The French term, mirepoix (pronounced “meer pwah”) is a group of aromatics that are used to season and flavor sauces, stocks, soups, and other foods. Mirepoix is also referred to as the “Holy Trinity” by many chefs around the world and it consists of finely diced carrots, onions, and celery that are sautéed in butter.
Typically the ratio for a mirepoix is 2 parts onion to 1 part celery and 1 part carrot according to weight. (Example: 1 pound of mirepoix would be 8 oz of onion, 4 oz of celery, and 4 oz of carrot) Since a mirepoix does not have to be exact down to the last ounce it can also be measured by volume to make it easier for the home cook. (Example: 2 cups onions, 1 cup celery, 1 cup carrot)
To make a mirepoix, brown the onions and carrots together over medium heat until nice and brown, then add in the celery and cook until soft.
Deglazing is a cooking technique in which liquid (stock, wine, water, etc) is added to the bottom of a pan in order to dissolve and scrape up all of the residual browned bits of meat or vegetables that were just cooked. These browned bits are called “fond” and they are used to flavor sauces, soups, and gravies.
To deglaze a pan, simply remove the meat or vegetables and over high heat add about a cup of liquid to the pan. Clouds of steam will immediately appear, this steam will help to lift the browned bits or fond. To get every last bit up, scrape the bottom of the pan with a spatula while it’s still steaming. If there is some fond that is still stuck, add a little more liquid to the pan to help release it.
**Tip** – You can always deglaze a pan, even if a recipe doesn’t call for it. Scraping up the browned bits will add flavor to any dish that you’re making. Also, you can also use the deglazing technique to help clean a pan. Get your pan nice and hot, add in water, and then scrape the bottom to help clean off any leftover cooking residue.
A roux (pronounced ROO) is a French term for a mixture that is comprised of flour and fat, usually butter. A roux can be cooked to different stages depending on the color and flavor that is desired. A roux is typically used to thicken gravies, sauces, soups, and gumbo.
To make a roux, a 1:1 ratio of flour to fat is always used. First, heat the butter or oil over medium heat then evenly sprinkle the flour on top. Continually whisk the roux for 5-7 minutes, this will allow the raw taste of flour to cook out. At this point it is considered to be a “blonde roux” which is optimal for thickening purposes. If cooked past 7 minutes the roux will darken and develop a more nutty flavor but it will also lessen its thickening abilities. A dark roux is best for Cajun dishes such as Étouffée or gumbo.
All animal fat contains some amount of meat tissue and the only way to separate the two is through a process called, rendering. As the meat is cooked the fat will begin to melt and separate from the meat tissue. The pure fat is then strained and the what is left is crisp bits known as “cracklings“. When roasting poultry, such as a turkey, you would strain the pan drippings to capture the rendered fat.
In the case of bacon, when cooked it will render most, if not all, of its fat. The rendered bacon fat is a favorite cooking medium in kitchens. It can be used to make popcorn, sauté vegetables, scramble an egg, or even as a base to make a salad dressing. Rendered bacon fat, free of any solids or “cracklings“, will keep virtually forever in the fridge.
Dredging means to drag food through a dry ingredient such as cornmeal, flour, or breadcrumbs in order to fully coat the outside. Dredged food is generally deep-fried or baked as the coating helps to brown and crisp the outside of the food while retaining the moisture inside. Food can also be dredged in a plastic bag by adding the dry ingredients in and then shaking vigorously to coat. After dredging, food should be slightly shaken to remove any excess coating. Do not dredge food too far in advance of cooking as the coating will absorb the moisture from the food and it will become very gummy.
Blanching is a technique that is used to soften the texture of food to a nice “tender crisp”, set its color, and in some cases make them easier to peel. When blanching, food is submerged in boiling water for just a few seconds and then it’s removed and immediately plunged into very cold ice water. The hot water serves to soften the texture of the fruit or vegetable and the ice-cold water bath not only stops the cooking process but also sets its bright color.
For thin-skinned fruits such as peaches or tomatoes blanching makes it easier to peel their skin off while leaving the inner flesh nice and firm.
To blanch for peeling purposes:
- Cut out the stem and then score (shallowly cut) an “X” in the blossom end of the fruit.
- Plunge the fruit into boiling water for 30-60 seconds or until the skin begins to wrinkle.
- Transfer the fruit to an ice-cold water bath.
- Once the fruit is cooled, remove from the water, and peel away the skin using a small paring knife.
Sautéing is one the most basic French cooking methods and is used quite often in the kitchen. Sautéed foods are cooked quickly in a small amount of fat (usually butter or oil) over medium to medium-high heat. The food is stirred or tossed in order to cook the outside evenly without overcooking the inside.
Foods to be sautéed should be cut into small pieces or thin slices so that they cook fairly quickly. Typical sautéed foods are chicken, other tender cuts of meat, and vegetables. When sautéing make sure to not crowd the pan and be sure to dry all food with a paper towel before cooking, any extra moisture will cause the food to steam instead of sauté.
Reducing is a method in which a liquid is simmered or boiled until the quantity has decreased, the flavor becomes concentrated and the liquid thickened. Typical reductions include braising liquids, stocks, wine, and even balsamic vinegar.
To make a simple reduction
- Add wine or stock to the pan after removing the sauteed meat
- Stir over medium high heat, scraping up all of the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Continue to stir until the liquid has reduced down to about half and thickened
- Pour the reduced sauce over the meat or strain first for a smoother reduction, then serve
When cooking it’s important to understand the different cutting techniques that are used in the kitchen. Below are the most common cuts that are called for in a recipe.
Chopping – This is a coarse cut where the food pieces are not necessarily of uniform shape or size.
Cubing – Cutting the food into uniform pieces, usually 1/2″ to 1″ in size or as specified in a recipe.
Dicing – This is a cut where food pieces are of uniform size. There are 3 types of dicing.
- Fine Dice (The Brunoise) – Food pieces are cut into 1/8″ square
- Medium Dice (The Batonnet) – Food pieces are cut into 1/4″ square
- Large Dice (The Baton) – Food pieces are cut into 1/2″ square
Julienning – Food is cut into thin, equal matchstick shapes.
Mincing – This is the finest cut. Food is cut into the smallest possible pieces.
Slicing – Cutting food into consistent and generally long, flat pieces.
When liquid is maintained at a temperature just below a boil, it is called a simmer. When there are tiny bubbles barely breaking the surface it’s considered a “gentle” or “low” simmer. If the bubbles are larger and moving faster, it’s considered a “rapid” simmer.
Simmering cooks food gently and slowly, perfect for delicate foods such as fish or fibrous root vegetables like potatoes. Keeping potatoes at a simmer allows them to cook more evenly.
When liquid is brought to a boil, the bubbles will be numerous, large, and consistently breaking at the surface. At this point, the liquid will also quickly evaporate.
Because boiling keeps food in motion it helps to cook it quickly and prevent it from sticking to itself which is ideal when cooking pasta. Tender green vegetables also do well with boiling because it helps to maintain their color and flavor. Lastly, because boiling causes speedy evaporation of liquids it’s also the best method to use when trying to reduce sauces.