Fried Shallots

Making Southeast Asian–style fried shallots at home is easy, provided you set yourself up for success and pay attention while cooking them.

Close up of a bowl of fried shallots.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Why It Works

  • Slicing shallots to the proper thickness with a mandoline ensures that they cook at an even rate and are able to crisp properly without becoming greasy.
  • Removing the shallots from the heat and straining them when they're lightly golden keeps them from turning too dark and bitter due to carryover cooking.
  • Gently blotting the shallots on multiple layers of paper towels keeps them from turning soggy and oily.
  • Along with crispy fried shallots, this recipe produces an aromatic fried-shallot oil that can be used to make things like vinaigrettes, mayonnaise, or subsequent batches of fried shallots.

Fried shallots, a garnish common to Thai, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian cuisines, were a prized commodity in one of the restaurant kitchens where I worked in Boston. They popped up as a crunchy, savory garnish in any number of dishes on the ever-changing à la carte and tasting menus—sprinkled over a soup with lobster and uni one day, scattered over braised suckling pig glazed with a fish sauce caramel the next. They provided crunch for fish crudos, fresh pasta dishes, and salads, and were incorporated into a labne-based dipping sauce for a fried-onion-string bar-menu snack.

Because they went into almost everything, nearly every cook, as well as the chef expediting at the pass—the air traffic control hub of a restaurant kitchen, where plates get their final once-over and presentation flourish before being sent to tables—had a container of crispy shallots on their station.

Running out of fried shallots in that kitchen simply wasn't an option; the couple of times that I saw it happen, it wasn't pretty for the cook who had under-prepped for the night. And for a time, the cook responsible for that duty was me, the garde-manger.

Each week, my station partner and I would plan out our prep work, with a constant eye on our fried-shallot inventory. We'd stash away secret backup deli containers of them, far from the other cooks who always took a liberal approach to prep they weren't responsible for, in hiding spots in the basement dried-storage area below the main kitchen.

When our fried-shallot reserves ran low, one of us would come in extra early to work to make a big new batch. It was a time-consuming project that required the cook's undivided attention and a lot of stove and counter space in an already cramped kitchen. (Of course, using a microwave can free up some space and cut down on the mess.)

Close-up of fried shallots spread out on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

It was a rite of passage in that restaurant—every cook had made them at one point or another, and you built a reputation on the quality of your fried-shallot work. A batch of subpar, slightly greasy shallots would lead to comments like "Whoa, whoa, Chef [the sarcastic deployment of "Chef" to address a cook is one of the most cutting barbs in a restaurant kitchen], what's up with these shallots? Did Ed make these?"

Never mind that the Ed in question no longer worked there; his disappointing fried-shallot legacy lived on. I was determined not to suffer the same fate, and took pride in my crispy-allium oeuvre.

Professional cooks are a weird bunch. Hopefully there's nobody in your life who is going to talk trash if your home-cooked fried shallots aren't perfect, but, just in case, here's how to make them well.

The Slice Is Right

Sliced shallots on a cutting board for fried shallots.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

As with most recipes that involve just a few ingredients, making good fried shallots is all in the details. That starts with how they're sliced. In order for the shallots to cook at an even rate and achieve a perfect crunchy texture, they need to be sliced to a specific uniform thickness. Unless you've undergone years of Arya Stark–style blade training, slicing the shallots by hand with a knife is not going to work. You'll need a mandoline for this project—trust me.

If you don't already have one, check out our review of the best inexpensive mandoline slicers on the market.

Comparison of shallots that are sliced too thin (on the left), and shallots sliced to the correct thickness (on the right).

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The fried-shallot master who taught me how to make them always described the ideal thickness as "two credit cards pressed together." If you slice the shallots any thinner than that, they'll brown too quickly, before the water in them has been driven out and replaced by oil, resulting in a soggy, oily product. This is a problem that can also occur with potato chips.

How many shallots you want to slice and fry is up to you, but I would say you want to use at least a pound to make the project worth your while. Properly cooked and stored, fried shallots will keep for weeks, so you don't need to worry about them going bad before they can be used up.

The Setup

With the shallots sliced into rounds, it's time to set up everything else you'll need. Once you start cooking, everything happens quickly; you'll have a very tight time window before success (golden, crunchy shallots) turns to failure (with both you and the shallots ending up in a dark and bitter place). That means you have to set up your fried-shallot rig before you turn on a burner.

You'll need the following: a rimmed baking sheet lined with several layers of paper towels, a container of kosher salt, a fine-mesh strainer set inside a heatproof bowl, and a utensil for stirring. I like to use a pair of kitchen tweezers, but a fork or chopsticks will work fine.

Combine your sliced shallots and a couple inches of vegetable oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or pot that you can comfortably pick up and pour from. There needs to be enough oil to keep the shallots mostly submerged, with none of them touching the bottom of the saucepan. Before turning on the burner, stir them well to separate them into individual rings.

0 to 100, Real Quick

Initial stages of shallots frying in oil, as oil begins to bubble.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Fried shallots are one of the few stovetop projects that I don't step away from once I start cooking (risotto is another one). I cook them entirely over high heat, stirring constantly as the oil heats up and the shallots begin to cook and bubble. Constantly moving the shallots around as they cook helps them fry at an even rate.

