If you are not yet cooking with Mirepoix and Bouquet garni this winter we need to talk.
Winter time is when we begin to hanker after deep comfort foods; slow cooked casseroles that leave traces of their aroma all through the house and soups that can be mopped up by fresh warm breads. We want warm jerseys and fireplaces and blankets on the couch. We need food that does not disappoint; food that can dissipate the cold that sneaks into our very bones.
If there was a guaranteed way to take your home cooking to a new and rewarding level this winter, these two culinary basics are exactly it.
Mirepoix is a fancy French culinary term for a combination of carrots, onions and celery which are sautéed in butter and used as an aromatic base for sauces, soups and stews. Mirepoix, in really simple terms is the flavour foundation upon which you build your dish.
The standard mirepoix recipe relies on the ratio of two parts onion to one part each of celery and carrot, although I am never that particular.
You select your mirepoix ingredients depending on the dish which you preparing. For meat dishes for instance, you could add bacon or even some tomato paste to your basic mirepoix recipe which would deepen both the colour and the meaty flavour. For “white” dishes such as potato soup or creamy chicken dishes, you could replace the carrot with leek and exclude the bacon and tomato to keep the colour of your dish pure. (I actually always add leeks, regardless of the dish to my basic mirepoix recipe too.)
The premise behind using mirepoix in your recipe however remains the same; build layer upon layer of flavours in a dish so as to intensify the overall flavour and thus enjoyment of the final result.
There is nothing tricky about chopping up vegetables, but as a rule, chop all the ingredients into even sized pieces so that they cook evenly. In the case of a soup which you will puree, or a sauce which you will strain, a coarse even chop is perfectly adequate. In the case of a stew or casserole dish, it is the more aesthetic choice to chop your vegetables as neatly and evenly as possible knowing they will be on show in the serving. As to the size, let the cooking time be your guide; the shorter the cooking duration, the finer the chop.
A recipe which builds on a mirepoix foundation will ask you to sweat the vegetables in butter over a low heat. The reason for this is simple. You want to extract as much flavour out of the vegetables as possible, and a slower even cooking time will allow the vegetables to render their full character (juices) to the dish.
Bouquet garni, also French, is another weapon in the flavour arsenal. Bouquet garni is a selction of aromatic herbs which are used to add extra flavour. In professional kitchens, these fresh herbs are generally tied together in a small bundle or in muslin cloth, often attached to the handle of the saucepan so that they can be easily removed at the end of cooking. But it is 2015 and you can buy little premade dried bouquets in the grocery store. Alternatively, if you prefer fresh, use a little string to tie together your herbs.
The Larousse Gastronomique lists the Bouquet garni ingredients as parsley, thyme and bay leaf. There is largely the acknowledgement however, that the bouquet varies according to region. Your take away – add some herbs.
Now, consider this. Without the Mirepoix and the Bouquet garni, this Easy Pumpkin Soup would basically be boiled and watered down pumpkin puree; not unlike unseasoned baby food. And for the record, nobody wants to eat that no matter how good the basil pesto and cheese crouton you serve it with.
Are you ready to give it a go? Make some adjustments to you favourite dishes by introducing mirepoix and bouquet garni. I would love to know how they turn out.
Winter has brought with it a fresh wave of inspiration, and I have many things on my list to cook and bake this season. I have been pinning many winter favourites to all of my boards. I would love you to follow me on Pinterest here. Please do remember to say hi so that I can see all the lovely stuff you are pinning too.
- 1 large brown onion
- 2 stick celery
- 2 carrots
- 1 leek
- 45 ml (3 T) butter
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 700g peeled and chopped pumpkin
- 500 ml (2 C) prepared chicken stock
- 1 Bouquet garni
- 250 ml (1 C) cream
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Peel, wash and chop the brown onion, celery, carrots and leek into even sized pieces.
- In a large saucepan heat the butter. Add the onion, celery, carrots and leeks.
- Sweat the vegetables over low heat for 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the vegetables aromatic.
- Add the garlic and fry for a few minutes more.
- Add the pumpkin and toss to coat.
- Add the chicken stock and the Bouquet garni.
- Bring the soup to the boil and then reduce to a medium heat and simmer until pumpkin is tender.
- Puree using a processor or stick blender.
- Use enough of the cream, thinning to the desired consistency.
- Season to taste with the salt and pepper.