Crispy fried shallots are an essential condiment in Vietnam. They turn up in soups (pho) and on salads, sprinkled onto dumplings as a garnish, and minced and added to meatballs. Crispy, sweet, and salty, they are indispensible. You may want to make double batches, as people have a hard time resisting the urge to snack on them. Strain the oil you used to fry the shallots and use it in other recipes or to fry more shallots. The strained oil, called shallot oil, will keep, refrigerated, for several weeks. The shallots should be used the same day they are fried.
1. In a small saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high until it registers 275°F on a deep-fry thermometer. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until light golden brown, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
2. Increase the heat to high and place a fine-mesh sieve over a heatproof boil. When the oil registers 375°F on the deep-fry thermometer, add the fried shallots and cook just until they are crispy and well-browned, about 5 seconds, watching carefully so the shallots don't burn.
3. Pour the oil and shallots through the sieve to immediately stop the cooking, then transfer to shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve the oil for another use. The shallots will keep, stored in an airtight container, for 1 day, but they're best the day they are made.
Reprinted from the book Vietnamese Home Cooking by Charles Phan. Copyright © 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
Chef Sean Brock, author of Heritage, grew up in a town where seed saving was a way of life. "You just saved these seeds not because you were poor, but because you really loved the flavor of a particular tomato or a particular bean," he says.