Mirepoix - and What To Do With Thanksgiving Leftovers
From Alex's blog, Ombailamos:
"Mirepoix": what is it? (Say MEER-eh-pwah) It is one of the essentials of French cuisine, and I am not a French chef by any means but once I had been cooking seriously for about a year I realized I was making this and hadn't even known what it was.
I first "invented" it when I was making a series of meat pies. How very old world of me, but you know, there is really nothing like a hot turkey or pork pie when it's cold outside. Why else would "pot pie" be on the menu at so many comfort-food emporia?
The basic mirepoix is:
- diced onion, celery, and carrots, possibly with garlic
- cooked to softness (not to caramelization) in a couple of tablespoons of butter, with a bit of olive oil.
And that is all there is to it. Shockingly simple, no? The chefs on the Food Network will refer to onion, celery, and carrots as "aromatics." They all have distinct flavors and textures of their own (not to mention color and nutrients, closely associated in food), but in combination, these three seem to create the perfect flavor base for soups, chowders, savory pies, and any number of other preparations. They are also really good for you.
To turn your mirepoix into a meat pie (hey, Thanksgiving is coming up - there will be leftovers!), do this:
- Mirepoix - one onion, 6-8 stalks of celery, 6-8 carrots, diced; 6 cloves of garlic, sliced; 2 tbsp butter, dollop of olive oil: combine all in a large & broad saucepan (I use my trusty all-purpose paella/not paella pan a.k.a. giant risotto pan) and cook, covered, and stirring occasionally, till onions are translucent and carrots just past al dente.*
- Remove half the mixture to a storage container and let cool for a future use.
- Next: add one can of cream-of-something soup to the pan. Cream of celery, broccoli, asparagus, or mushroom - whatever you prefer. Add just enough milk to let the soup base and vegetables combine, but not to create a soup.
- Next: add 1.5 to 2 cups of cubed, cooked meat, mix in thoroughly and heat through.
- Now: turn off the heat and leave this while moving on to the next step.
- Preheat oven to 400 while filling mixture is cooling and refrigerated pie crust is warming - or while you make a double pie crust from scratch. Overachiever.
- Put the bottom crust in a deep-dish pie pan and fill it to almost-overflowing with the meat & veg mixture.
- Place the top crust over the filling, crimp the edges to seal, and make a few steam-escape vents in the crust.
- Place an oven liner on the rack and the filled pie pan on the liner, set timer for 20 minutes and walk away. When the timer goes, come back and cover the edges of the pie with foil or a silicone ring, set timer for another 20 minutes and walk away.
- Remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.
Notes: this is a high-nutrition but not a low-calorie preparation. You are not going to get a "health nut" pass for anything made with pie crust, whether you make it from scratch or cheat like I do.
Generally, if you are using "red" meat - bison, beef, pork, or sausage - a mushroomy base will intensify the flavor. If you are using poultry or fish as your meat, use one of the cream-of-vegetable soups.
Adding mushrooms to either preparation can only add value.
Seasonings: for poultry or fish, try adding white pepper, thyme, and paprika to the vegetables before the soup base goes in. For red meats, add black pepper, oregano, and possibly coriander.
And if your filling mix turns out very generous and you can't fit it all into one pie crust, it's perfectly okay to eat out of a bowl. Or over rice. Or over noodles. Or over sauteed cabbage. The last of which would be an extremely nutritious preparation. Or, of course, make two pies.
Finally, please note that you can use a fairly high heat underneath the mirepoix but only if you are paying attention and moving the veg around. If you let it sit still, you will get caramelization, closely followed by scorching. So if you can't give it your full attention, lower the heat.
*Al dente = Italian for "to the tooth," and in cooking this means you can still feel some resistance but you don't have to chomp. It's considered the optimal point for serving pasta and many folks like their rice this way too. It takes some practice but the easiest way to get used to it is to cook a few basic spaghetti noodles to 9 minutes, bite through a noodle a couple of times, then continue cooking to 11 minutes and bite again - you'll feel the difference.