The culinary world has no shortage of jargon, and occasionally it feels like an entirely different language. While I enjoy picking up a bit of French or Javanese, learning the meaning behind the name of a recipe or technique can improve your cooking. By improve, I also mean improvise. When you learn some of the basics from around the world, you can build your own meals according to your own preference and needs. Odds are good that you’ve already been making this particular popular base and didn’t know it even had a name. Well, it does. And it’s name is mirepoix.
Mirepoix is the popular French term for an aromatic mixture of onion, carrots, and celery lightly cooked in butter or oil. That’s it. (When I said basic, I meant it.) But what a base it is. These three vegetables can be underestimated and overlooked. It’s easy to take them for granted because they’re often readily available, cheap, and we see them in everything, from canned soups to pot pies. That, in itself, is the lightbulb moment. Mirepoix is in everything. It’s a fantastic combination of humble, powerful ingredients with versatile flavour and aroma. It’s how you build a base of flavour, or a literal base of ingredients, for a host of sauces, stews, and stocks.
Making a classic mirepoix is a straightforward procedure. You’ll need onions (any onions, red, yellow, or shallots are all fine), carrots, and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio, respectively. The most accurate way to do this is by weight, but part of the beauty of cooking is being flexible, so everything will be fine if you eyeball-it. For example, if you have two cups of chopped onions then you’ll need one cup of chopped carrots and one cup of chopped celery. Peel and prep the onions and carrots to be cut. (Celery doesn’t need to be peeled, but you can de-string it.) Chop the three ingredients and add them to a pot with some butter or oil, enough to lightly coat the ingredients. Cook over a low to medium-low heat until the ingredients soften. They’ll release their aromas, some sugars, and water. The ingredients, traditionally, aren’t browned, so you’ll want to have the next steps of the meal ready to go before that happens.
You could cut the ingredients with a rough chop, or a fine mince for quicker cooking. I typically leave the mirepoix in my recipes because I’m usually making a soup or stew, and it works, but if you were simply flavoring a broth, you could cut the trio into larger pieces and strain them out at the end. Regardless of the size, be sure to cut everything the same size so they cook at the same rate.
The aroma is the first thing that’ll hit you as the ingredients cook; it’s sweet, sharp, warming, and a nice complement to any savoury dish. Although the following recipe uses the classic ratio I mentioned above, you can adjust it however you like. Do equal parts, or use extra celery to dial up the earthy-notes. Remember, mirepoix is a base, so explore adding in other ingredients. Use it as a starting point to build flavorful, well-rounded meals.
- 1 cup chopped white onion
- ½ cup chopped carrots
- ½ cup chopped celery
- 1 tablespoon butter
In a medium pot over medium-low heat, melt the butter. Add the chopped onion, carrots, and celery. Stir to coat the vegetables in butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft and the celery and onions are translucent.
At this point you could build this into a soup, stew, chilli, or sauce. For soups, stews, and chillis, add any protein into the aromatics to build more flavour, followed by any remaining veggies, like chopped potatoes or beans, then the broth or stock. If you’re making a sauce, use the existing butter, or add more if needed, and add flour to start a roux. The mirepoix will make the roux chunky but the veggies will loosen up into the sauce once you whisk in the liquid ingredient. Don’t be afraid to get weird with it either; there are very few savoury dishes that won’t benefit from this classic French base.
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