What a shallot I got

Prized by French chefs for their subtle yet piquant flavour, these beautiful bulbs add depth and complexity to a range of dishes

19 May 2024 - 00:00 By Compiled by Hilary Biller
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Balsamic shallots
Balsamic shallots
Image: Gordon Mnyakeni

What’s a shallot? 

Shallots may look like small onions, but in culinary terms that’s where the similarity ends. A true shallot has a milder flavour than an onion and is far less pungent than both that vegetable and garlic, yet it has its own distinctive character. And, as with garlic, a little goes a long way to add flavour to your cooking. 

Shallots, unlike onions, grow in a cluster of bulbs, with each having two or more sections, giving the vegetable its elongated shape. They’re easy to peel and softer than other similar bulbs, which means they don’t have the overpowering smell or tear-inducing powers of their onion or garlic cousins, or a strong odour on the palate.

Their subtle flavour, a unique combination of savoury and sweet, makes them a favourite with professional and home cooks worldwide, as any avid followers of MasterChef will attest to. They add depth and complexity to dishes, revolutionising roasts and raising salads, stir fries, soups and sauces to new heights.

Shallots are prized by French cooks, who value them more highly than the humble onion not only for their subtle flavour, but also for their comparatively low water content and distinctive penetrating flavour. This makes them ideal for delicate sauces and dishes that require a more subtle onion/garlic flavour.

The good news is that shallots are now grown in South Africa, exclusively by DuToit farms. Their season is short, and harvesting happens between January and May, which means they're in season now to add just the right flavour to your autumn dishes. Here are three recipes in which the shallot is the hero. They have been put together by a trio of local foodies to help you create some culinary magic in your kitchen.


Recipe and styling: David Malumfoodie Mahlangu (@malumfoodie)

Serves 4

1.2kg shallots

60ml (4 tbsp) runny honey

80ml (1/2 cup) balsamic vinegar

60ml (4 tbsp) melted butter

30ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

30ml (2 tbsp) balsamic glaze

Pinch of salt

30ml (2 tbsp) olive oil

30ml (2 tbsp) balsamic glaze

1. Peel the shallots and cut them into halves, and then place them in an ovenproof dish.

2. Mix melted butter with honey, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and pour the mixture over the shallots.

3. Bake at 180ºC for 35-40 minutes, or until they’re golden brown and a little charred.

4. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic.


Chicken and shallot casserole
Chicken and shallot casserole
Image: Tertio Esterhuysen

Recipe and styling: Zanele Van Zyl (@cookingwithzanele)

Serves 4

30ml (2 tbsp) cooking oil

15ml (1 tbsp) chicken spice

6-8 chicken portions

6-8 shallots, cut into wedges

100ml quality mayonnaise (not salad cream)

60ml (4 tbsp) tomato paste

30ml (2 tbsp) orange juice

4 cloves of garlic, minced

Salt and pepper

Handful of fresh parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºC. In a pan, heat the oil and season the chicken with the chicken spice.

2. Brown the chicken in oil on both sides, remove from the pan, and place in a baking tray.

3. In a mixing bowl, combine mayonnaise, tomato paste, orange juice, garlic, and salt and pepper. Pour mixture over the chicken. Add in shallots.

4. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes, turning halfway.


Lamb shank curry
Lamb shank curry
Image: Ed O’Riley

Recipe and styling: Chef Mynhardt Joubert (@mynhardtj)

Serves 8

4 large lamb shanks on the bone 

10 shallots, halved with skin on

6 fresh bay leaves

A bunch of curry leaves

500g baby carrots 

3 litres chicken stock

10 shallots, diced and chopped

75ml (5 tbsp) jalapeño-flavoured olive oil, or use plain olive oil

6 large quinces, peeled, cored and cut into 8 halves 

10 garlic cloves, grated

40g turmeric root, grated

100g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped

50ml garam masala

50ml curry spice

30ml (2 tbsp) coriander seeds

3 large red and yellow peppers, cored and sliced

50g dried apricots

50ml apricot jam

1 bunch spring onions, chopped

2 x 400g cans coconut milk

1. Place the lamb shanks in a large, deep ovenproof dish and add the shallots, bay leaves, curry leaves and carrots. Cover with the chicken stock and then tightly cover with heavy-duty foil. Place in a hot (200ºC) oven for 45 minutes, and then turn down the heat to 160ºC and bake for at least 90 minutes. Remove the meat from the oven — it should just fall off the bone. Strain the liquid and reduce it to about 500ml of stock. Save the carrots for later.

2. In a large pot, fry the chopped shallots with the olive oil until golden brown, and then add the quinces and fry until golden in colour. Add the garlic, turmeric and ginger, followed by the masala, curry spice and coriander seeds. Fry and stir for about 5 minutes until well combined and heated through.

3. Add the sliced peppers, apricots, apricot jam and spring onions, and stir through. Cover with the reduced 500ml stock and coconut milk, and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook for about 20-30 minutes, or until the sauce starts to thicken. Place the lamb shanks into the sauce and heat gently for about 8-10 minutes with the saved carrots. 

4. Serve with rice, sambals and chutney.

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