3 Dec

Every Great Dish Starts with Humble Beginnings

They are called “humble beginnings” for a reason. The foundation of so many of the world’s greatest dishes is merely a group of un-fancy vegetables that disappear, practically or literally, once they have formed their park.

Saffron and seafood might be the stars in paella, but what’s flavoring all that creamy rice? It starts with something called sofrito, the Spanish mixture of onions, garlic and tomatoes gently sautéed in a slick of olive oil. As difficult as it is to see in the finished product, you’d definitely miss it more than those clams if it were taken away.

From France’s mirepoix (onion, carrot, celery) to the famous Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking (onion, celery, green bell pepper), almost every cuisine in the world starts with a common, simple, balanced vegetable base.


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At the most basic level, they begin recipes- from soups to roasts- and lend flavor. They also come from a category of vegetables and herbs called aromatics. In the Western world, these might include garlic, onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, thyme, parsley and peppercorns. While in Asia you might find green onions, ginger, garlic, and warm spices. Finally, they’re almost always sautéed to gently tease out flavors that permeate the rest of the dish. Spanish sofrito and its Italian counterpart, soffritto, literally mean to stir-fry.

Every dish starts somewhere. Here are some distinctive groups of aromatics in Western cuisine that are sure to evoke the flavor of certain parts of the globe.

The mirepoix of French cooking is the trio of aromatics you’ll hear about most. This traditional blend of onion, carrots and celery is most often used in proportion to one another, but even the rigorous structure of French culinary culture wavers a bit. For example, beef bourguignon is made with carrots, onions, garlic and thyme – no celery needed.

Mirepoix vegetables are often finely chopped and sautéed, but they can just as easily be used whole or roughly chopped in slow-simmered stocks or braises. When chopping, it helps to be particular about the uniform tiny dice of mirepoix, ensuring event cooking.

Italian Battuto – as the Italian version of this flavor base is called before it is cooked and becomes a soffritto- is cousin of France’s mirepoix. It starts with the same foundation of onions, carrots, and celery. At times parsley leaves, garlic, fennel, or finely diced cured meats like pancetta or prosciutto scraps can find their way into the mix.

Cajun and creole cookery, the French-derived cuisine, is the famous foundation of the best eating in New Orleans. You don’t find as many regional variations within the Holy Trinity; this aromatic groups doesn’t change much. The official trio is onion, celery, and green bell pepper. Often a roux is bult right on top of these sweet and colorful aromatics to form the base of the most famous Cajun and creole dishes such as gumbo.

All great dishes start with a simply great begin, even many of the dishes we prepare in our own Kahn’s Catering kitchens. From sauces to soups to main entrees, we always come back to our humble beginnings for truly tasteful cuisine.

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