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The simple trinity of ordinary vegetables, commonly called mirepoix, forms the foundation of a myriad of dishes. You’ve probably made it a thousand times without even knowing it. It’s one of the essentials of classical French cooking, but equally important in all cooking.
Sweat some onions, carrots and celery in butter or olive oil, and you have the basis of sauces, soups, risottos and braises. When cut into larger cubes, they can be used in stocks or stews; cut more finely, they add flavor to roasts and soups; diced and added at the end when braising, they form their own garnish. Sometimes we even add them twice, first as a foundation and then later to help refresh the flavors.
Light or dark in character
Vegetable stock is commonly used as a background with mirepoix, helping to balance the flavor of the meat. The mirepoix can either be either light or dark in character, depending on its use.
A light mirepoix usually consists of chopped celery, onion and the white parts of leeks. It should be cooked slowly in butter, so as not to create color. Shallots are sometimes added. Use this for making white stocks and sauces or anything with delicate flavors.
A dark mirepoix consists of chopped celery, onion (both the white and light green parts of leeks) and carrots. On occasion, garlic, tomato and/or sweet or hot peppers are even used. This combination is associated with brown stocks and sauces for more robust flavors.
Use this roasted combination of vegetables for a flavoring for rice, meats, soups, etc.
1/4 lb. bacon, chopped
2 large sweet onions, chopped
2 large red bell peppers, diced
2 large green bell peppers, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 small jalapeno pepper, finely diced (optional)
2 whole cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. hot sauce
1 Tbsp. butter
In a large skillet, add the chopped bacon and render for about 10 minutes over very low heat. Add butter and then vegetables and sauté until they no longer are steaming and begin to take on color. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer for 30 minutes or until vegetables are roasted, being careful not to burn. Add more butter if required. Add hot sauce, if desired.
Chicken Rice Soup with Mirepoix
This is an easy recipe using leftover cooked rice from your last Chinese dinner and leftover chicken from that last meal when you made way too much. Vary the amounts of chicken and rice to your taste.
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup cooked white rice
1 cup cooked chicken, finely chopped
3/4 cup finely diced fresh onion, carrots and celery
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Makes 4-6 servings.
Braised Chicken Breasts
A mirepoix ragout is served over halved baked potatoes and braised chicken. This sauce can also be served over pasta noodles.
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 cups onions, diced
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrots, diced
2 Tbsps. chopped garlic
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. dried thyme
1 cup dry white wine
8 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
Season chicken with salt and pepper; dredge in flour until completely coated. Heat two tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven and fry breasts until lightly browned, about five minutes on each side. Remove chicken from pan and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and sauté onions for two minutes. Stir in celery and carrots and cook about one more minute. Season with garlic, bay leaves and thyme; salt and pepper to taste. Cook for another minute.
Deglaze the pot by adding white wine to mixture; add chicken broth. Simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Return chicken breasts to the pan and simmer an additional 30 minutes. The mixture should have reduced considerably by this time. Check frequently to see that the chicken is covered with sauce; spoon-baste if necessary.
The ragout should have a stew-like consistency when finished. Serve over some half-baked potatoes or noodles. Makes 6 servings
Collard Greens, Ham and Mirepoix
This is a robust, flavorful meal that will have you coming back for more.
6 lbs. collard greens
3 Tbsps. canola oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1 small fresh hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbsp. finely chopped garlic
3 lbs. meaty ham hocks or shanks
3 bay leaves
1-1/2 cups cold water
2 Tbsps. fresh thyme
1-1/2 Tbsps. fresh oregano
2 tsps. Creole seasoning
Hot pepper sauce, to taste
Pull the coarse stems from the collards and wash the leaves well in several changes of cold water. Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven. Add mirepoix and meat and sauté the vegetables until the onions are translucent.
Tear the collard greens into bite-sized pieces and add to the pan. Stir to coat greens with the vegetable mixture; add seasonings and water. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over low heat for about an hour (depending upon how tender your greens are).
Allow the greens to sit in their liquor while you remove the hocks and cut them into bite-sized pieces. (If there is a lot of liquor in the pan, you may want to reduce it by one-half.) Be sure to discard all the bone, skin and gristle. Stir the meat back into the pot. Serve hot. Makes 6 servings.
Norm Harding is a cooking columnist for the Beacon. To send him recipes, e-mail him at email@example.com.