Stirring shallots as they fry to make sure they cook at an even rate.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

After a few minutes of rapid bubbling, you'll notice some of the smaller slices of shallot starting to turn a very light, straw-colored yellow. This is the beginning of the end, and it's time to really lock in and focus, as things will go really fast from here on out.

Shallots beginning to turn golden brown, which is when you want to strain them.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Keep cooking and stirring as the bubbles begin to slow—this is your indicator that the water in them has been driven out and is being replaced by oil—and the shallots take on a very light golden color. Don't worry if there are a couple of pale rings in the midst; they'll catch up to the right level of coloration soon.

Draining fried shallots in a fine-mesh strainer over a heat-proof bowl.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Working quickly but carefully, remove the shallots from the heat right when they turn that pale golden color, and pour the contents of the saucepan into the strainer-lined bowl. The shallots end up in the strainer basket, and the hot oil in the bowl beneath it. Carryover cooking causes the shallots to continue to darken even once they're out of the oil, which is why it's important to both pull them when they're pale golden and have your setup ready to go, so that you can move quickly through the remaining steps.

Laid Out

Transferring fried shallots from the fine-mesh strainer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Still moving at a brisk pace, you'll need to transfer the shallots from the strainer to the prepared baking sheet, spreading them out in an even layer so that they aren't piled on top of each other.

Seasoning fried shallots with salt.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Next, season the shallots with salt before they cool down—otherwise, the salt won't adhere to them. You want well-seasoned fried shallots, not a shallot-salt mixture.

Pulling away a layer of paper towels so that the fried shallots don't get saturated in oil and remain crispy.

Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

The final step is to gently blot the shallots dry. Carefully pull the top layer of paper towels out from under the shallots, leaving the shallots on the layer beneath it, then use the top layer you've just removed to blot them. Repeat with the remaining layers of paper towels.

If the shallots were dumped out onto a single layer of paper towels, they would sit on top of the oil-saturated paper, and become greasy rather than crispy. This process allows you to gently blot and dry the shallots without crushing them into crumbs.

Once the shallots are fully dried and cooled, they're ready to go. You can enjoy them immediately, or carefully transfer them to an airtight container and store them at room temperature for weeks. For long-term storage, I like to line the container with a paper towel and a desiccant packet (homemade or otherwise) to keep my shallots crispy.

You'll be sprinkling them on pretty much everything in no time, and maybe you'll have to find a fried-shallot hiding spot of your own to keep them safe from your housemates.

February 2013

This recipe's headnote was authored by Sasha Marx, while the recipe was written and developed by J. Kenji López-Alt.

Recipe Facts

Prep: 10 mins
Cook: 15 mins
Active: 25 mins
Total: 25 mins
Serves: 12 servings
Makes: 1 1/2 cups

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Ingredients

  • 1 pound (450g) shallots, peeled and sliced into 1/16-inch-thick rounds (see notes)

  • 2 cups (475ml) vegetable oil

  • Kosher salt

Directions

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels. Set a fine-mesh strainer over a large heatproof bowl or medium saucepan.

    Setting up your station for fried shallots is crucial before you start the cooking process. The set up includes a paper towel-lined sheet pan, a stainless steel strainer over a bowl, a small tray and kitchen tweezer.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  2. If cooking on stovetop: Combine shallots and oil in a medium saucepan or wok. Place over high heat and cook, stirring frequently, until shallots begin to bubble, 2 to 3 minutes. Continue cooking, stirring constantly as the shallots fry to ensure even cooking, until shallots turn pale golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes longer. Working quickly, pour contents of saucepan into prepared strainer set over bowl. (Shallots will continue cooking for a brief period after draining, so do not allow them to get too dark.)

    A collage showing shallots being fried on the stovetop until golden and then poured into a strainer-lined bowl.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

    If cooking in microwave: Combine shallots and oil in a large microwave-safe bowl, and stir with a fork to separate rounds. Microwave on high power for 5 minutes. Stir, making sure to loosen any pieces of shallot clinging to the sides of the bowl. Continue to microwave in 2-minute increments, stirring between each round, until shallots begin to turn lightly golden, 6 to 8 minutes total. Microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between each round, until evenly pale golden brown, 30 seconds to 1 minute 30 seconds longer. Working quickly, pour contents of bowl into prepared strainer set over bowl. (Shallots will continue cooking for a brief period after draining, so do not allow them to get too dark.)

    Stirring a microwaved bowl of shallots frying in oil.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

  3. Immediately transfer shallots to prepared baking sheet, spread them out into an even layer, and season with salt. Allow shallots to drain, then carefully lift the top layer of paper towels and roll shallots onto second layer, blotting gently with the first. Allow shallots and oil to cool to room temperature, then transfer to separate airtight containers. Store fried shallots at room temperature, and shallot oil in the refrigerator.

    The finished shallots, browned and crispy, are drained on a paper towel-lined sheet pan.

    Serious Eats / Vicky Wasik

Special Equipment

Fine-mesh strainer, rimmed baking sheet

Notes

Using a mandoline will produce the most even thickness for the sliced shallots.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Fried shallots can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two months. Fried-shallot oil can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one month.

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Nutrition Facts (per serving)
47 Calories
2g Fat
6g Carbs
1g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 47
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 2g 3%
Saturated Fat 0g 1%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 31mg 1%
Total Carbohydrate 6g 2%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Total Sugars 3g
Protein 1g
Vitamin C 3mg 15%
Calcium 14mg 1%
Iron 0mg 3%
Potassium 125mg 3%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)