A colleague of mine once declared, “If I could, I would marry a shallot.” While I’m already spoken for, I, too, have a deep love of shallots. These alluring alliums are sweeter and less pungent than their larger onion cousins, and their gentle oniony flavor can enhance a variety of dishes. Raw minced shallots enliven vinaigrettes. Minced shallots sautéed in butter add depth of flavor to sauces, make a marvelous steak topping, and pair beautifully with sautéed mushrooms. One minced shallot can go a long way.
So how do you mince these small and irregularly shaped bulbs? Well, you could mince your shallot by randomly running your knife through it, but that seems to make the flavor more harsh…There must be a better way…
To mince a shallot, use a very sharp chef’s knife or paring knife, whichever you’re more comfortable with. Start by trimming the root.
(Don’t actually cut off the root end, just trim it to keep the little rootlets from getting mixed in with the rest of the shallot later. Also, the root end of the shallot will act as a little handle, keeping the shallot together and making it easier to hold onto as you cut it, especially as you reach the end.) Cut off the stem end.
Peel the shallot.
Place the shallot stem end down, and cut it in half.
Working with one half at a time, position the shallot near the edge of your cutting board (so that your knuckles don’t hit the board as you work) with the cut side down and the stem end facing your knife. Make a series of horizontal cuts parallel to the cutting board.
But don’t cut all the way through.
And be careful to keep your fingers out of the way of the blade.
Reposition the shallot in the center of your cutting board with the stem end facing the tip of your knife and make a series of vertical cuts parallel to the plane from the root end to the stem end of the shallot.
Again, don’t cut all the way through the root end.
Finally, reposition the shallot in the center of your cutting board with the stem end facing your knife and make a series of cuts at a 90-degree angle to the other cuts, as if you were just slicing the shallot.
When you reach the root end, discard it.
Shallots minced in this manner are relatively consistent, which means they will cook very evenly.
Some cooks like to switch the order of the first and second series of cuts, making the cuts from the root to the stem of the shallot first and then making the cuts parallel to the board. But since the most precarious part of dicing a shallot is cutting horizontally, it really is easiest to do that first, while the shallot half is still intact.
The distance between cuts determines the size of the mince. For a fine mince, make the cuts closer together, and conversely, for a larger mince, make the cuts farther apart.
If this looks familiar, that’s because this very same technique, but of course on a larger scale, is used for dicing and chopping onions.