aimed at home cooks.

I am familiar with the genetic similarities between onions and shallots. I have not personally cooked with shallots because they cost an order of magnitude more than onions.

If it is not just my misperception that shallots are preferred- what qualities do shallots have that make them more popular than onions?
Should I expect shallots to be much more expensive than onions or am I shopping at the wrong places?
In short- are they worth paying more for?

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If you have access to a warehouse store (Sam's, Cocso, etc...) keep an eye out. Every once in a while I find bags of shallots at those places for a price rather like onions bought at the grocery store. Then you can try the for a reasonable price. –  dmckee Oct 19 '10 at 14:48

5 Answers 5

up vote 45 down vote accepted

Shallots certainly aren't more popular than onions, otherwise they'd be far more abundant and less expensive.

I do cook with shallots from time to time and would describe them as most people describe them - as somewhere between the flavour of garlic and onion, but also a good deal milder/sweeter.

I prefer to use them simply when I do not want the strong taste of onions. In fact, many of us are so accustomed to the harsh taste of onions that it's actually quite a surprise to find out how much better a certain dish might taste by substituting shallots.

They're especially common in Asian cooking, I find. Very often you're providing a lot of spice or heat from other ingredients - chilies, five spice, curry powder, etc. - and don't want the overwhelming pungency of onions mixed in. Shallots give just a little bit of "sharpness" without much of the sulfur taste.

Would I substitute them everywhere? Absolutely not. Some recipes really do call for the pungency of onions, for example almost anything involving ground beef. But try it at least once - get yourself a bag of shallots and try substituting them for onions in a few recipes. You may be pleasantly surprised.

I would say that ideal recipes to try this on, if you're unfamiliar with shallots, are stovetop recipes calling for a relatively small amount of chopped or sliced (not minced) onion; stir fries are ideal, which perhaps is why they seem to be so common in Asian cuisine.

Also, as far as pricing is concerned: Locally, where a 2 lb bag of onions might cost $1.99, a 1 lb bag of shallots would cost $1.49, which makes them roughly 50% more expensive, very far from an "order of magnitude." If you meant that literally and are finding them close to 10x more expensive than onions, then you are either shopping at the wrong stores or living in an area where they are hard to find. Try an Asian grocery store if you have one; they can usually be found for dirt cheap in those.

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We have a Korean market - H-Mart, it's a chain, might be able to find one near you - that sells shallots for the same price per pound as our regular grocery sells onions for. –  stephennmcdonald Oct 19 '10 at 14:44
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you called me out on my hyperbole. The shallots at my grocery store are around 3-4x not 10x. I'll take a look in the local asian grocery stores. Thanks! –  Sobachatina Oct 19 '10 at 16:28
    
@Soba: Still pretty expensive. If you can't find a local store then I think a lot of the online grocery stores have better pricing. –  Aaronut Oct 19 '10 at 17:38
    
As mentioned they're not 10x more but they do cost more for less. They're often used when an oniony (that is so a word!) flavor is desired but not the full on blast you get from a full onion. –  Justin Oct 19 '10 at 19:38
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I finally went to an Asian grocery store and found shallots for about the same prices that you mentioned above. Looking forward to trying them out. –  Sobachatina Apr 2 '11 at 22:09

I CANNOT eat onions in any form. I must read labels on everything and be especially cautious in restaurants. I was delighted to discover shallots after years of no onions (I ate onions with no problem until I was 22 years old and loved them -- then developed an intolerance). I have no difficulty with leeks, garlic or shallots. An onion contains some component not common to the other three and leeks and shallots can often be substituted.

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I had a cook book about Burma cusine. There I came to know about shallots. It mention that frying shallots slices in oil will give two out puts. Crispy shallot chips and residual oil after straining to use for salad dressing or soup.

It was first time I heard about shallots and never tasted fried chips of shallots and using flavoured oil instead a fresh one in salads or soup or dishes.

Some sects in India have clear disfavours to onions. Shallots are milder and can be used if onions are banned.

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The Simple answer: try them. If you like a milder taste which is vaguely like a spoiled onion, you might enjoy them.

  • They don't taste like garlic.
  • They have a taste which is similar to onion, but there is a slight sour note to them.

I have heard them referred to as onions for people who don't like onions (though I have no idea what that would mean). However, if you just want a very mild sweet onion, use a Peruvian, Vidalia, or perhaps a Maui onion. I would prefer any of these to a shallot.

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I personally cook 90% of my meals with shallots. Most people keep onions at home on a consistent basis, i keep shallots. If you don't like onions, this is the perfect substitute in cooked meals. They are very mild but have a distinct flavor that everyone likes. However, in certain meat dishes and some stocks, clearly you would need onions for a stronger flavor and presence.

I have even used shallots as substitutes for onions in salads. When doing this I use VERY little (1/4 bulb) as they are very strong when uncooked. Also, because of the distinct hint of garlic- like flavor, I only pair with certain other vegetables in my mix.

In supermarkets, the price of shallots is pretty high. I live in NJ and have seen two bulbs for almost $2-3. I go to produce stores that sell bulk and get a 1-2lb. bag for $2.

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