The first installment in this series discussed the importance of having a few high quality pans. Admittedly, despite being a necessity for the home chef, high quality pans are a big investment. Happily, the star of this article is much less expensive.
Shallots look, taste, and smell like a cross between onions and garlic, but are neither. They are actually classified as different species from either one. Shallots grow in bunches of separate bulbs. The bulbs are covered in a papery skin that is, again, like a cross between that of an onion and a clove of garlic.
The flavor of shallots is similar to that of a sweeter onion with a hint of garlic. However the flavor is much more subtle and mild than either. Like garlic, cooking shallots requires care because they burn easily. Also, like garlic, if treated properly, shallots can enhance every flavor in your dish and even the wine that you drink with it.
The reason that shallots are included in this series is that their subtlety allows them to add incredibly flavor without overwhelming other flavors. Onions are often too strongly flavored and sulfurous for sauces or to be diced and sprinkled over a dish, and garlic is not known for its subtlety, either.
Here is a recipe, of sorts, that will showcase how the addition of this simple bulb to your bag of kitchen tricks can help you become a home superstar chef.
Pre-heat a heavy bottomed stainless steel pan over medium heat. Season two chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Add about a tbsp of olive oil to the pan. As soon as the oil begins to shimmer and a few fine wisps of smoke rise out of the pan, add your chicken, taking care to be placed evenly over the hottest area, but not touching each other. If they are too close they will steam instead of brown.
Your chicken will stick to the pan. Do not panic! When a proper crust has formed on the meat it will release from the pan by itself, do not rush or force this process. Unless your pan is of low quality, or you have the heat too high, the meat will not burn. When the meat releases from the pan, turn it over and cook that side in the same fashion. You should be able to determine doneness by pressing on the meat. Experience will tell you how firm it should be. Do not cut into the meat to see how done it is.
Remove the chicken from the pan, and reduce heat to med-low. Loosely cover the chicken with some foil and let it rest. Do not cover tightly or the steam trapped under the foil will ruin that fantastic, flavor filled crust.
While your chicken was cooking, you should have peeled and thinly sliced a couple of medium sized shallots. Add these to the pan and keep them moving for about 30 seconds to 1 minute, just long enough for them to start to turn slightly translucent, taking care not to burn them. Turn the heat to medium high and immediately add 1 cup of white wine.
Scrape the bottom while stirring in the wine, making sure to get all those delicious brown bits off of the bottom of the pan. Those are why you bought that expensive pan. Now add about 1/2 cup of chicken stock and a handful of fresh sliced mushrooms. If the resting meat has given up any juices, pour those into the pan, as well. Let the liquid reduce by a little more than half. Remove from the heat and start whisking in cold butter 1 tbsp at a time, taking care to ensure that each knob of butter is incorporated fully before adding the next, until the sauce thickens slightly. Add a few grinds of fresh black pepper and a pinch of salt and serve over the chicken.
While this is a very basic sauce that can be adapted in many, many ways, the method above is designed to allow the shallots to really shine. With just a few ingredients, minimal seasoning, and no other spices, you will see exactly what shallots can do for you. Once you do, not only can you expand upon this basic sauce, you will find a lot of other uses for these amazing bulbs.