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A mirepoix (// meer-PWAH; French pronunciation: [miʁˈpwa]) is a mixture of chopped celery (either common pascal celery or celeriac), onions, and carrots. There are many variants, which may include just one of these ingredients, or include additional aromatics. Mirepoix, raw, roasted or sautéed with butter or olive oil, is the flavor base for a wide variety of dishes, such as stocks, soups, stews and sauces. The three ingredients are commonly referred to as aromatics.
Similar combinations of vegetables include: sofrito in Spanish (Spain), olores (onions, celery, garlic, and bell pepper) in Costa Rican Spanish, refogado (braised onions, garlic and tomato) in Portuguese, soffritto (onions, garlic and celery) in Italian, Suppengrün (soup greens) in German and soepgroente in the Netherlands (usually purchased in bundles and consisting of a leek, a carrot and piece of celeriac), holy trinity (onions, celery and bell peppers) in Cajun and Creole cooking, and włoszczyzna (which typically consists of carrots, parsley root, celery root, leek, flat-leaf parsley, and sometimes celery leaves or cabbage leaves) in Polish.
Though the cooking technique is probably older, the term mirepoix dates from the 18th century and derives, as do many other appellations in French cuisine, from the aristocratic employer of the cook credited with establishing and stabilizing it: in this case, Charles-Pierre-Gaston François de Lévis, duc de Lévis-Mirepoix (1699–1757), French field marshal and ambassador and a member of the noble family of Lévis, lords of Mirepoix in Languedoc since the 11th century. According to Pierre Larousse (quoted in the Oxford Companion to Food), the unfortunate Duke of Mirepoix was "an incompetent and mediocre individual. . . who owed his vast fortune to the affection Louis XV felt toward his wife and who had but one claim to fame: he gave his name to a sauce made of all kinds of meat and a variety of seasonings":
The term is not encountered regularly in French culinary texts until the 19th century, so it is difficult to know what a dish à la mirepoix was like in 18th-century France. Beauvilliers, for instance, in 1814, gives a short recipe for a Sauce à la Mirepoix which is a buttery, wine-laced stock garnished with an aromatic mixture of carrots, onions, and a bouquet garni. Carême, in the 1830s, gives a similar recipe, calling it simply Mire-poix; and, by the mid-19th century, Gouffé refers to a mirepoix as "a term in use for such a long time that I do not hesitate to use it here". His mirepoix is listed among essences and, indeed, is a meaty concoction (laced with two bottles of Madeira!), which, like all other essences, was used to enrich many a classic sauce. By the end of the 19th century, the mirepoix had taken on its modern meaning and Joseph Favre in his Dictionnaire universel de cuisine (c. 1895, reprinted 1978) uses the term to describe a mixture of ham, carrots, onions, and herbs used as an aromatic condiment when making sauces or braising meat.
According to the 1938 Larousse Gastronomique, a mirepoix may be prepared "au gras" (with meat) or "au maigre" ("lean"). Mirepoix au maigre is sometimes called a brunoise (though strictly speaking this term more accurately merely designates the technique of cutting into small dice with a knife). A mirepoix au gras contains diced ham or pork belly as an additional ingredient. Similar combinations, both in and out of the French culinary repertoire, may include leeks, parsnips, garlic, tomatoes, shallots, mushrooms, bell peppers, chilies, and ginger, according to the requirements of the regional cuisine or the instructions of the particular chef or recipe. The analogous soffritto (frequently containing parsley) is the basis for many traditional dishes in classic Italian cuisine, and the sofrito serves a similar purpose in Spanish cuisines. In Cajun and Creole cuisine, a mirepoix or (jocularly so-called) "holy trinity" is a combination of onions, celery and bell peppers.
Traditionally, the weight ratio for mirepoix is 2:1:1 of onions, celery, and carrots; the ratio for bones to mirepoix for stock is 10:1. When making a white stock, or fond blanc, parsnips are used instead of carrots to maintain the pale color.
The Italian version of mirepoix is called soffritto (not to be confused with the Spanish sofrito). According to the American reference work The Joy of Cooking, an Italian soffritto is made with olive oil, especially in Southern Italy, rather than butter, as in France or in Northern Italy, and may also contain garlic, shallot, leek, and herbs. From Tuscany in central Italy, restaurateur Benedetta Vitali writes that soffritto means "underfried", describing it as: "a preparation of lightly browned minced vegetables, not a dish by itself."
It is the foundation on which many Tuscan sauces, and other dishes are built. At one time it was called "false ragout", because soffritto was thought to vaguely recall the flavor of meat sauce.
According to Vitali, mastery of the soffritto is the key to an understanding of Tuscan cooking. Her classically restrained Tuscan soffritto is garlic-less and simply calls for a red onion, a carrot, and a stalk of celery—all finely minced by hand and slowly and carefully sauteed in virgin olive oil in a heavy pan until the mixture reaches a state of browning appropriate to its intended use.
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