In the early 1980s I had the opportunity to meet Julia Child in person. Mom and I were attending an event in Santa Monica, Calif., at the famed Michael’s Restaurant. It was an event for the American Institute of Food and Wine, where well known chefs, such as Alice Waters of Chez Panisse, were sampling their favorite foods. As I recall, Alice was sampling mashed fava beans with garlic and olive oil, spread on a baguette.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and being “produce gals” from the L.A. Produce Market, we were kind of lost with all those foodies. This very tall, lanky lady must have noticed us standing by ourselves in the corner, and came over to make us feel welcome.
Well, it turned out to be Julia Child.
I remember her crackly, high-pitched voice and her genuine approach to us. And when she found out she was talking with Frieda Caplan, at that time the sole lady in the produce business who had introduced Kiwifruit to America, she made us feel like movie stars!
The first thing my mom said to her was, “Julia, I just want to thank you for using shallots in so many of your recipes on your PBS television show. We can always tell when you include them in a recipe, because our sales increase dramatically!”
Julia humanized shallots – which I do think was one of her favorite ingredients. Several decades ago, it might have been acceptable to substitute onions (and a little garlic) for a recipe calling for “finely diced shallots.” But you can thank Julia Child (and Frieda Caplan) for making them widely available and a household name.
Fresh shallots are still one of our top-selling products. I think Julia Child would have said they are the secret to many of the amazing recipes she developed over the years.
One of the first recipes I recall seeing shallots in was a simple vinaigrette dressing:
Basic Vinaigrette Dressing
From Julia’s Kitchen Wisdom, by Julia Child
1/2 Tbsp finely minced shallot
1/2 Tbsp Dijon-type mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 Tbsp wine vinegar
1/3 to 1/2 cup excellent olive oil, or other fine, fresh oil
Freshly ground pepper
Either shake all the ingredients together in a screw-topped jar, or mix them individually as follows. Stir the shallots together with the mustard and salt. Whisk in the lemon juice and vinegar, and when well blended start whisking in the oil by droplets to form a smooth emulsion. Beat in freshly ground pepper. Taste (dip a piece of the salad greens into the sauce) and correct seasoning with salt, pepper, and/or drops of lemon juice.
Yield: For about 2/3 cup, serving 6 to 8
Shallots are cultivated all over the world and commercially grown in Oregon, California, Canada, and France and many other places. In this hemisphere, they are harvested in late August and can be stored for up to a year. Throughout the year, shallots are taken out of cold storage to be shipped as there is demand.
At your local supermarket, you may find shallots loose in baskets, so you can pick your own. They may be in clusters or single large bulbs. You might also see shallots sold in mesh bags, varying in size from 3 ounces to 1 pound.
I like to keep my shallots at home in a cool, dry, dark place. If you store them in the refrigerator, make sure they don’t get too damp, as this will cause them to mold.
I encourage you to make shallots your new best friend in cooking. They really do add an amazing flavor.
Bon Appetit! (as Julia would say)
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