The Clever Root

Fall / Winter 2015

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9 4 | t h e c l e v e r r o o t But how to determine if a shallot is authen- tic? Enter Échalotes Traditionnelles, France's traditional shallot producers, who educated attendees in a cooking demonstration at Ha- ven's Kitchen in New York City. Shallots expert Pierre Gelebart was on hand from France with David Mawhinney, Chef at Haven's Kitchen, to demonstrate the difference between tradi- tional and seed-grown shallots—quite literally a fine point. Breaking open two seemingly identical al- liums, one could see strands of a seeded root and feel the flesh give a bit. In the real McCoy, a hard, pointed tip appeared, and looked like it was broken off from a greater bunch. "A traditional shallot always has this mark since they are separated from a cluster, much like garlic," explained chef Mawhinney. Gelebart said traditional shallots have to be manually planted, and grow in clusters. "From a single bulb, six to ten shallots will grow," he noted. They are harvested by hand, left to dry under the sun, then broken apart, and the stalk cut off when they are ready to be sold. By contrast, the seeded version is actually a hybrid of onions and shallots, developed in order to mechanize the planting and harvesting process. The production of traditional shallots is concentrated in northwest France, in the regions of Anjou and Brittany, where shallots have been grown this way for over ten centuries. Texts from the era of Charlemagne discuss the crop, so it's no wonder that they have always figured so greatly in French cuisine. While mechanization may be more industrially efficient, the traditional shallot trumps in terms of flavor. It is made of 15% dry matter, result- ing in a crunchier profile when raw and more concentrated caramelization when cooked down, versus the seeded shallot, which, like an onion, has a greater percentage of water. The differ- ence is also quite visible when sliced: the seeded shallot has more concentric circles because of the hybridization with the onion, while the tradi- tional shallot is more varied. So for chefs—whether or not they're particu- larly focused on traditional French cuisine—or even the cooking dilettante looking for top-tier ingredients, the "Traditional Shallots" label of- fers artisanal authenticity that seeded shallots cannot match. Vive la difference! With quality of ingredients at the forefront of the minds of most chefs, a greater awareness to the difference in these ingredients can bring additional flavor dimension to dishes. In terms of flavor, "quality is everything," says Candy Argondizza, Vice President of Culinary and Pastry Arts at the International Culinary Center, who uses a variety of alliums—the ge- nus that includes onions, garlic, chives, scallions, shallots, and leeks—in her coursework. And in her teachings on French culinary techniques, shallots feature heavily at the start. "Shallots hold their own as a staple in the French kitchen," said Argondizza, noting they provide the base for building classic flavors in everything from braises to stocks to the traditional sauce bordelaise. EXPLORING SHALLOTS WITH FRANCE'S ÉCHALOTES TRADITIONNELLES by Sarah Hughes Bray SEEKING AUTHENTICITY IN Allium ■cr GROW

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