Garnishes are indispensable ingredients that complement the symphony of flavors found in Vietnamese dishes. Fresh herbs, such as red perilla or basil, infuse our noodle soups, spring rolls and salads with a bouquet of flavors that scintillate our taste buds. More savory toppings like fried pork fat impart a crunchy succulence to dishes such as bánh bèo (steamed rice cakes) and cơm tấm bì (broken rice with shredded pork skin). Among the assortment of garnishes that dress our plates, I use fried shallots the most frequently in my kitchen. I always have a jar on hand to top dishes such as, gỏi gà (chicken cabbage salad), bánh cuốn (steamed rice flour rolls), rice porridges or soups. Given how quickly we go through the shallots, I usually make large batches. Though Mark Bittman recommends cutting the shallots with a mandoline, I prefer to use a sharp knife to slice them. They’re a pain to chop, but well worth the effort. You’ll not only have a heap of crispy shallots to munch on or to top your dishes, but also a jar of flavored oil for cooking.
Crispy Fried Shallots
300 ml oil
5-6 shallots, thinly sliced
Heat oil in a 1.7L saucepan over medium heat. To test if the oil is ready, touch the tip of a wooden chopstick to the bottom of the saucepan. If bubbles rise around the chopstick, then the oil is hot enough. Add the sliced shallots and gently stir so that they are evenly distributed and covered by the oil. Stir occasionally to ensure the shallots cook evenly, and allow to cook for about 15-20 minutes. Once the shallots brown, pour them into a mesh strainer over a receptacle, such as a pyrex glass measuring cup. After the oil has drained, transfer the shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to absorb any residual oil. The shallots will keep for a few weeks in an airtight container. Reserve the infused oil for cooking other dishes.