Mirepoix Stock Base

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Mirepoix is the basis for so many stocks and sauces that it really deserves a bit of discussion.

At its most basic it simply represents a collection of finely cut vegetables sautéed in oil or butter. Traditionally the three main components are onions, carrots and celery, but other flavourful vegetables such as bell peppers, asparagus, garlic, mushrooms or zucchini can be added or substituted. Another addition that I like to include is fresh chopped parsley or chives. Your choice of components comes down to an intuitive understanding of what will go best with the finished dish.

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I try and keep the proportions of cut vegetables fairly even (maybe a little heavier on the onion) and scale up or down as required. The example shown above involves a single small onion, a medium to large carrot, a stalk of celery and a good hank of flat leaf parsley. Unless used in a dish where the finished vegetables will actually be eaten whole, the chopping doesn’t have to be particularly precise–just small enough to saute easily and quickly. The only vegetable that needs to be cut finely is the carrot–mostly because it takes the longest to cook and soften.

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Melt the required amount of butter in a non-stick or regular heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat. If the recipe calls for caramelizing or browning the vegetables a regular pan is best, because it can take the heat required and works better for deglazing. Olive oil can be used if you are concerned about saturated fats in your diet, but nothing beats the flavour of butter (in my humble opinion).

Add the vegetables to the butter and saute to soften. The length of time required will vary with the amount of heat applied, the quantity of vegetables and even the size of pan used so I can’t offer a definite guideline, but I would plan on at least 20 minutes or so–longer if you plan on browning the vegetables. On that note I would recommend sauteing the vegetables until almost done before increasing the heat a little to brown. This will prevent the butter from browning before the vegetables have finished cooking and will reduce the amount of water in the mirepoix. You’ll just have to experiment a little and find what works best for you (standard operating procedure in my kitchen).

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Next comes the wine. What’s traditional french cooking without the wine? As I note on my condiment page, a simple unoaked sauvignon blanc is my cooking white wine of choice. It has lots of fruit flavour and for the most part low tannin and acid. If you’ve ever had cream curdle with the addition of wine, you’ll understand why a low acid wine is best. I also like the subdued flavour profile of sauvignon blanc because it doesn’t overpower a dish–cooking wine should be a supporting character and not the star of the show.

Add the wine to the now cooked mirepoix for a little softening, a little flavour and to deglaze the brownings if any. Add enough to moisten the vegetables, but not drown them if you will be eating the finished vegetables in a dish, add more if it will form the base for a stock. Saute the vegetables and wine at least until the alcohol in the wine has evaporated, but before it begins to lose flavour. If using for a stock, I like to add a little water or bullion at this point. Alternatively, when you go to strain the vegetables in the next step, hot water can be used to rinse the finished mirepoix and extract more flavour. You can “finish” the mirepoix at this point with the addition of fresh chopped herbs, salt, pepper, etc. if desired.

Straining the mirepoix into a heatproof container is the final step in producing your base stock. I’m fortunate enough to have a traditional metal cone-shaped sauce strainer (another thrift store find courtesy of my wife), but if you don’t, fear not–simply line a fine sieve with a cheesecloth slightly larger than the sieve, add the vegetables and when mostly drained gather up the edges to create a ball and (when cool enough) squeeze as much liquid from the ball as possible.

Your mirepoix based stock is now good to go. It can be used as is in any number of dishes or as the base for other more elaborate sauces. For use in some sauces where colour is important, using neutral coloured vegetables such as parsnips and white mushrooms in place of the carrot and parsley is suggested–but I personally don’t bother too much with such considerations.

One last thing. I hinted above that the resulting mirepoix can be eaten rather than used as a stock base. While I won’t provide a recipe here, at some point in late summer or early fall when the Pacific salmon start to run, I will post a recipe for saumon au papillote that uses the soften vegetables as a key ingredient.

Aaron

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Moules et Frites (Mussels and Fries)

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My wife and I have a special place reserved in our hearts for Moules et Frites–it was the first restaurant meal we shared at the long since closed Santo’s Bistro in Vancouver. For me they also bring back fond memories of my time as a student in Montreal, where cheap mussels were a staple at home and in the bars that lined Saint Laurent Boulevard.

We serve mussels on special occasions and this time it was for my wife’s birthday. Cooking mussels can be as simple as steaming them until they open and serving them with a little garlic butter, but we like to go the extra distance.

