Shallot is a plant of the onion tribe, which derives its botanical name from growing wild at Ascalon, in Syria. It has a strong taste, but as the strong flavor is not offensive, like the garlic, and does not remain so long upon the palate as the onion, it is often preferred. The root is bulbous, similar to that of garlic in being divided into cloves, included in a membrane. It rarely sends up a flower-stock, and hence is often called the barren onion.
The best sorts are the Common and the Long-Keeping, of which last the bulbs have been kept two years. The “Big Shallot” of our gardens is Rocambole.
Shallot also called green or spring onions shallots, but true shallots are small bulbs with a more delicate flavor than onions. They have been difficult for the home gardener since they seldom produce seed and have normally been grown from sets sold during winter. The introduction of bulb-forming plants grown from seed changed this. They are easy to grow and produce a uniform crop.
Ed’s Red Shallot: It has deep purple-red interior rings.
Ambition F1 Shallot: It is similar with a taller-shaped bulb. Sets are available from specialist suppliers and in some garden centers. The red-brown skinned, teardrop-shaped shallot that is popular in the restaurant trade is variously named – look for ‘French Shallot’ or ‘Red Shallot’.
Golden Shallot: It is a plumper, rounder bulb with a yellow skin and white flesh. It is more commonly grown commercially because it is easier to peel. Sets are not available in Tasmania or Western Australia due to quarantine restrictions.
Longor Shallot: It is a French variety with elongated bulbs and mild flesh.
Mediterranean Shallot: is a mild-flavored, globe-shaped bulb with crimson skin and pink flesh. It resists bolting and keeps well.
Mikor Shallot: It has large elliptical bulbs, crisp white flesh and a superb taste.
Red Sun Shallot: It is red with firm skin and a crisp and mild flavor that is ideal for salads. Shallots can sometimes be purchased in pots in spring. Many more varieties are available in Europe and more may become available in Australia and New Zealand.
True shallots have traditionally been propagated from bulb divisions, like garlic cloves. The ideal size for sets is about 2cm diameter, which will result in a high yield of good-sized shallots; larger sets will produce a greater number of smaller shallots.
Plant bulbs in autumn or early winter. Space them 15–20cm apart with 30cm between the rows. Make small holes with a trowel rather than pushing bulbs into the ground (the compaction this causes, particularly in heavier soils, can act as a barrier to young roots). Leave the tips of the bulbs just above the soil. Alternatively, plant in drills then cover with soil.
As the cluster of small bulblets develop at the base of the plants, push soil around them to blanch them. Propagate by dividing large, well-developed disease-free plants and replanting small bulblets. Unlike onions, shallots develop in small clusters.
As seed sowing is a relatively new way of growing shallots, spacing suggestions and sowing time vary with variety, so check instructions on the seed packet. ‘Mediterranean’ is sown from early spring in tropical zones, to early summer in cold areas. ‘Ed’s Red’ can be sown in late summer to early autumn in cold areas. Sow seed thinly 1.5–2cm deep and 1.5–2.5cm apart in rows 15cm apart. Sown at this rate, each seed will mostly form a single shallot. If spaced farther apart, pairs or small clusters of bulbs may form. Successive sowings ensure a continuity of supply.
Shallots flourish in a sheltered, sunny position on moist, free-draining soil. They have similar growing requirements to bulb onions but are easier to grow and are not particularly sensitive to day length. Prepare the area by digging and incorporating plenty of well-rotted organic matter well before planting. Avoid using animal manure or blood and bone just before planting. Before planting, level the soil and rake in a complete fertilizer. A rough tilth will suffice for sowing bulblets, but seeds need a seedbed of a finer texture.
Plant sets when soil conditions allow. Sow seed when the soil is warm. Water during dry periods. Keep crops weed-free, particularly while becoming established. Hand weed around plants to avoid damaging the bulbs. Feed regularly with a water soluble fertilizer.
Harvesting and Storing
You can harvest immature shallots for salads, or you can pick a few leaves from those being grown for bulbs. Shallots grown for their foliage should be harvested when the leaves are about 10cm high. Plants are mature as the tops dry off, but don’t let them get too dry and papery. Carefully lift the bulbs and in dry weather cure them by leaving them on the surface for a week to dry out; otherwise dry them as onions. Do not cut off the green foliage as this may cause fungal infection, spoiling the bulbs for storage.
Break up the bulbs in each clump, remove any soil and loose leaves, and then store them in a dry, cool, well-ventilated place. Store on slatted trays, in net bags or in a pair of old tights.
Pests and Diseases
Bolting may be a problem in early plantings or if temperatures fluctuate. Shallots can suffer from the same pest and diseases as onions and there are few products registered for their control in shallots, so practice crop rotation and avoid growing shallots where onions have been grown the previous year.
Onion thrips congregate at the base of plants causing white flecks on foliage. Keep plants well watered. Downy mildew is common especially in dewy, rainy or foggy conditions. Improve soil drainage and air circulation. Lower plant densities can improve air circulation in the crop and allow it to dry out more quickly. White rot appears round the base of plants as white fluffy mould. Remove and dispose of affected plants with as much of the soil round them as possible. Aphids can also be a problem and should be controlled by an appropriate insecticide.
Add some additional controlled-release fertilizer to the mix and put a good layer of broken crocks or polystyrene in the bottom of the pot for drainage. Keep plants well watered in dry periods.
Shallots make good companions for apples and strawberry plants; storing sulfur, they are believed to have a fungicidal effect.
Shallots will grow in large pots or containers with a premium potting mix.
Shallots have a milder taste than onions; generally, the yellow-skinned varieties are larger and keep better, while red types are smaller and have the best flavor. The bulbs can be eaten raw or pickled and the leaves used like spring onions. Shallots can be finely chopped and added to fried steak just before serving. Do not brown them, as it makes them bitter. Béarnaise sauce is made by reducing shallots and herbs in wine vinegar before thickening with egg and butter.
The shallot, though more pungent than some members of the onion family, is preferred by many in seasoning gravies, soups, sauces, and other culinary preparations, and is by some considered almost indispensable in the preparation of a good beefsteak. It can be pickled in the same manner as the onion.