Cooking is often a zero-sum game. We render one ingredient useless in the pursuit of improving another. We simmer meat or vegetables in water to extract flavors and aromas to create good stock, turning the meat and produce flavorless in the process. We sacrifice quarts of oil in pursuit of crispy fried chicken. But not every preparation follows suit—sometimes the byproduct is an end in itself. Years ago, my longtime friend and Cook’s Illustrated colleague Andrew Janjigian was frying batches of crispy shallots in vegetable oil. After straining out the shallots, he saved the oil, but not because he wanted to fry with it again. Instead, he’d bring it home to drizzle on pizza and grilled vegetables, or to sauté onions for pilaf. He got me hooked on that sun-gold, super-shalloty, aromatic oil, and my enthusiasm for it has kept me frying shallots pretty consistently ever since.
One of the reasons this stuff is so good is that fats are great at absorbing flavor. That’s a handicap in most frying applications—frying oil tastes like fish after just one batch of fish sticks—and it’s the reason we must quarantine butter in its own lidded compartment in the refrigerator to prevent it from tasting like leftover Chinese food. But here, it’s good news. The shallots slowly dry out in the hot oil and then eventually go through flavor-making browning, thanks to the Maillard reaction and a surplus of sugars and sulfur compounds. And the savory byproducts of the Maillard reaction flavor not only the shallots, but also the oil.
Once you make Fried Shallots & Fried Shallot Oil, the fun really begins. Start incorporating both the shallots and the oil into your everyday cooking and you’ll soon find them indispensable. One of my favorite uses for the oil is Fried Shallot Mayonnaise, an ingredient itself that can then be used in countless ways. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start playing with your shiny new pantry items and find that the fried shallot rabbit hole goes quite deep. We’ll be unveiling new recipes using both the shallots and oil in the weeks to come. In the meantime, let us know what you do with them. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.