Produce report April 16: Fruit and vege buys of the week
Now is the time to stock up on shallots, the onion’s sweeter cousin. The French type, which looks like a baby brown-skinned onion, but is not just a younger version, can be pricey but, in season from February until July, they are plentiful and affordable now.
Shallots are great in casseroles (as the name suggests, the French love them) and they are useful in slow cooker recipes because, unlike onions, they don’t require initial sauteing to rid them of any raw flavour. They come into their own in vinaigrettes (and are also lovely chopped very finely and added to chardonnay vinegar as a dipping sauce for oysters). If a recipe calls for raw onion and it’s too sharp for you, substitute with shallot.
To prepare, trim off the top and peel. If you’ve got a lot, standing them in boiling water for a minute or two after trimming will make the job easier. Then slice finely or chop. Banana shallots are longer, slightly milder than other types and easier to prepare — peel and chop as for onions. Most varieties of shallot have finer layers than an onion and contain less water, so care needs to be taken when frying to ensure they don’t burn and become bitter. Because the flavour is milder and sweeter than that of an onion, if a recipe specifies shallots, substituting with onions won’t give the same result.
Crispy fried shallots are a popular garnish in Asian cuisines and can be purchased in packets from ethnic food stores. Try them on this Burmese cucumber pickle with fried shallots recipe or make your own (see recipe below).
When buying, look for firm shallots, with no soft spots, damp or mouldy patches and avoid those with green shoots.
Store in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. Do not keep them in plastic bags and do not refrigerate. Keep Kathy Paterson’s Greek beef stew with roasted shallots handy for those unexpected cold snaps. Image below
Brussels sprouts, parsnips, round green beans, pumpkin, squash, feijoas, apples and pears (there are lots of varieties to choose from) are good buying. Cauliflower, broccoli and lettuces are becoming more affordable and are in better supply. Look out for the first of the tamarillos.
Peel shallots and thinly slice into rings then pour milk over, gently mix, and marinate for 3-6 hours, stirring occasionally. Drain well and pat dry with kitchen paper or a tea towel, then deep-fry in oil at around 150C until golden. Stir and toss gently and regularly with a slotted spoon until golden and crisp. Make sure you stir them regularly to stop them sticking to each other and to prevent them burning — a dark fried shallot will taste bitter. Drain the shallots well on absorbent paper and store in an airtight container. If they don’t crisp up for some reason, of if you’d like a different effect, then you can also toss the patted-dry shallots in either cornflour, rice flour or wheat flour, shaking off excess flour through a sieve, before deep-frying.