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Shallots are small bulbs that have a subtle but unique onion and garlic taste. There are several ways to make a shallot sauce, and one of the easiest is to keep the ingredients very simple so they do not overpower the taste of the shallots. Alternately, a large amount of shallots can be used to establish a strong taste that can be complemented with flavorful ingredients such as reduced balsamic vinegar, soy sauce or creamy cheeses. Some of the ingredients that work the best in a shallot sauce and complement the onion and garlic flavor include wine, champagne, butter, cream, pan drippings, lemon and small amounts of garlic. For a more pronounced taste, just as with garlic and onions, shallots can be caramelized in a pan or roasted before being incorporated into a sauce.
One general tip when creating a shallot sauce is to make sure the shallots are diced or cut properly. In many instances, shallots that are diced very finely will release a large amount of flavor into the sauce and the small pieces will merge into the liquid and almost vanish completely, leaving a smooth sauce. Alternately, if the shallots are roughly chopped or sliced into rounds, then they will stand up to heat better and can be caramelized without burning too quickly and becoming bitter.
No matter what the base of the shallot sauce is, in many cases the shallots first need to be cooked or fried to remove their raw taste and develop flavor. Shallots behave more like garlic than onions when cooked in a pan. This means the time it takes for a shallot to go from sauteed to bitter and burnt is fairly short. Whenever shallots are close to direct heat, even during the process of reducing a shallot sauce, they should be carefully watched to ensure nothing burns and ruins the sauce.
If a shallot sauce calls for additional onions and garlic, the amount that is used should be carefully measured. This is because onions can very easily overpower the shallots and mask their flavor. Small amounts of garlic can bring out more of the shallot flavor, but larger quantities will mute their natural sweetness.
A very easy way to make a simple shallot sauce that brings out the flavor of the shallots is to make a pan sauce. This involves using some butter, stock or wine to deglaze the bottom of a pan that was used for cooking and then adding finely diced shallots. The mixture is allowed to cook in the pan, incorporating any meat or vegetables that might have stuck to the bottom of the pan, as well as any fat drippings remaining. For a fresh taste, freshly squeezed lemon juice or finely diced parsley can be added right at the end.
A shallot sauce with a more robust taste can be made by mixing balsamic vinegar, veal stock and red wine with roasted or caramelized shallots in a pan. The sauce is then reduced down, sometimes with herbs such as thyme, bay leaf and sage. Once the sauce has thickened, it can be used almost like a glaze over cooked meats or roasted vegetables.
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