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Growing gourmet shallots

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Gourmet shallots are found in specialty stores, at farmers markets and at upscale grocery shops, but did you know they are easy to grow? Imagine adding a delicious, gourmet touch to your meals without spending upwards of $15.00 a pound for shallots.

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Shallots are related to onions and garlic, however they have a more refined, delicate touch and flavor. This makes them an exquisite ingredient in soups, stews and with beef, chicken or pork.

Planting

Depending on where you live is what determines the time of year to plant shallots. In zones 5 to 8, planting shallot sets in autumn is recommended. Plant the sets about 6 inches apart, 2 to 3 inches deep, and if possible, mulch with salt marsh hay. When they go through vernalization, which is exposure to winter freezing, the shallot bulbs grow larger and more deliciously flavored., In zones 4 and less, planting in the spring is advised due to probable deep freezes. Zone 9 can be too warm to grow shallots most years.

No matter what zone you plant your shallots, well drained soil is a must. This prevents the bulbs from rotting. Minimal irrigation is needed, especially when it comes to harvest time.

Harvest time

Beginning 2-3 weeks before harvest, you shouldn't water shallots at all. You should also pull the soil away from the developing clumps, in order to give them more room to expand the size of the bulbs.
Once a few of the outer leaves of the plants start to turn yellow, its getting close to harvest time. Within a week the plants should have the unmistakable aspect of going dormant.

Now is the time to dig them up, don't wait for all the foliage to dry. Shallots develop a lot like garlic, except that rather than all the bulbs being enclosed in a communal envelope like garlic, shallots form a clump that is easily broken into individual bulbs.

Use a fork to carefully pry the clumps from the ground. Then separate them into individual bulbs, shaking off the dirt as much as possible. Use a hose to lightly wash the remaining soil from the bulbs. After they're cleaned up, spread the bulbs out in a flat or basket, single layer, uncovered. Place the flats of shallots directly in the hot sun to cure for 2-3 days. This step is essential to drying and hardening the shallots and enhancing their keeping qualities. Regular red shallots will assume a golden red color during this curing period, while gray shallots develop their characteristic hard, gray shell.


When their foliage is dry and the bulbs well-cured, the shallots are ready to be stored in a cool, dark place. Leave them in their flats, tie them into bunches, or braid them as you would garlic or onions.

Where to find shallots to plant

You can find shallots at nurseries and greenhouses, or you can order them on line. If you want to start at the very beginning and grow them from seed, you can get the seeds at Seed Savers Exchange. Zebrune is a heirloom French variety of shallot. In France it is called Cuisse de Poulet du Poitou, which translates as leg of the chicken. 
Sow shallot seeds indoors in flats just beneath the surface of the soil and space 1" in all directions. Transplant outdoors as soon as soil can be worked. Keep shallots well weeded. Here is the Seed Savers Exchange website http://www.seedsavers.org.

You can also order shallot sets, which are one year old shallots. Southern Exposure Seed Company has two varieties, Grey Griselle and French Red. Grey Griselle is prized by gourmets, is teardrop shaped and grey in color. They have a rich, earthy smell while French Red is the red french shallot often seen in restaurants. They have a superior flavor but are not long lasting in storage. To order shallots sets from Southern Exposure, please go to their website at http://www.southernexposure.com.

Recipes

Now you have found how easy it is to grow these delicious bulbs, here are a couple of easy to make recipes that taste fantastic. Enjoy!

Roasted potatoes and shallots

6 large shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

salt

pepper

1 1/2 pounds medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

  • Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in lowest position.
  • Toss shallots with 1 1/2 tablespoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a 13-by 9-inch baking pan, spreading evenly.
  • Roast, stirring occasionally, until shallots are golden, about 30 minutes.
  • Toss potatoes with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then add to shallots.
  • Roast, turning occasionally, until shallots are tender and potatoes are crusty, 45 minutes.

Balsamic shallot sauce

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 large shallots, thinly sliced

1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

  • Heat olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium-low heat.
  • Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  • Add the broth and vinegar.
  • Increase heat to medium, bring to a simmer, and cook for 2 minutes.
  • Remove from heat.
  • Add the butter to the skillet and swirl until melted.
  • Season with salt and pepper. Pour or spoon the sauce over cooked chicken or beef.
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