it’s just carrots, celery, and onion, right?
yes. and in many ways, also no.
mirepoix (pronounced mir-pwä, in case you were wondering) is a french word commonly used to refer to a 2:1:1 ratio of minced onions, carrots, and celery (or celeriac).
but alas, everybody knowns culinary etymology is never that simple. we could go ahead and call it quits if mirepoix was an actual french word which, right from the start, meant “a combination of minced onion, carrots, and celery.” it wasn’t though. in fact, mirepoix wasn’t originally a culinary term at all. the aromatic veggies are named after a dude by the name of charles pierre gaston françoisde. he was a military commander, an ambassador to louis xv, and the duke of lévis-mirepoix (the region in which his family had lived since the 11th century). according to many accounts, he was not particularly good at any of these jobs.
as luck would have it, his chef was one of the first people to popularize the combination of minced onion, celery, and carrots as a base for sauces and soups. the chef, in an act of humility which no doubt he is still regretting in his grave, named the mixture after his supremely unremarkable lord and doomed himself to relative anonymity for the rest of eternity.
in short, before the word mirepoix came to refer to minced onions, carrots, and celery, it was the name of a mediocre rich guy and a region in languedoc, france.
confused yet? good, because here comes the best part.
because mirepoix is a term that has been in use since the 18th century, chefs have been name-dropping it to suit their culinary needs for over three hundred years. some recipes for mirepoix include minced ham or pork belly (which is referred to as a mirepoix au gras). matignon contains the exact same ingredients as mirepoix, only they are left uncooked and brought to the table as a palette cleanser/snack. some french chefs refer to minced onion, celery, and carrot as brunoise instead of mirepoix. some mirepoix recipes include wine. others specifically designate the inclusion of butter. some forgo celery altogether in lieu of a bouquette of aromatic herbs (such as herbes de provence or chopped fresh parsley).
which is to say nothing of the variations on mirepoix outside of france.
the spanish sofrito is a mixture of chopped tomatoes, garlic and onion simmered in olive oil. the portuguese also use a mixture of tomatoes, garlic, and onion, only they call it refogado. the costa rican olores is a mixture of chopped celery, onions, garlic, and bell peppers. italian soffritto is comprised of onions, garlic, and celery. and let’s not forget creole cuisine, whose mixture of onions, celery, and bell peppers is referred to simply as the “holy trinity.”
each and every one of these is, for all intents and purposes, a mirepoix of sorts.
so what are we to do with all of this information? in the end, what does the word mirepoix mean? does it even have a comprehensible/discernable meaning? in the face of so much vagueness, all a poor man can do is offer his humble opinion.
according to me, the word mirepoix has two simultaneous meanings. to anyone familiar with french cuisine, it is just carrots, celery, and onion. but in a more general sense, mirepoix is a word used to refer to any number of finely chopped aromatics which chefs around the world implement as a base for their cuisine. the fact the word mirepoix is french is nothing but coincidence. in china, it might include something like spring onions, ginger, and garlic. in thailand, it may be more along the lines of cilantro, lime, and hot chilis. in places like india, mirepoix might even take the form of a medley of a dozen toasted spices.
is your brain done exploding? good.
risotto de mirepoix au gras
- one small onion
- one carrot
- one stalk of celery
- four cloves of garlic
- six slices of bacon
- four shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup uncooked short-grain rice
- chicken stock
- 8 oz of tomato juice
- 1 tablespoon butter
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
- a pinch of fresh parsley
- 1 cup shredded cheese (i like mozzerella, but aged cheeses like asiago and parmesan are great)
- finely mince the garlic and onions. peel the carrot, then use the peeler to reduce the entire carrot to ribbons. stack the ribbons and roughly chop them. chop the celery stalk, but don’t mince it. the chunks will add a little bit of texture. roughly chop the bacon. remove the stems from the mushrooms and slice them thinly.
- put some olive oil in a frying pan and add the bacon. after a few minutes on high heat, add all the veggies except for the mushrooms, and set the heat to low. continue sauteeing until the onions are transluscent.
- add the dry rice and a enough chicken stock to cover. season with salt, pepper, thyme and parsley. start to stir the contents of the pan slowly.
- eventually, the rice will start to absorb the stock and the water level will fall. at this point, pour in the tomato juice, add the mushrooms, and resume your stirring. make sure to scoop from the bottom on occasion to make sure no rice is sticking/burning.
- continue to simmer the rice over low heat, giving it a taste to check for doneness on occasion. once most of the liquid is gone and the rice is cooked through, turn off the heat and slowly stir in the butter and cheese.
- serve with pork tenderloin or any other simply seasoned roast meat. congratulate yourself on a job well done between your mouthfuls of delicious, piping hot risotto.
note: i regularly make this recipe with leftover rice i have on hand. leftover rice doesn’t need to be cooked long at all. after step #2, add the cooked rice, enough chicken stock and tomato juice to soften the rice, and your seasonings. then, cook while stirring until everything is hot (making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan to free any clinging particles). once you add the cheese and butter, give the whole thing a stir and dig in.