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French Cooking's Simple Secrets Revealed: Mirepoix

Updated on June 30, 2011

3 Things Chefs Don't Want You To Know

Have you ever wondered how chefs make things taste so great at restaurants and parties? Have you tried to make the same thing at home just to have it lack umph? It seems so simple, and then it doesn't taste the same. There are a few easy things you can do to make your home cooked food just as tasty, more healthy and save time and money all at once!

I will show you how to make mirepoix, the classic French cooking base of onions, carrots and celery, time saving tips, ways to use it once you have it, and reveal the most secret chef's ingredient of all!

The real secret to great French cooking, or any great cooking for that matter, give or take a vegetable, is mirepoix (MEE-ruh-pwah). That is the vegetable trio of two parts onion to one part each carrots and celery. The three are chopped to the same size and thrown on meats, in soups, sauteed to make a caremelized sauce base, and even put in vegetables to ferment (a topic for another lens!).

Though chefs everywhere will act like the chopping of the mirepoix is a sacred art, the truth is it will usually cook down to be unrecognizable, or be blended later into a soup or sauce. Sometimes it is left as it is, and when that is the case, it's kind of nice to have bigger pieces. I have three big hacks to share with you.

Osso Bucco with White Wine Glazed Mirepoix
Osso Bucco with White Wine Glazed Mirepoix

The Nitty Gritty

Forget what the chefs make you think. The truth about most French cooking, in fact almost all traditional cooking from anywhere, is that the most commonly used flavor ingredients are also the least expensive. And most of it is farm food, food of the people.

Okay, now the three tricks.

Wait! One more thing! First I want you to feel confident you will use the mirepoix you make if you cook at all. Check any cook book and you'll find the three magic ingredients of onions, carrots and celery are in many of the savory recipes. If you are just starting to cook and all that chopping seems like a non-starter, the following tricks are to the rescue. I promise you'll use what you make if you ever hit the stove at all.

Bulk chopping to freeze for later use is the ultimate mirepoix solution. Think in terms of big, once a month prep. Start with at least one giant onion and measure it. Then cut enough carrots and celery for each to be half of the onion measure. While you're at it, prep some celery and carrots to snack on, and stick them in water in the fridge. They always disappear at our house.

Once you have the measure right, you can bag them separately or together in 1/2 to 1 cup servings for either onions or the full mirepoix, and 1/4 to 1/2 cup servings for the carrots and celery if you're doing them separately. I like to throw it all together so it's ready to go. I make extra onions to freeze separately on their own, sliced or chopped different ways for more onion-heavy recipes.

The second trick? Some people like to put their mirepoix in the food processor, or even blender so no one in the house can complain about texture. This works especially well with kids and other finicky eaters. They like the flavor, but object to one or more of the ingredients turning up in their bowl. Processing makes a more concentrated mixture, so you'll use less. Make bags of 1/4-1/2 cup of the blend. You can always use two if need be.

And trick number three is only for the folks with serious blenders like the BlendTec Blender and the VitaMix Blender. Put all of the chunked ingredients in and blend until almost pureed. There should still be flecks of color. Pour into ice cube makers (don't use them for anything but maybe salsa after this!), freeze, and then bag the cubes. Brilliant. Crazy easy. Delicious.

How To Use Mirepoix

You can drop it straight into soups and sauces, or sauté it first in some good quality extra virgin olive oil or organic (preferably pastured) butter. If you're using it for a stir fry, try unrefined, unroasted sesame oil. You'll notice so many recipes call for these three ingredients in some proportion or other you'll see your time in the kitchen reduced dramatically just for this one little trick.

Sometimes when you sauté slowly for long enough, this happens with roasting too, you get sticky bits caramelizing on the pan (I hope you're not using teflon coated!!!), especially if you're cooking with meat. Before I tell you what to do about this to make the best sauce ever, let me first say what I'm about to tell you is the biggest secret used by top chefs everywhere!

The old fashioned way to make the most of this delicious mess is to add wine or other alcohol to deglaze the pan. The alcohol cooks completely away, leaving only the flavor transformed by heat behind. Keep everything in the pot or pan (if it's a roast, go ahead and take it out) and add a cup of left over wine that matches the color of the meat, or the color of the end result you're looking for. Do not, even for a second, think you have to use drinking quality wine for this! Chefs don't! I keep cheap boxed or jug wine under the counter just for this purpose--just like they do. Sometimes I use vermouth, or sake, but mostly the wine does the job. Generic. Cheap. Delicious! I kid you not! You've possibly paid top dollar for this at a serious restaurant.

Let it get bubbly, and stir to loosen the yummy bits off of the bottom and sides of the pot or pan. Wait until you no longer smell the alcohol coming off, then stir a few more times to be sure, or even let it cook for a bit if it needs it. Reducing the liquid concentrates the flavor, which is lovely.

Before you taste it, remember to add salt. I like to use Himalayan pink salt, or Celtic grey salt. Your salt should have a color. Now is actually the time to be an ingredient snob! Make sure you've used a spatula to scrape all of the browned bits off of the bottom and stirred enough to integrate them into the sauce.

Voila! There you have it! Add fresh herbs, stir in something creamy if you like (or soy sauce if you were making east Asian). Check the seasoning and serve!

© Copyright 2011, Miranda B. Norris.

Helpful Stuff on Amazon

Here is everything you need to make mirepoix the fast way!

Blendtec Total Blender Classic, with FourSide Jar, Black
Blendtec Total Blender Classic, with FourSide Jar, Black

This is the blender I use. It makes everything from hot soup to smoothies, nut butters to ice cream. Mirepoix mix in seconds. Stores easily.

 
Vitamix 1300 TurboBlend 4500
Vitamix 1300 TurboBlend 4500

I have friends who opted for this competitor, and the blending is the same quality. The whole operation is a little taller, so less storage-friendly.

 

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