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Shallots – Hawm Daeng

by Kasma Loha-unchit

See also Kasma's information on Garlic (Gkratiem).

Shallot Shallots (hawm daeng): The preferred onions for Thai cooking are red shallots; they are purplish red in color and come smaller than the orangish-brown shallots sold in American markets, which may be substituted. Although larger varieties such as yellow onions are grown in Thailand, most of them are exported and relatively few find their way into Thai dishes. Shallots give a greater depth of flavor when chopped and pounded to make curry and chilli pastes; on the other hand, when eaten raw in salads, they are sweet and mild, leaving much less of a lingering aftertaste or "onion breath." Their size can vary considerably, but because the amount used for most dishes is not critical, make your own rough estimate on how many to use based on the size of the batch you bought (i.e., if they are large and come as a double, count them as two, and so forth). Thai people use red shallots very generously, and like garlic, they are a fundamental ingredient in the cuisine.

For some curries and chilli pastes, shallots are roasted to give a smoky dimension. This may be done by placing them with their skin still on in a very hot toaster oven (450 degrees F.), or in a dry pan over a burner set at medium heat. Cut the root tip off first to keep them from bursting when heated up. Roast until softened all the way through and slightly charred on the outside. This may take 15-20 minutes. When roasting in a dry pan over the stove, turn them frequently. In Thailand, shallots are usually roasted in the charcoal brazier, which adds a much more pronounced smoky flavor.

Shallots are also fried into brown crispy pieces to sprinkle on salads and garnish finished dishes. Fry thin slices in plenty of oil (enough to submerge the pieces) in a wok or small pan until they turn golden brown. Because western shallots contain more moisture than Thai red shallots, they should be fried over low heat for a prolonged period of time (20 minutes or longer) to allow the slices to dry up before they brown. This ensures that the pieces turn crispy after they are drained from the oil and cooled. When fried at high temperatures, the pieces brown quickly but are likely to be soggy and greasy. When crisped properly, the shallot pieces absorb little oil and should not taste greasy. For western shallots, I find that slicing them crosswise into rings tend to produce more evenly crisped shallots than when they are sliced lengthwise.

While frying, you need to stir only occasionally until the pieces begin to turn color, then stir frequently to evenly brown to a rich shade of golden brown. They will shrink to a third or less of their original mass. Drain through a fine wire-mesh strainer balanced over a bowl to catch the remaining oil. Reserve this fragrant oil to add a delicious flavor to your stir-fried dishes. To reduce frying time, shallot slices may be pre-dried in a dehydrator, very low oven, or on a rack in the sun. If making your own crispy fried shallots seems too much trouble, look for pre-packaged products in Asian markets. The pieces should be loose and sound crispy when the container is tapped. Nang Fah (Tue Kung) Brand distributed by V. Thai Food Products is crispy and delicious – almost as good as fresh-fried shallots. (Kasma's Favorite Thai Brands)

Our Ingredients Index contains links to many more Thai ingredients.

Copyright © 2000 Kasma Loha-unchit in Dancing Shrimp. All rights reserved.

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