Shallots — A Gourmet Treat
It’s November and the vegetable garden is fast becoming a distant memory. It seems like fall clean-up and putting the garden to bed for the winter are our final chores. I’ve had my fair share of battles this gardening season: fighting ground hogs, squirrels, deer, rabbits, and insects. But I’m not quite ready to let the gardening season come to an end. One of the easiest and most carefree crops, the shallot, can be planted in the fall; plus, it’s what many gardeners and chefs consider a gourmet vegetable. This fascinating vegetable can be planted even in November and is ready for harvest in late spring to early summer. What’s really cool about shallots is that they perform well with very little maintenance, and since they are planted in November, I have one less task to perform during the spring-rush planting season. One of their greatest attributes is that rabbits, squirrels, deer, and insects tend to avoid the shallot patch.
A dainty but hardy member of the Allium genus (which includes onions, garlic, and chives), shallots are biennials, and they are prized for their delicate onion-like flavor. In addition to being a carefree crop, shallots are a gourmet treat. They are a mainstay in French and Thai cuisines; they can be an elegant addition to salads, dressings, sauces, and sautés and may be substituted for onions in many dishes.
True bulbs like onions and shallots can grow in two different ways. Onions grow by increasing the size of the single bulb planted. Shallots, on the other hand, grow in the same manner as garlic. When you plant a clove, it grows by forming multiple cloves, each with a paper wrapper. However, unlike garlic, there is no papery cover that creates a “head.” Instead, shallots produce a cluster of bulbs from a single planted bulb.
Shallots for planting should be purchased from an online seed source or from a garden center, if possible. Grocery store shallots have probably been treated/sprayed with a growth regulator to deter sprouting, and they may not grow in the garden once planted. If you need to use grocery store shallots, try to purchase organic shallots to increase the chance they will sprout, or better yet, if you have a gardening friend who grows and saves shallots from the previous harvest, ask your friend to share a few.
Shallots Are Generally Classified Into 3 General Groups
French Varieties — These are the commercial ones that are available in our local grocery stores. French Red is the most common variety sold commercially. French varieties all have brownish-red skin, pinkish-purplish flesh, and pear-shaped bulbs. Their flavor is a subtle combination of onion and garlic. Like all shallots, their flavor is at its best after being sautéed in butter, although they can also be eaten raw in salads.
Gray Griselle Variety — Many people, especially in France, consider the gray or Griselle variety of shallot to be the best in terms of flavor. The French consider the gray shallot to be the “true shallot” and no French chef would allow any other variety into the kitchen. The pear-shaped (1-1/2 in.) bulbs have gray skin and pinkish-white flesh.
Dutch Shallots — The flavor of Dutch varieties is stronger and more like an onion than other shallot varieties. They tend to be round and feature orange-yellow skin and yellowish-cream colored flesh.
Environmental and Cultural Practices
Shallots prefer full sun (8 hours); however, they will grow in part sun but the size of the bulb will be reduced. They prefer a well-drained, loose soil that is rich in organic matter; a raised bed is ideal. They are not too picky about the soil pH, as they will tolerate a wide pH range, from 5.0 to 6.8. The bed should be as weed-free as possible, because weeds compete with the shallots for moisture, light, and nutrients.
If the shallots purchased for planting are sold in clumps, divide them into individual sets (bulbs) before planting. Plant the bulb at a depth of 1 to 2 inches deep and about 6 to 8 inches apart. The pointed bulb tip should be pointed up; the tip of the bulb should be just below the soil line or barely sticking out of the soil. Mulch lightly with leaves or straw to retard weeds and to maintain a consistent moisture level. The bulbs will develop on the surface of the ground. Do not cover with soil. The roots will be very shallow; therefore, extreme care must be taken with any cultivation or weeding to avoid damaging the plant.
As with any crop, a soil test should be taken prior to planting to determine the soil pH and any nutrients that are needed. The general recommendation is 3 to 4 pounds of 10-10-10 per 100 square feet when preparing soil, followed by side dressing after bulb enlargement with 2 pounds of 10-10-10 or the equivalent organic fertilizer.
Like most vegetable crops, shallots require about 1 inch of water per week. They like moisture but the bulbs will rot if waterlogged. Watering should be stopped about a week prior to harvesting.
Shallots may be harvested as green onions, when the tops are 6 to 8 inches high. Harvest mature bulbs when the tops have turned yellow and fall over. When harvesting, take care to lift clusters carefully so that the bulbs are not damaged during harvest. Each planted clove should yield about 10 or more shallots.
Once the shallots have been harvested, they should be cured before storing. To cure, place the shallots on a tray or a wire rack in a warm, dry spot for a week or two to cure. Once they have cured, you can store the shallots either by hanging them in a cool, dry place, or by removing the tops and storing them in mesh bags (recycled onion bags work great).
Shallots are not only easy to grow, with few pests and disease problems, but also are a good use of the garden’s footprint or real estate, because they are expensive to buy in the grocery store. A bountiful supply of shallots are a great joy in the kitchen, since shallots can be prepared in any number of ways. Onions and garlic are normally used to create foundation flavors, whereas shallots are often used to create “finish” — that extra zip that pushes a good recipe over the top. And don’t forget to save the largest shallot bulbs for the next planting season.
Thanks for visiting The Garden Shed. We look forward to you dropping by next month.
“Onions, Garlic and Shallots,” Virginia Coop. Ext., Publication No. 426-411, https://pubs.ext.vt.edu/content/dam/pubs_ext_vt_edu/426/426-411/426-411_pdf.pdf
“Shallots,” University of Maryland Extension, https://extension.umd.edu/learn/shallots
“Shallots,” University of Arkansas, Division of Agriculture, Publication FSA6095, https://www.uaex.edu/publications/PDF/FSA-6095.pdf
“Onion, Leek, Shallot & Garlic,” Clemson Coop. Ext., Publication HGIC 1314 http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/vegetables/crops/hgic1314.html