Saturday, February 28, 2015

Échalotes - Shallots. Shallots on French Menus. Shallots are One of the Most Important Herbs in the French Kitchen

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated October 2020

Photograph courtesy of Burpee

Échalotes -  Shallots.   

French chefs love shallots as their taste is light, slightly sweet and poignant; very different to their cousins which include onions, garlic, and chives. The smaller and younger shallots are preferred in the French kitchen as they are considered to have more flavor. However, there are many varieties of shallots and while one may be treated as a vegetable, another may be used as a herb, and a third somewhere in between. The shallot’s flexibility is highly appreciated and like its cousins, is a relative of the lily, the flower. (In North America, shallots are often considered to be a small onion or a type of garlic, which they are not). 

A lily, the prettiest member of the Amaryllidaceae family.
Photograph courtesy of oatsy40

Fresh shallots

Fresh shallots are preferred. However, they are only available fresh for five to six months a year, with the different varieties having seasons that last for one to two months.  In France, the best restaurants will have an all-year-round supply of fresh hot-house shallots. However, for lesser mortals, shallots, like their cousins, onions, and garlic, may be stored.  

Shallot flowers.
Photograph courtesy of Sterling College

Shallots on French Menus.

Onglet de Bœuf Sauce Échalotes A North American hanger steak, a U.K. skirt steak, served with a shallot sauce. Here the shallot is treated as both a vegetable and an herb. The sauce will be made of gently fried shallots made into a sauce with white wine and probably crème fraiche

Hanger steaks are only rarely on the North American steak house menus as they are considered tough. However, French chefs choose their meat very carefully and prepare these steaks very well. 

A well-prepared hanger steak is delicious, and it will not be tough unless it was over-cooked. These are the steaks most often used in France's very popular "steak frites," steak and French fries. N.B.: On French menus, if the onglet, the hanger steak noted here, and a bavette, a flank steak, were to be exchanged, one for the other, none of us would notice the difference! To order a steak in France, cooked the way you like it, click here.  


Shallots and garlic in the market.

Photograph courtesy of Numeria Zayas


Moules au Vin Blanc, Échalotes, Persil et Crème  Mussels and white wine, shallots, parsley, and cream. The ever-popular moules frites was originally a Belgian creation. The French have adopted this dish and have kept up the quality and options. French fries will be usually be served on the side.


Grilled Rabbit Roulade
A roulade indicates a dish where meat or fish, or in this case rabbit, is rolled around a filling and then cooked.  In this dish, the filling was carrot purée, haricots verts, baby carrots, and roasted shallots, all flavored with thyme juice. Chefs may also use the name roulade for other stuffed or filled dishes, and that is how your dessert menu may offer a roulade au chocolat.
Photograph courtesy of Premshree Pilla


Poitrine de Poulet Farcie, Sauce au Romarin, Farcie avec Champignons et Échalotes Chicken breast flavored stuffed with button mushrooms and shallots and served with a rosemary sauce.


Shallots in a Balsamic vinegar marinade.
Photograph courtesy of Annie Mole.


Saucisson Cuit Sauce Échalote et Gratin Dauphinois - A pre-cooked sausage, often similar to a salami, cooked again, and served with a shallot sauce and Gratin Dauphinois.  France has many different 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 the English language, 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, you may be missing something special if you pass. 


 Gratin Dauphinois is also called Pommes de Terre Dauphinoise. The potatoes are sliced, layered, and baked with olive oil, cream, and milk and lightly flavored with garlic for this dish. Some versions add onions, and nearly all add grated cheese, usually Gruyere, that is browned, gratiné, just before serving.


Gratin Dauphinoise.
Photograph courtesy of Le Journal des Femmes Cuisine


Velouté d’Échalottes - A velvety shallot soup. A veloute is one of the original five mother sauces, and its silky texture has carried over to soups. A velouté on the menu today will usually indicate a soup with a velvety, silky texture. (Mother sauces were the basic sauce in French cuisine and used for the preparation of all other sauces. Four mother sauces were first categorized by the organizer of French Haute Cuisine Antonin Carême. Seventy years later this group of sauces were reclassified as five by Auguste Escoffier, the most famous of the early 20th century chefs).


Frying shallots with chicken
Photograph courtesy of Jeremy Keith


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.

The shallot in the French kitchen

There are 13 or more different types of cultivated shallots available in French markets, and France is also the world's largest exporter of shallots. All shallots are descendants of the originals brought back to France by the crusaders.  Like onions, the shallot’s skin comes in a variety of colors with the golden-skinned and purple-skinned varieties leading the field.  Outside of France, there are more varieties. If you are lucky a USA or UK supermarket may have one type of shallot on sale, but farmers’ markets do usually have a small choice. The names will have changed outside of France so don’t be surprised.

A cut raw shallot.
Photograph courtesy of ~jar{}

The two most popular shallots in France


Griselle or Gris - The Gray Shallot. The Griselle is usually considered the most delicate, though still strong tasting, of all shallots.  Griselle shallots, which are grayish-brown with a purplish-white interior.


The Griselle - The gray shallot.
Photograph courtesy of Prosemail

Échalote de Jersey - The Jersey Shallot, Pink Shallot, or Traditional Shallot is nearly as popular. It is a more rounded shallot and has a slightly stronger onion taste than the gray shallot. There are two types of this shallot, a long and a short version.


The Échalote de Jersey – The Jersey shallot.
Photograph courtesy of Cuisine à la française


The largest shallot.


Banane or Ovale - The Banana Shallot. The banana shallot is the longest of all shallots with a bulging center; they reach up to 18 cm (7”) in length. The banana shallot acquired its name through its size, not its shape; they have a taste midway between onion and garlic.

Banane - Banana shallots.
Photograph courtesy of Specialty Products

Shallots grown in bunches and have from three to six cloves. Shallots have very different tastes to onions that grow alone and to garlic than grow with ten or more cloves.   The milder 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.

Lobster Thermidor
A USA version of the historic French dish of Lobster Thermidor made with the North American two-clawed lobster, a creamy Dijon, shallots, and a mushroom sauce and  Emmenthal cheese
Photograph courtesy of NwongPR

 The origins of the shallot

The shallot originated in the Middle East, and its name comes from the city of Ashkelon in modern Israel.  According to tradition French Crusaders discovered them and brought them 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 Egypt, Italy, Greece, and the South of France. The Phoenicians brought with them many fruits and vegetables. No doubt, the name and more varieties arrived with the crusaders.


A view from a hotel room of the Ashkelon marina today.
Photograph courtesy of Planet of Hotels

French members of the shallot family.

For those interested in the varieties of shallots grown in France, PROSEMAIL, the French Shallot and Garlic Growers Association have a good English language website with 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).


Bryan G. Newman 

Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2015, 2020

For information on the unpublished book behind this blog, write to Bryan Newman.


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