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The myth of mirepoix


JAZ
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So I know that mirepoix -- the mix of onion, celery and carrots typical in French cooking -- is supposed to be the backbone or starting point of stocks, broths, soups and sauces. Having learned much of my cooking from traditional texts like Mastering the Art of French Cooking, I absorbed that lesson. For years I made my stock with the trio and then used that for soups and sauces.

Then I started making my stock without anything but meat and bones and decided it made for a much better result -- if I want the taste of vegetables I add them later. I gradually stopped automatically using mirepoix and found that in most cases, it made an improvement in my cooking.

I was reminded of this recently when I made tomato soup using a recipe I found that called for the usual mix of onion, carrot and celery. I figured I'd give it a try again, but sure enough, it wasn't great. Not only was the tomato flavor severely muted, but since the soup was only partially blended, it also left little bits of carrot and celery in the soup, which were offputting.

I'm glad I gave it a try, because now I know I was right. No more mirepoix for me (at least not automatic mirepoix). Am I the only one?

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Myth might be too strong of a word, because if something has been around good food for centuries, then there is a fact basis behind it. The onions and carrots give it sweetness, and that is important to balance acids, etc. However, that being said, the only one of the three I add to my stocks -- onions. To my taste buds, a stock made without onions is not as good as one made with them. The onion peels add great color, too. Also, I still add peppercorns, bay leaves and thyme. I don't know if that is important elsewhere, but it enhances the flavors of what I cook, and even though I add them later, adding them early on in the stock-making process produces a layering effect that does enhance the flavor of the final dish.

Carrots? I may or may not add these, usually not -- but if I have some lying around that need to be used, then okay. Celery? It never hits my stock pot :)

Edited for typo!

Edited by PopsicleToze (log)
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I make stock, and teach stock making with single items. I think it gives a cleaner, purer flavor. Also, in a restaurant/catering setting it gives real control over allergens in foods.

I agree wholeheartedly about the tomato soup. My recipe calls for a little olive oil to saute in, red onion, basil, tomatoes, and salt.

I do occasionally make a mixed vegetable stock (at home I toss scraps into a bag in the freezer until I have a pound or so of them) but that winds up being used in soups where there isn't another main flavor item to the broth, like say a vegan noodle soup or vegan pho.

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Celery? It never hits my stock pot :)

Just a note on celery, which has long been an ingredient in mirepoix. It may be that the celery commonly available in the US now is not what was used 100 yrs. ago. Look up Kalamazoo celery, and note that the celery grown there was paler, and blanched during cultivation, producing a much less bitter celery than the now common Pascal.

My summer experiment is to grow a row of old fashioned blanched celery, and find out if it is indeed more delectable than the current standard.

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I believe French mirepoix generally delivers. For me, making stock is more about extracting value from stuff on hand as opposed to arriving at some Classic destination. Stocks in my freezer are purely a product of meat, bones and water.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I agree with you on preferring stock without mirepoix, but disagree on tomato soup... I prefer tomato soup with at least some carrot in there for sweetness, (but generally with onion and celery too) to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes...

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The Europeans do not use stalk celery--the way we know it--but rather celery root: A big round thing,1-2 lbs, pale yellow/whie skin with a creamy white interior. (the flesh oxidizes very quickly) It has a celery flavour, but is different, not as assertive and melds in the background very well.

Some of the more "classic" mirepoix include ham, with some very old cookbooks asking to line the bottom of a pot with first with ham, then mirepoix, then the liquid.

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The Europeans do not use stalk celery--the way we know it--but rather celery root: A big round thing,1-2 lbs, pale yellow/whie skin with a creamy white interior. (the flesh oxidizes very quickly) It has a celery flavour, but is different, not as assertive and melds in the background very well.

I think you mean celeriac and it is not that commonly used in stocks, celery is much more frequently found, but often not chopped but part of a bouguet garni.

Edited by ermintrude (log)

Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana.

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I seldom use mirepoix for my stock but often use onions.

As for celery, I don't use it all that often because I don't always have it on hand but I do grow lovage (it grows like a weed here) and use it as I like the flavor and I tie it in a bundle which is easy to retrieve from soup or stew.

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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The Europeans do not use stalk celery--the way we know it--but rather celery root: A big round thing,1-2 lbs, pale yellow/whie skin with a creamy white interior. (the flesh oxidizes very quickly) It has a celery flavour, but is different, not as assertive and melds in the background very well.

Er...don't think this is right at all. Celeraic is used for different purposes than celery.

In terms of mirepoix vs. no mirepoix, surely it is down to personal taste?

