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. They have a slightly sweeter edge than most onions, especially when cooked.
How to Choose Shallots
Shallots have a burnished brown skin covering the 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. Some people will find that shallots make for a nice, mellow substitution for stronger and more pungent garlic.
How to Peel Shallots
Cut off and discard 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 first). It's not as uncommon as we might all like to find some blackish mildew on the peeled shallot. Instinct might have you toss the whole thing, but removing another layer can often solve the problem, if leave you with a bit less shallot for your dish.
Once the shallot is peeled, slice, chop, or mince as needed for the recipe.
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.