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1950s Archive

From the Notebooks of Louis Diat:Shallots, Shad Roe, and Lamb

Originally Published May 1959

And what, Monsieur Louis, are shallots?” When I first came to this country that question almost invariably was asked by Americans to whom I gave recipes. Only my French friends here seemed to know them, but, under the circumstances, that wasn't too strange. Almost no markets, except those where the French chefs traded, sold shallots. During the last forty years, however, shallots have become more familiar and certainly more readily available, at least in the large cities. And yet the same question continues to arise, perhaps a little oftener now that more home cooks are trying their hands at la bonne cuisine française.

Encyclopedias describe shallots as a “member of the onion family,” or a “vegetable of the onion tribe.” Shallots,of course, do look something like onions, but they are much smaller—never bigger than a small fig, often only the size of anolive—and more pear-shaped. Their outer skin is a little browner than that of a yellow onion and also a little thicker, and the inner layers have a purplish cast. Shallots grow in the manner of garlic, forming a compact group of individual “cloves” attached to a common base.

The flavor of shallots resembles that of the onion, but it is mellower and much more subtle. Although onions may be substituted in a recipe when shallots are unavailable, a true gourmet has no trouble recognizing the difference. Because of their subtlety, shallots are always preferred for sauces used with delicate foods such as chicken, fish, and veal, and with some broiled meats. The combination of shallots, butter, and wine blends to a special savor achieved in no other way.

The food stores that sell imported fruits, out-of-season vegetables, and fresh herbs usually carry shallots. In New York, most of the better groceries and vegetable markets stock them. And the owner of a New York restaurant sells them by mail. He told me that he had to buy the entire output of a French province in order to fill his orders. But anyone with even a small piece of ground can grow them. Shallots thrive in the same soil and climate as onions. Mon Dieu, how many times I've started rows of shallots for friends! You plant the bulbs that you use for cooking, placing them about two inches deep in light rich soil, and about four inches apart. If you plant more than one row, leave a space of fifteen inches between the rows. Shallot plants must be weeded and cultivated, of course, all during the season. Slender, hollow leaves, something like chives, shoot up; when these turn brown and die at the end of the summer, it is time to dig up the shallot bulbs. They must be spread out where they will dry, then separated and stored in ventilated baskets in a cool dry place. If thoroughly dried and properly stored, shallots will keep all winter. Some may be put aside to start the following year's crop. Each bulb produces a clump of about five or six shallots, so that a pint of shallots planted may yield as much as three quarts.

In cookery, shallots are always peeled and very finely chopped. They may be used in almost any sauce served with meat, poultry, or fish, but are chosen less frequently for sauces strongly flavored with herbs, spices, garlic, or other ingredients that would overwhelm their delicacy.

Shallot Duller

Parboil 4 teaspoons chopped shallots in about ½cup water for 1 or 2 minutes. Drain the shallots and dry them on a towel. Combine them with 6 tablespoons softened butter, crush all together well, and strain the butter through a fine sieve. If desired, add a little finely chopped chives. For broiled meats.

Shallot Sauce

In a saucepan combine l tablespoon chopped shallots with ¾ cup dry white wine and cook the mixture until the wine is reduced to about 2 tablespoons. Add 1 ½cups velouté sauce and cook slowly for about 5 minutes. Remove the sauce from the hear, swirl in 2 tablespoons butter, and add 1 teaspoon lemon juice. For fish.

Marchand de Vin Butter

In a saucepan combine 2 teaspoons chopped shallots with 5 ounces red wine, cook the mixture until the wine is reduced to 2 or 3 tablespoons, and let it cool. Cream 8 tablespoons butter, add 1 teaspoon finely chopped parsley. and combine the butter with the shallot mixture. Season the butter with a little salt and pepper. For broiled meats.

Minute Steaks with Shallot Sauce

Season 6 minute steaks with salt and pepper. In a skillet, in 2 tablespoons very hot butter, cook the steaks quickly cut each side, allowing 1 minute for rare, a little longer for medium, and 3 to 4 minutes for well done. Remove the steaks to a warm platter. To the juices remaining in the pan add 1 teaspoon finely chopped shallots and ¼teaspoon flour and cook the mixture for 1 minute. Do not let the shallots brown. Add 5 ounces dry wine—red, white, or Sherry—and cook the sauce, stirring in the brown bits clinging to the pan, until it is slightly reduced. Pour the sauce over the steaks and sprinkle them with finely chopped parsley.