Menu

  • Mussels in Cream Sauce
  • French fries
  • Balsamic glazed snow peas
  • Sliced mango
  • Crusty baguette for dipping
  • Milk for the kids, Lillet and soda for the adults

Recipe: Mussels in Cream Sauce

  • 2 lbs Wild or cultured Mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
  • 4 tbs Butter, salted or unsalted
  • 1 c Mirepoix (finely diced onions, carrot, celery, peppers, parsley, etc.)
  • 1 c White wine
  • 1/4 c Red or orange bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 c Baby asparagus tips
  • 4 cloves Minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs Flat leafed parsley
  • 1/2 c Whipping cream (or to taste)
  • Fresh ground black pepper to finish

Method

  1. In a medium sauce pan melt 3 Tbs butter and saute the mirepoix to soften
  2. Add white wine and five mussels in the shell and bring to a high simmer
  3. Remove the mussel meat when the shells open and return the shells to the pan, reserving the meat
  4. Simmer the stock covered for a few minutes, uncover, add a cup of water and bring to a boil
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and strain into a heat proof bowl squeezing as much liquid as possible from the cooked mirepoix
  6. You should be left with approximately 1 1/2 c of stock, if not add a little water or wine to extend
  7. In a deep saucepan large enough to hold the finished dish, melt 1 Tbs of butter and lightly saute the garlic, and remaining vegetables for one to two minutes
  8. Add the stock and whipping cream to the pan, stir to combine and bring to a low boil
  9. Add the mussels and stir to combine
  10. Cover and cook until the mussels open
  11. Remove from heat immediately and add reserved parsley, mussel meat and pepper
  12. Transfer to a decorative bowl and serve hot

Notes: The cooking process essentially involves 2 steps: making a stock and cooking the mussels. If you wish to use a mild fish stock or a low sodium chicken stock you can skip to step six above, but you should add a half cup of sliced onions along with the peppers and asparagus tips before adding the stock and whipping cream. I’m a bit torn between using unsalted butter or salted butter in this dish. The result is naturally quite salty due to the liquid released from the shells when they open. If you prefer less salt then definitely use unsalted butter in the rest of the cooking process. The mirepoix is a thing of personal preference, but it almost always should include carrots and onions. Normally I would include celery, but I had none on hand.

Serves 4-6 depending on appetite.

Aaron

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Dinner on the patio

Sauce Romaine

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I made grilled Lamb chops last night and I wanted to try something a little different on the sauce front. I came across this Sauce Romaine recipe for wild game that I thought might fit the bill. The recipe is a bit obscure according to my research, but it looked to have good bones and be easily adapted to work with the ingredients at hand.

Sauce Romaine

  • 1 Tbs Sauce gastrique
  • 1 Tbs Dried currants
  • 1 Tbs Thompson raisins
  • Hot Water
  • 1 Tbs Toasted pine nuts
  • 1 c beef bullion
  • 1/4 c cold water
  • 1 tsp Arrowroot starch
  • 2 Tbs Salted butter
  • 1 Tbs Finely chopped parsley
  • 1 clove Garlic finely minced
  • 1 Tbs Spanish onion finely minced
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Prepare the sauce gastrique as below.
Plump the raisins and currants in hot water for 20 minutes.
Toast the pine nuts in a dry sauce pan being careful not to burn.
Prepare beef bullion and set aside.
Combine arrowroot starch and water and set aside.
In a large non-stick pan melt the butter over medium heat.
Add the garlic and onions and cook until softened.
Add the sauce gastrique, pine nuts and 3/4 c of the bullion.
Stir until combined reduce heat and simmer for five to ten minutes adding reserve bullion as necessary.
Add the currants and raisins and stir to combine.
Slowly add mixed starch and water to the pan a tablespoons at a time, waiting until the sauce begins to thicken to the desired consistency.
Finish with the finely chopped parsley and black pepper, and spoon over the cooked meat.

Sauce Gastrique:

  • 1/2 tsp butter
  • 1 Tbs White sugar
  • 1 to 2 Tbs White vinegar

Add butter and sugar to a small non stick sauce pan.
Heat over a medium high element until the the sugar melts and begins to caramelize.
Deglaze with vinegar and stir to combine to create a thin syrupy sauce.

Notes: The sauce gastrique was a little tricky to make and it took three tries to get it right. The trick was to caramelize the sugar and butter until lightly browned–too dark and it turned out bitter. You are looking for the consistency of light syrup so add enough vinegar to achieve that result.

The sauce romaine recipe originally calls for 1 and 1/4 cups of demi-glace, but that is something outside my repertoire and not GF in any event. The arrowroot starch and water plus the additional bullion fills in for the demi-glace although the volume of liquid is lower. I’ve started using arrowroot starch as a thickener for some sauces instead of the more common corn starch because it adds no flavour and results in a less glossy looking sauce. The bullion I use is a product called “Better than Bullion” and produces excellent results.

The consistency of the finished sauce should be similar to a thin syrup, so I’m deliberately vague as to the amount of additional bullion and arrowroot starch and water used. Adjust as required and don’t forget to stir the starch and water mixture before adding.

Adapted from Sauces: Classic and Contemporary Sauce Making, 3rd Edition, by James Peterson.

Aaron