If you are looking for depth of flavor for your soups, stews and sauces (and just about everything), start with a blend of carrots, celery, and onions. This mixture is known as Mirepoix in France and Soffrito in Italy.
These simple veggies, when diced and cooked together slowly, enhance the flavor of any meal to a degree greater than the sum of their parts. As part of my weekly meal prep, I combine these raw diced veggies into a sealed glass container to be used throughout the week as a base for soups, stews and sauces. Efficiency reigns in my kitchen, so bulk chopping any veggies we use often saves time.
What is Mirepoix
Mirepoix is a mix of finely diced vegetables, cooked in butter or oil, slowly at low heat to soften and allow the flavors to meld together. The cooking method, called “sweating,” coaxes out the natural sweetness and aroma. The key is to cook low and slow, avoiding caramelization of higher heat cooking. These three vegetables are also the main ingredients for vegetable stock.
Mirepoix is a French term, named after Duke de Mirepoix in the 18th century. The story is told that the Duke’s chef discovered this blend of flavors and cooked with it frequently.
Mirepoix vs. Soffrito
Whereas mirepoix has a history in French cooking, Soffrito is the base of many Italian dishes, especially in Tuscany. It is exactly the same as mirepoix, just with a different name. The ratio of onion: celery: carrot in both mirepoix and soffrito is 2 parts onion :1 part carrots :1 part celery.
How to Make Mirepoix / Soffrito
The guidelines of French cuisine dictate that the ideal ratio would be 2:1:1 of onion, carrots, and celery. This means 2 parts onions, 1 part carrots, and 1 part celery.
- Start by cleaning the vegetables. Scrub and rinse the carrots and celery. I prefer not to peel the carrots if they are organic so removing any dirt particles is essential.
- Chop the vegetables. For many recipes when you want the veggies to disappear in the dish, a small dice, approximately 1/4 inch, is ideal. For soups and stews, a medium dice of about 1/2 inch works well.
- Heat the skillet. Heat the butter or olive oil in a skillet or dutch oven over medium-low heat.
- Cook the vegetables. Add the chopped veggies to the heated skillet. Cool low and slow. While cooking, stir occasionally to allow veggies to soften but not caramelize or brown.
- That’s it! Now you are ready to add this aromatic, flavorful base to any recipe.
A key to maximize flavor and texture is to finely dice the vegetables or use a box grater. This works well if the goal is depth of flavor while allowing the vegetable to “disappear” into the dish.
If preparing a large batch (for freezing), a food processor saves time… as well as many tears if you are sensitive to onions like me! Roughly chop the vegetables and add them to a large food processor then pulse until the vegetables are finely minced but not so long that they become a paste.
The size of diced vegetable may vary depending on the dish they are going into or your personal preference. If making vegetable soup or chicken noodle soup, you may prefer a larger size. When making a spaghetti sauce or chili, a finer dice may be preferable so they mostly disappear but still infuse optimal flavor.
How to Cook with Mirepoix
The blend of onion, carrots and celery is the foundation of many of the world’s most famous dishes. Cooking with mirepoix is simple. After heating a splash of olive oil or butter in the pan, add the veggies and stir occasionally to evenly coat with oil and cook. Next, add your protein (if choosing meat, cook it first) and any other vegetables/grains. The additions become the stars of the show, as the humble starter veggies tend to disappear amongst the finished dish.
How to Freeze Mirepoix
Two options have worked well for freezing mirepoix for later use:
- Place diced and pre-measured raw carrots, celery and onion in a ziploc bag or storage container in freezer.
- Fill silicone molds with diced, pre-combined mixture and press well to remove as much air as possible. Freeze for 24 hours, then remove mirepoix blocks from the molds and transfer to freezer bags.
Onions and celery do not freeze/thaw well. Once thawed they are mushy and lose texture. For best results, use thawed mirepoix in blended soups or very finely diced in stews/sauces where they are there only to promote flavor.
Note that typically exact measurements are not necessary for most soups, stews, and batches of spaghetti sauce or chili, etc. A 4 ounce silicone mold measures approximately 1/2 cup of veggie mixture.
Mirepoix / Soffrito molds last up to 6 months in the freezer.
How to Use Mirepoix for Vegetable Stock
The powerful combination of carrots, celery and onion is the foundation of vegetable stock. Instead of infusing the water with onions, carrots, and celery to make the stock, they are sauteed first to maximize flavor. Simply toss the diced trio in a pot with olive oil and saute on low heat until softened for a more concentrated stock flavor.
To enhance flavor, add garlic, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaves, and/or parsely to the pot. Then add water and sea salt and simmer for 30 minutes.
- saute pan
- 2 cups onion (chopped or finely diced)
- 1 cup celery (chopped or finely diced)
- 1 cup carrots (chopped or finely diced)
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Prepare Vegetables. Trim the root ends and tips from the vegetables. Rinse and scrub the carrots and celery then dry well. If desired, peel carrots before chopping.
- Chop Raw Vegetables. The size of chopped veggies depends on the recipe being prepared. As a general guideline, minced = 1/8 inch pieces, diced = 1/4 inch, and chopped = 3/4 inch chunks.
- Pre-heat skillet or heavy bottomed stock pot/dutch oven over medium-low heat and add olive oil (or butter).
- Cook Vegetables. Add the onion, carrots and celery, mixing well to coat with olive oil. Cook, stirring often for 10-15 minutes or until softened. Be sure to adjust heat to prevent browning. Low and slow is key!
- Use in your favorite recipe or freeze for future use.