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Scallions: More Than a Garnish

These little green onions can be a side dish on their own or a starring ingredient in soups and stir-fries.

Fine Cooking Issue 87
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Pork Lo Mein with Seared Scallions & Shiitakes

Full disclosure: I’m not on any scallion board, nor have I ever received an all-expense-paid trip to some sunny scallion paradise. I just happen to love all things scallion. Almost every time I go to the market, no matter what I’m making for dinner, I’ll pick up a bunch or two. For one thing, they’re cheap and always seem to be in good shape, regardless of the season. But best of all, I love their sweet, mild flavor and their amazing versatility. Sure, you can sprinkle thin scallion slices on soups, salads, or pastas just before serving for an extra hit of flavor and color, but there are so many more things you can do with these dainty green alliums.

You can slowly cook thinly sliced scallions alone or with other aromatics like onions and garlic to form a rich flavor base for all kinds of soups, stews, and braises. Or you can cut them into slightly bigger pieces (2 inches is perfect) and toss them over high heat with meat and other vegetables for an Asian stir-fry or a quick pasta sauce. And who says you can’t serve whole scallions as a vegetable side dish? In fact, they’re delicious grilled, roasted, and even braised. Whether on the grill or in the oven, they take less than 10 minutes to cook and make a fine counterpoint to grilled steak, roasted or braised chicken, and seared or braised fish fillets. Whichever method you choose, you’ll see that scallions are so quick and easy to cook and so adaptable that you’ll soon find yourself joining me as a member of the unofficial fan club.

Scallion basics

  • Buying: Choose scallions with full white bulbs and firm green tops. Avoid scallions with soggy or browned green parts—they’re past their prime.
  • Trimming: Remove a couple of inches from the green tops, which often have a scraggly texture. Rinse scallions under cold running water and pull off any bruised or slimy green leaves. Cut off and discard the root end, or trim it if using whole scallions.
  • Storing: Wrap whole, trimmed scallions in a paper towel and put them in a zip-top bag in the refrigerator. They will keep for up to a week.

Grill, roast, or braise whole scallions as a side dish

Choose thick scallions that have more body if you plan to cook them whole.
More ideas: Serve grilled scallions with grilled chicken thighs rubbed with Mexican spices. Or roast scallions with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and serve alongside roasted chicken, roasted leg of lamb, or a pot roast. I also like to brown a bunch of trimmed scallions gently in a little butter before braising them in chicken broth and finishing them with grated Parmigiano, fresh thyme, and black pepper.

Cut into 2-inch pieces and stir-fry or sauté

For quick stir-frying and sautéing, you can use both white and green parts.
More ideas:  Make a simple pasta sauce by sautéing scallions and mixing them with cream, Parmigiano, and plenty of black pepper. Or try a vegetarian stir-fry with scallions, thinly sliced zucchini, Japanese eggplant, and mushrooms. I also sear strips of skirt steak with green peppers, scallions, and a splash of Worcestershire sauce and stuff it all into a bulky roll along with some Swiss cheese

Slice thinly and cook slowly as an aromatic flavor base

Use only the white and light-green parts, as the dark-green ends wilt and overcook when simmered for a long time.
More ideas: Use scallions instead of leeks to add depth and sweetness to a creamy potato soup. Or use scallions to start a braise of chicken thighs in a spicy Szechuan sauce or as a base for a simple Italian seafood stew with sausage, tomatoes, and clams.

White or green: What’s the difference?

Scallions’ dark-green ends have a delicate sharpness reminiscent of chives and a light, crisp texture, but they wilt and discolor when cooked too long. The white parts have an oniony punch, and because their texture is more substantial, they withstand longer cooking times. In general, scallions cook pretty quickly when sautéed, grilled, roasted, or even braised, so you can use both the white and green parts. But when cooking them for a longer time (as an aromatic base for soups or stews, for example) it’s best to use only the white and light-green parts.

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