Saturday, February 28, 2015
Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Photograph courtesy of arsheffield.
Échalotes - Shallots.
French chefs love shallots as their taste is far lighter than their cousins the onion. Shallots also have none of the strong smell and taste of their other cousin the garlic plant. Shallots have their own light, sweet, poignant flavor and, in French cuisine, are often treated as a vegetable.
In the UK and North America, the shallot is often considered to be a small onion or a type of garlic, which it is not. However, the shallot like its cousins is also relative of the lily, the flower.
A lily, the cousin of the shallot.
Photograph courtesy of Lavender's Legacy - by Ryan
Fresh shallots are preferred; however, shallots are only available fresh for five to six months a year, with different varieties each coming into season for just one to two months. However, shallots like their cousins the onion and garlic may be stored and so shallots may be on menus all year round. In the French kitchen the smaller and younger shallots are preferred as they are considered to have more flavor.
A shallot flower.
Photograph courtesy of Leonard John Matthews.
Shallots on French Menus.
Onglet de Bœuf Sauce Échalotes – A North American hanger steak, a UK skirt steak, served with a shallot sauce. Here the shallot is treated as a vegetable and the sauce will be made of gently fried shallots made into as sauce with white wine and probably crème fraiche. Hanger steaks are rarely on North American steak house menus; they are considered too tough. However, French chefs choose their meat very carefully and prepare them very well. A well-prepared hanger steak is very tasty and not tough unless over-cooked. These are the steaks most often used in France’s very popular steak et frites, steak and French fries. N.B.: On French menus an onglet, the hanger steak noted here, and a bavette a flank steak, may be exchanged, one for the other. None of us would notice the difference!
Shallots and garlic in the market.
Photograph courtesy of jovike
Moules au Vin Blanc, Échalotes, Persil et Crème – Moules Frits. The ever-popular, moules frites was originally a Belgian creation. The French have adopted this dish and have kept up the quality and options. In this menu listing mussels are cooked in a soup made of white wine, shallots, parsley and cream. Restaurants that specialize in moules frites will offer five, six or more different flavors for the soups in which the mussels will be cooked and served. French fries will be served on the side.
Gigolette de Lapin aux Echalotes et son Nid de Petits legumes Tournés
Leg of rabbit with shallots served on a bed of small vegetables cut tourneé.
The term gigolette is old French for the legs of small animals including rabbits. Here the word gigolette is used in its traditional manner, but today the word may also be applied today to small cuts of meat. The meaning of the word tourneé describes the manner in which the vegetables are cut. Vegetables tourneé are cut in the form of small barrel shapes about 3- 4 cm long. Cutting vegetables into specific and attractive shapes and sizes in French cuisine is no less important than their taste. French cuisine includes many different sizes and cuts for vegetables.
Photograph courtesy of Viviane Lamarlere.
Poitrine de Poulet Farcie, Sauce au Romarin, Farcie avec Champignons et Échalotes – Chicken breast stuffed with mushrooms and shallots and served with a rosemary flavored sauce.
Shallots in a Balsamic vinegar marinade.
Photograph courtesy of Annie Mole.
Saucisson Cuit Sauce Échalote et Gratin Dauphinois - A cooked sausage served with a shallot sauce and Gratin Dauphinois. France has many names for sausages from pork sausages that require cooking to salami type sausages that may be eaten cold. Once upon a time, each type of sausage had its own name; however, that is no longer the case. The French words saucisse and saucisson came to England with the cooks who accompanied William the Conqueror’s armies in 1066. So in English we also have sausages as a general term for all types of sausages. With a menu listing like this you should ask for more information about the sausage. Gratin Dauphinois are also called Pommes de Terre Dauphinoise. For this dish the potatoes are sliced, layered, and baked with olive oil, cream and milk and lightly flavored with garlic. Some versions add onions and nearly all add grated cheese that is browned just before serving.
Photograph courtesy of HatM.
Terrine de Foie de Volaille aux Échalotes Confites - A chicken liver pate served with a shallot jam. The term terrine, which is also a serving or preparation dish, also indicates a pate. The shallots confites will have been cooked until they taste like a sweet jam. The French tradition of served a sweet vegetable or fruit jam with liver pates creates a refreshing contrast of flavors.
Velouté d’Échalottes - A velvety shallot soup. A veloute is one of the original five mother sauces. A mother sauce is used for the preparation of all other sauces. Today a veloute in the menu indicates a sauce or soup with a velvety, silky texture.
Photograph courtesy of
Salade de Crevettes Cuite Épicée, Échalotes Coriandre, Feuille de Menthe, Citronnelle, Servi sur un Lit de Salade. - A salad of spicy shrimps prepared with shallots, coriander, mint leaves and lemon grass. All served on a bed of salad leaves.
Salade de Pomme de Terre et Échalote en Vinaigrette – Potato and shallot salad served with a vinaigrette sauce.
The shallot in the French kitchen
There are 10 or more different types of cultivated shallots available in French markets, and France is also the world’s largest exporter of shallots. The most popular French shallot is the Gris or Griselle, the Gray Shallot in English. The Échalote de Jersey, the Jersey Shallot, is nearly as popular. Each shallot has a short two-month season during the five to six months when fresh shallots are available. Outside of hot-house shallots April to August is the time to see fresh shallots in France. French chefs will be using quite a number of different shallots during the season. Outside of the growing season shallots keep very well, so they will be on the menu all year round.
A cut raw shallot.
Photograph courtesy of jar ()
Shallots grown in bunches and have from three to six cloves. The taste of shallots is very different from the onion that grows alone and garlic, which may have over 12 cloves. Shallots may be served raw as part of a salad, and there will be no strong onion taste to overpower the salad. Neither will there be a strong garlic smell or taste to hide the aroma of the other ingredients
Photograph courtesy of Cpt. Obvious.
The shallot originated in the Middle East and its name comes from the city of Ashkelon in modern Israel, where according to tradition French Crusaders discovered it. The crusaders are said to be the first to bring the shallot to France. However, thousands of years before the crusades Ashkelon was home to those Mediterranean wholesalers the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians traded with all the countries in the Mediterranean, including the South of France . They Phoenicians brought with them many fruits and vegetables. No doubt, the earliest shallots arrived in France with the Phoenicians and the name and more varieties arrived with the crusaders
Photograph courtesy of JaBB.
Members of the shallot family.
For those interested in the varieties of shallots grown in France the French Shallot Growers Association has a good English language website. The website has pictures of all the shallots grown in France:
Shallots in the languages of France neighbors:
(Catalan – escalunya), (German – schalotte, delzwiebel, skalonzwiebel), (Italian – scalogno), (Spanish - chalota, chalote, escalonia).
Crème Fraîche, (creme fraiche). What is Crème Fraîche? Why is Crème Fraîche part of so Many of France’s Famous Sauces and More –
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015.
For information on the unpublished book behind this blog contact Bryan Newman