Chicken with Mushrooms with Shallots

Quarter 2 chickens weighing 2 to 2 ½pounds each, and sprinkle the pieces with a little salt and pepper and a very little flour. Sauté the chickens, skin side down, in 4 tablespoons butter until they are golden on both sides. Add 1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and thickly sliced and, when they start to turn golden, add 3 tablespoons finely chopped shallots. 3 ounces dry Sherry, and ½cup brown sauce (February, 1959). Partly cover the pan and cook the chickens for 30 minutes, or until they are render. Add another 5 ounces Sherry and ½cup brown sauce, and bring the sauce to a boil. Serve the chickens with rice.

Notes on Shad Roe

Every year there conies a day when you suddenly see all the poles lined up along the Hudson River for the shad nets. And then, if you are a chef, it won't be long before the maitre d'hôtel is rushing to the kitchen to warn you that every second guest wants to know why there's no shad roe on the menu.

The nets are lined up to trap the shad as they swim up the river to spawn. In rivers farther south this migration starts earlier in the year than around New York, and here the exact time varies from year to year. A long cold winter that lasts well into the time we think should be spring delays the shad. Hut always by April the business is in full swing. Nets full of “buck” shad and “roe” shad are pulled up every day and emptied into the boats. The shad itself is, of course, the most delectable of fish but it is the roe that appeals most to gourmets. And connoisseurs will tell you that roe taken from shad early in the season is never as large or as fine as that taken later. So they must eat their fill during a brief period— by June, this breeding cycle has ended.

Each fish has two pieces of roe— plump, curved pieces about four to five inches long and two inches wide. In removing them from the fish, care must be taken not to break the thin, fragile covering skin. One roe is usually allowed for a serving unless a piece of the shad itself is served with it; in that case, one roe will serve two. If you buy shad in country sections where it is running in a local river, you can get it quite inexpensively and the roe comes with the fish. But, in city markets, the roe is removed and sold separately at a much higher price.

In this country, most people prefer to eat shad roe sautéed or broiled. In France it is frequently poached and served with a sauce made with its poaching liquid. I consider the sautéed shad more appetizing than the broiled; it is less apt to be dry and a little easier to handle, too. The problem in cooking shad roe relates to the skin: Hear causes steam to form inside, the steam may burst the skin before it becomes firm, and tiny beads of roe may break through. Most cooks seem able to cope with this problem more successfully by cooking the roe in a pan rather than on a grill, because spattering can be kept under control in a pan by partially covering it. Furthermore, it is usually easier to remove cooked roe from an oiled pan than from a grill. One last warning to novices—never divide or cut a roe before it is cooked.

Sautéed Shad Roe

Dip shad roe in milk, drain the roe, and sprinkle it with a little Hour. Slowly sauté the roe in enough moderately hot salad oil to cover the bottom of a skillet, partially covering the pan. Brown the roe on one Side, turn it, and sauté it on the other side, allowing about 12 or 15 minutes in all, depending on the thickness. The roe is done if no pink tinge shows on the inside when a small incision is made. Remove the roe from the pan, discard the oil, and add to the pan a generous piece of butter. Heat the butter until it is brown and pour it over the roe. Garnish the roe with a slice of lemon.

Shad Roe Amandine

Follow the recipe for sautéed shad roe, adding to the browned butter 1 tablespoon slivered blanched almonds for each roe. Brown the almonds with the butter and pour the sauce over the roe.

Broiled Shad Roe

Sprinkle shad roe lightly with flour, and dip it in salad oil or melted butter. Place the roe on a hot pan and broil it for 10 to 15 minutes, turning it once. Serve with maitre d'hôtel butter.

Maitre d' Hôtel Butter

Cream ½ cup butter and gradually work into it 1 teaspoon chopped parsley and the juice of half a lemon. Season the butter with salt and white pepper to taste.

Shad Roe Bonne Femme

In a shallow pan. melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 3 tablespoons finely Chopped shallot, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, ½pound sliced mushrooms, ½teaspoon salt, and a little pepper. Arrange 4 shad roe (or 6 if small) on the vegetables and pour over about ¾ cup dry white wine. Cover the pan with a circle of waxed paper with a tiny hole in the center. Bring the wine to a boil, cover the pan, and simmer the roe for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove the roe to a serving dish and cook the liquid in the pan until it is reduced to one-third its original quantity. Add ¼cup cream, correct the seasoning with salt, and finish the sauce by stirring in beurre manié made by creaming together 1 tablespoon butter with 1 teaspoon Hour. Pour the sauce over the roe.

Notes on Lamb

I'm often told that many Americans won't eat lamb. I can hardly believe it, because lamb is so much appreciated by nearly all Europeans. And I know how popular lamb is in New York; at least it used to be at the old Ritz Carlton. Whenever we featured lamb on the menu, we seemed to exhaust our supply well before the orders stopped coming from the dining rooms.