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In central Europe (Switz. Germany, France) there is no stalk celery. Celeriac is referred to as celery. During my 7 years in Switzerland I was taught in school (Kantonal Gewerbeschule, Stadt Luzern), and at the work place instructed to include celery root trimmings as mirepoix. It was roasted along with other root vegetables for veal stock, and the flesh was used for salads and for soups. The skin does include a lot of dirt trapped in the fine roots so it must be carefully washed.

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+1 for animal parts alone in my stock.

I only use a mirepoix in certain kinds or robust sauces (e.g. ragùs) where I actually want the substance of the vegetables, not just the flavour (which gets pretty dull if it's cooked for long).

In central Europe (Switz. Germany, France) there is no stalk celery. . . ..

At least these days, you can find celery in all these countries, and the Scandinavian ones, it isn't even a novelty (it may still be rare in small towns, but I'd be surprised). Maybe a recent thing?

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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Can't say that I've ever seen or heard of celeriac being used in a stock base.

Normal stock type (branche in French) celery is readily available here and can be bought by the stalk (branche. It is commonly used in a mirepoix to make stock of most kinds.

Celeriac on the other hand is used differently. Probably the most popular way is 'celeri rave'; julienned celeriac with mayonnaise & a hint of mustard. Its also delicious boiled in milk

with some onion & potato; drained & mashed with lots of butter added. See Patricia Wells for a great recipe.

I personally like my mirepoix based stocks,but see no reason why 'pure' stocks shouldn't be good as well.

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Can't say that I've ever seen or heard of celeriac being used in a stock base.

Based on Edward J's comments upthread, I wonder if it's a Swiss thing, because the other place I've seen it called for is in the Eleven Madison Park cookbook, and Daniel Humm is Swiss.

Celeriac on the other hand is used differently. Probably the most popular way is 'celeri rave'; julienned celeriac with mayonnaise & a hint of mustard.

This describes céleri rémoulade, doesn't it? Céleri rave is just the French term for celeriac.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

@mtkayahara

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In central Europe (Switz. Germany, France) there is no stalk celery. Celeriac is referred to as celery. During my 7 years in Switzerland I was taught in school (Kantonal Gewerbeschule, Stadt Luzern), and at the work place instructed to include celery root trimmings as mirepoix. It was roasted along with other root vegetables for veal stock, and the flesh was used for salads and for soups. The skin does include a lot of dirt trapped in the fine roots so it must be carefully washed.

A friend of mine lived in Norway in the 80s. She took a dish of celery to a family party --- no one would eat it because they'd never seen it before. Really surprised her.

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In any case, I usually add some kind of mirepoix in my stocks. Chicken stock just begs for leeks, in my opinion. Celery usually finds it's way in most of my stocks--I peel my celery stalks for soups and other dishes (you can floss your teeth with the tough outside fibers) so the peels and leaves go into the stock, same with the greens of leeks.

Not a big fan of carrot in most stocks, but will include it when roasting mirepoix for jus. Onions, or any family member of the onion family always goes into my stocks. Bayleaf and a bit of thyme always go in as well--it's second nature by now as I have fresh bay and many herbs growing in my backyard all year round.

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I'm glad I gave it a try, because now I know I was right. No more mirepoix for me (at least not automatic mirepoix). Am I the only one?

No. I found that when making chicken stock, the result is better (fresher and cleaner tasting, more chicken-like) without adding vegetables. After blanching the chicken, rinsing it, and cleaning the pot, I simmer it by itself until done (I always simmer, never bring the stock to a boil), and then, after the chicken is removed, I'll add the classic mirepoix trio, although often using leeks instead of regular onions (and perhaps other vegetables and herbs) and simmer for about another 30 minutes or so before doing the final straining. Works for me ... nice, clear,chicken flavored stock.

Edited by Shel_B (log)

 ... Shel


 

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Just a note on celery, which has long been an ingredient in mirepoix. It may be that the celery commonly available in the US now is not what was used 100 yrs. ago. Look up Kalamazoo celery, and note that the celery grown there was paler, and blanched during cultivation, producing a much less bitter celery than the now common Pascal.

My summer experiment is to grow a row of old fashioned blanched celery, and find out if it is indeed more delectable than the current standard.

Interesting information. Toots doesn't like the organic, farmers' market celery - finds it too strong and bitter. Instead, she prefers the packaged, organic celery at some local markets, like TJ's. She says it's not as strong and bitter tasting. And generally, she likes stronger, bitter flavers such as arugula, broccoli rabe.

 ... Shel


 

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Using celeriac in a stock sounds interesting. I would have thought it would make the stock cloudy with starch, like potato would, but apparently it's no more starchy than a carrot.

--

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