A quick trip to Grand Mesa earlier this month confirmed what I had suspected. Fall is here. Fall is in the air and my cravings for fall fare are valid. Fall is no doubt my favorite season and I do wish it could last forever, however, maybe its uniqueness would fade if it did.
I love the crisp fall mornings and sunny afternoons, and look forward to the cravings of comfort foods. I eagerly anticipate the harvest that fall delivers. Fall food takes on a little more depth and warmth that is typically avoided in our cooking during the summer months. I want the aromas of soups, stews and braised dishes to fill my kitchen.
That being said, in order to bring it on, I need to keep my kitchen well-stocked. One ingredient (or I should say three) to keep stocked this time of year (or any time of year, really) is mirepoix. If mirepoix is within reach in my kitchen, so is a good meal.
You may not have ever heard of the French culinary term mirepoix (pronounced meer-pwah with your best French accent) but chances are you have used it yourself in the kitchen or have eaten something that has relied on its foundation. Mirepoix is one French term I can pronounce and my husband and kids (ages 8 and 13) have been well-schooled in because I am routinely prepping it for one meal or another.
Mirepoix is a simple culinary term that represents the use of a trio of vegetables; specifically, onions, carrots and celery. A simple term it is, however, simple it is not. The value of mirepoix in the culinary world cannot be overstated. My kitchen is rarely without these three main ingredients, which provides me relief in knowing I am able to quickly throw together a simple delicious soup, sauce, stew, pilaf and more.
Culinary speaking and in general, mirepoix is a combination of 50 percent onions, 25 percent carrots and 25 percent celery by weight. Or, in my case, by my best eyeballing. I don’t rely as much on the total weight as I do the ratio of the ingredients to one another. Mirepoix is an essential foundational component to stock, broth, soup, sauces, stews, and much more that rely on these three ingredients in creating depth of flavor and aromatics.
I do confess that up until I attended culinary school, I used this marvelous vegetable trio habitually, but never had considered its value to the final dish I was creating, and certainly did not know its culinary term. It was an “a-ha!” moment when I realized the importance of this vegetable trio and the magic they produce when cooked together.
Onions, carrots and celery sautéed, simmered or braised together in a dish produces such a flavorful foundation that it has been used as the base for countless recipes. In fact, mirepoix is believed to have been discovered by a private chef in the 18th century but really began to appear in documented recipes in the early 19th century by famous French chefs Marie-Antonin Carême and Auguste Escoffier. It is the foundation for most stocks and countless sauces that to this day are still commonly prepared.
Whether you are interested in the history or the discovery of this foundational culinary trio is not as important as your familiarity with its many uses in cooking today.
Want to make soup? Want to whip up some sauce or gravy (depending on your geographical location)? Craving stew or a simple braised dish? Want to turn your plain rice dish into a fragrant pilaf? If you have mirepoix, you are halfway there.
Simply sautéing the ratio of 50 percent onions, 25 percent carrots and 25 percent celery in a pot with some butter, oil or a combination of the two gives you the solid groundwork of a dish that will impress. For most of my impromptu creations I use one yellow onion, two carrots and two stalks of celery. For smaller dishes, use less quantities; for larger recipes, use more.
Once the mirepoix has sautéed and softened, simply add some water or stock (I prefer chicken or vegetable stock) and whatever vegetables, meats, beans, grains, herbs spices or any combination thereof, simmer or braise until desired doneness, and you have got yourself a hearty, satisfying meal. The mirepoix will not be the star of the dish, but I can promise you that it would not be the same without it.
When cooking with mirepoix, think ahead as to what you are going to make and its cooking time. If you are simply making vegetable or chicken stock, no need to worry about peeling and being exact with your knife skills. Simply chunk up the vegetables and place them in a pot. Aesthetics are irrelevant when just looking to extract flavor. Simmer until you have reached your desired result and strain the mirepoix out.
However, when making a soup, a stew, a braised dish, a sauce or a pilaf, take into consideration the total cooking time. The shorter amount of cooking time will dictate how large or small to chop your mirepoix. If I am throwing together a quick weeknight soup and want to serve it in 30 minutes, I will be sure to chop my mirepoix rather small; brunoise even. (Brunoise is a knife cut that yields vegetables chopped into one-eighth-inch cubes, again in French pronounced “brewn wahz”).
Mirepoix chopped finely is also best for quick dishes like a simple rice pilaf. Chop the mirepoix finely, sauté in butter or oil, add your rice and sauté for a few minutes. Add in your cooking liquid. Cook for the rice for the recommended cooking time and you have just taken your rice dish to a new level. This can be done with brown rice, quinoa, barley, farro or any other grain you desire. Chopping the mirepoix might take a few extra minutes, but it sure beats plain grains!
When building a stew or braising meat, that will require a lengthy cooking time, 2-4 hours. Then be sure to chop your mirepoix larger so that it retains its shape during the lengthy cooking time. Regardless of the cooking time required, always chop your vegetables roughly the same size to ensure even cooking.
Since the use of mirepoix is really just a starting point on a road map with endless pathways, consider adding fresh garlic, tomato paste, or spices to add flavor to your home cooked meals. Fall is all about comfort food, warming our bodies and preparing for winter. Stock the kitchen with onions, carrots and celery and get ready to simmer.