As with other meats, the quality of lamb is important, but any reliable butcher can supply either the prime or choice grades. The flesh of young animals will be a good red color, the fat firm and a pinkish white.

Those who question the savoriness of lamb might start by cooking the chops. They may choose from among the three available types, loin, rib, and shoulder. The loin and rib are the most expensive —and the most desirable, in that order. A loin chop has a small bone with ft little piece of meat on one side of it and a larger piece on the other side, both very tender. The bone of a rib chop is much longer and the meat lies on only one side of it. Some people consider this meat even sweeter and more delicate than the loin. Shoulder chops have more meat, a smaller bone, and more fat running through the meat, but they are not quite so tender.

Lamb and rib chops are usually broiled or sautéed. Broiling is always preferable except when the chops have been cut very thin; if so, sautéing them in butter seems to be more successful.

As a technique, broiling is a quick method, and an exacting one. Even a minute or two of overcooking—or insufficient broiler heat—can spoil the meat. But a little experience at estimating the required cooking time, according to the thickness of a chop, will make of any cook a competent grillardin, as the grill chef in a French restaurant is called. A few pointers may prove helpful; Fat smokes and catches fire easily in the broiler, so it is best to cut off most of the far, leaving only enough to protect the edges of the chop. If the heat comes from a charcoal fire under the meat, rather than a gas or electric unit above it, fat dripping down always makes the fire flate. A chef lakes care of this problem with a clean whisk brush and a pan of water, picking up just a little water on the bristles and then carefully Hipping the water on the flames so that he extinguishes them without cooling the fire.

A professional grillardin has the chops cut thick, never less than an inch, usually two inches or more. He spreads one side with butter, seasons it, and broils it. Then the chop is turned and the other side buttered, seasoned, and finished. The surface should become a very dark brown, but not scorched; the inside is pink or medium rare according to taste. The grillardin never pierces the meat itself, but inserts the fork in the fatty part. He judges degree of doneness as follows: When the chop is medium rare, tiny drops of pink juice appear on the surface of the side being cooked. But tapping with the linger tells him the story, if the meat is soft to the touch, it is not dune: if firm but still springy, it is medium rare; if very firm, it is well done.

Thin chops, less than an inch thick, are sautéed, and the French way of preparing shoulder chops is to cook them with vegetables.

Broiled Lamb Chops

Season lamb chops with salt and pepper and brush them with butler or melted fat. Broil them in a moderately hot broiler for 3 to 5 minutes on each side for rare, depending on the thickness of the chops, or a little longer for medium or well done.

Sautéed Lamb Chops

Season lamb chops, cut 1 inch thick or less, with salt and pepper. Heat enough butter to cover the bottom of the skillet well, arrange the chops in the pan, and sauté them on each side over high heal for 2 to 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of the meat and the degree of doneness desired. Remove the chops to a serving dish, add to the pan ¼ to ½cup stock, red or white wine, or water, and cook until the liquid is reduced to half the original quantity, stirring in all the brown bits in the pan. Swirl in 1 tablespoon butter and cook the sauce until the butter is just melted.

Lamb Chops Bermuda

Season 6 thick shoulder chops with salt and pepper and sauté them quickly in good fat on both sides until they are golden-brown. Drain off the fat. add to the pan 6 onions, sliced, and 2 cups stock or water, and cook the mixture gently for 25 to 30 minutes. Add 12 small new potatoes, sliced, and 2 teaspoons chopped parsley. Correct the seasoning and continue cooking for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the potatoes are done.

Lamb Chops, Louise

Follow the recipe for lamb chops Bermuda and, about 10 minutes before the cooking is finished, add 6 tomatoes, peeled, halved, and sealed.

Côtelettes d'Agtieau Menagère (Lamb Chops with Vegetables)

Season 6 thick shoulder lamb chops with salt and pepper and saute them in good fat on both sides until golden-brown. Arrange them in a large shallow pan with 2 leeks, chopped, 3 potatoes and 1 large onion, all sliced, a clove of garlic, crushed, 4 cups white stock or water, 1 teaspoon salt, and a little pepper. Cook the chops for 25 to 30 minutes.

Remove the chops to another pan and cover them with the following vegetables: 3 new carrots, sliced and parboiled, 2 onions, sliced, 1 to 2 cups green beans, cut in pieces, 3 potatoes, sliced, 3 stalks of celery, chopped, 1 to 2 cups fresh peas, and 2 small white turnips, sliced and parboiled. Rub the cooking liquid from the first pan through a line sieve into a bowl and skim off the fat. Correct the seasoning and pour the liquid over the meat and vegetables. Add 1 teaspoon chopped parsley and cook the stew for 35 minutes longer, or until the vegetables are done.