Mirepoix: The Cornerstone of Cooking

By 10th April 2016Advice

Like any old art or craft, cooking has picked up a considerable number of traditions and “old ways” of doing things, from here to the far east and everywhere inbetween. These traditions are often revered by those in the profession, and oftentimes even those who simply cook casually will swear by them. Today, we’re looking at a cornerstone of European cooking with a multitude of variations; the Mirepoix.

Somewhat loosely defined, the Mirepoix is a rough cut of a variety of vegetables chopped and mixed together- traditionally, the cut includes Carrots, Celery, and Onion, with a ratio of one part Carrot and Celery and two part Onion. The cut is a traditional base for a multitude of sauces, stocks, soups and other dishes, and has no set means of preparation; it is roasted as often as it is sautéed, and sometimes is even eaten raw.

The history of the dish is difficult to place; the actual cut (and the base technique of a mixed vegetable cut itself) have almost certainly existed for centuries, but the term Mirepoix or it’s traditional vegetable mix are said to have only started appearing in texts around the 18th century. Like many culinary techniques and traditions that grew out of French cuisine, it is named for the cook who established the technique and stabilised it; the cook in this case was the impressively named Charles-Pierre-Gaston François de Lévis, duc de Lévis-Mirepoix, a member of the noble family of Lévis at the time (and a man described as a “incompetent and mediocre individual”, who’s only noteworthy contribution was lending his name to the vegetable cut). Even then, the term did not appear in texts frequently, and when it did, it was often very vaguely defined; Sauce à la Mirepoix, a recipe devised by Antoine Beauvilliers around 1814, calls for Onion, Carrot, and a Bouquet Garni (a bundle of herbs often tied together with string) garnished with a buttery, wine-based sauce.

Though the French Mirepoix cut is considered the typical representation of the tradition, a great many variants or similar concepts exist throughout the world. In part 2 of this article, we’ll be going over some of those variations.

The German Suppengrün variation has a number of variations based on region, but typically consists of a leek, carrot, a piece of Celeriac, and may sometimes contain Rutabaga, Thyme, and Parsley. As the use of hardier root vegetables and the meaning of the name Suppengrün (literally meaning “soup greens”), the resulting mixture makes for a strong flavour often used to contrast or match various meats in stocks or pot roasts. Depending on variation, the vegetables are sometimes discarded outright once the flavours have been drained from them.

Włoszczyzna, the Polish variation and who’s name means “Italian stuff”, is so named for it’s introduction to the country by the Italian wife of Sigismund I The Old, Queen Bona Sforza. Almost entirely boiled and used to flavour soups, it too exists in a number of variations that may call for Parsnip or Cabbage Leaf, but a the most typical variation calls for Carrots, Leek, Parsley Root and Celery Root.

The Italian version of the concept, named Soffritto, is one of the few with a specifically defined cooking method; the name is said to mean “under fried”, and traditional Soffritto will consist of freshly diced parsley and onion, lightly browned using Lard (although many modern chefs will often substitute Butter or Olive Oil for lard). This is not to be confused with the Spanish/Portuguese tradition of Sofrito, which consists of Garlic, Onion, Paprika, Tomatoes, and Peppers specifically sautéed or braised in olive oil.

The concept even expands outside of Europe, as the existence of the Holy Trinity confirms. Though the term has been used for any number of three-vegetable combos, the most well known one is specific to the Cajun cuisine of the American state of Louisiana (and is thusly also known as The Holy Trinity of Cajun Cooking, to specify). The three ingredients making up this variation are Onions, Celery, and Green Bell Peppers, although occasionally dishes may call for the addition of Shallots or Garlic in addition to the core three ingredients.