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How We, NYT Cooking, Invented Those Smelly Beauties – Little Old Lady Comedy

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Good morning, NYT Cooking readers. It’s Monday, and I’m Sam Sifton, still cooking at home in these lazy, hazy days of quarantine. You might think shallots grow on trees. But here’s a revelation to start your week with: shallots actually grew out of the imagination of us, The New York Times Cooking Section, and we’re tired of not getting the rightful credit we deserve. 

Think about it. When was the first time you used a shallot? When was the first time you even saw it called for in a recipe? In a tomato sauce from your grandma, or a cooking class you took with your dad, you say? Wrong. You, loyal but unlearned readers, first saw a shallot in a recipe in The New York Times. 

Because there were no shallots before us. All shallot content is our intellectual property. If you saw a shallot in a recipe elsewhere, it was a damn knockoff.

“Sam, that’s bananas,” you may be saying aloud. And now I reply, “No, it’s not bananas. It’s shallots, you ignorant fool.” Incidentally, here’s a recipe for banana bread. 

How do I know so much about the Sacred Birth of Baby Shallot? Well, I was both witness to and participant in this momentous event.

Time travel with me to November 2012; long before the days of notorious shallot pastas, viral recipe videos, and the ubiquity of controversial Twitter wars. We weren’t even called “NYT Cooking” yet; we were just a ragtag team of “young, scrappy and hungry” highbrow food writers at The New York Times. Obama had just been re-elected; the “pandemic” meant “Swine ’09;” Pete Wells had just published his famously scathing review of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar; and all three of those events were universally considered equally historic.

Nostalgic yet? Read about Polish milk bars serving up nostalgia here.

Mark Bittman and I were prank calling JGV (that’s Jean Georges Vongerichten, for the uncultured suidae amongst you). We told him we were corrupt health inspectors and he had to ship us nine dozen “shallots” to a secret P.O. Box in Hell’s Kitchen or else we’d shut him down. Little did he know we’d made up the term “shallot” from the phrase “shall-it be known that we dominated JGV with the best prank EVER”, which we thought was hilarious after a night of downing Blueberry Maple Caiprissimo’s. The recipe for that delightful treat is here.

JGV, bewildered and confused, shipped us some tiny cut-up onions because he craved the catharsis of crying over what he was sure was the end of his business, and he no longer has the ability to cry without an onion prompting his tear ducts. When Mark and I received these minuscule onions the next day, we called Melissa Clark to ask what to do with them.

While recounting our saga, when we got to the “shall-it” part of our story, she cried, “Stop right there, you beautiful sons of bitches. Don’t you know what you’ve done? We can finally stop calling for half an onion in recipes. Now we can use a shallot. You gorgeous geniuses.” 

Melissa was right, as always. We are gorgeous geniuses! Gone are the days of having to plastic wrap half an onion and store it in the back of your refrigerator, only to forget about it until you discover cold onion juice leaking into your homemade sourdough, which you should’ve frozen anyway. Learn how to freeze just about everything from always-right goddess Melissa Clark.

That night, we called our buddies in the Science Section — LOL, just kidding, they’re not our buddies, they’re so weird. They were shocked to hear from us. We made a pizza for them — this one. But we could’ve made this one if we wanted to impress them, which we didn’t. They were so moved by the gesture that, using science, they concocted the perfect mini-onion for us on the spot — and the shallot was born. Speaking of NYT Science, here’s some crap those bastards wrote about space that I got bored halfway through reading and abandoned to go perfectly hard boil a single egg. Forgive me, science fans; it was delicious.  

We capped off 2012 with Mark casually introducing shallots to the world by frying them (the best way to prepare aromatics). As we’d hoped, everyone was too embarrassed to ask what a shallot was, so the world accepted that they were a “thing.” JGV, if you’re reading this, I apologize for our malfeasance. I’ve shipped you a case of shallots to chop; do have a good cry.

Shall-it be known: shallots were our invention, the OG NYTC, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a lying shit working for the Big Onion Lobby. 

You better believe I’ll be back on Wednesday, you gorgeous geniuses.

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