Sunday, April 5, 2015

Kitchen 101- The Aromatics

If you have ever watched a cooking show you have certainly heard of either the terms "mirepoix" or "the holy trinity"- both without doubt the backbone of flavor building in modern cuisine. Every good cook needs to master the basic aromatics to build delicious dishes on the best foundation as possible. Basically an aromatic is anything that adds flavor to your dish. Let's talk about some of the basics.

Mirepoix- This is one of those old old old classics, originating in the early 1800s France. It's truly one of the most important, universal flavor foundations with variations in just about every cuisine in the world. Carrots, celery and onion comprise the classic mirepoix and cooks use this as a base for soups, stews, braises, stocks, casseroles and many other dishes. It is generally made of equal parts of the three vegetables. I cannot imagine making a stock without it. I roast the bones and the vegetables to bring the most flavor to my stock.

The Holy Trinity- You just cannot make good Cajun or Creole dishes without the famed Holy Trinity. Popular Chef Paul Prudhomme coined this nickname back in the early 1890s and it really stuck. Similar to mirepoix, the trinity consists of equal parts chopped onion, celery and bell pepper. Gumbo just wouldn't be gumbo without it. No jambalaya has ever been made without the trinity. It is also often seen in TexMex and southwestern recipes as well, with the onion and bell pepper being big flavor builders for those types of foods. You don't need to stick to strictly green bells either- using red or yellow bells brings a lot of color to your dish.

Herbs and bouquet garni- Imagine if you made a pot of soup, let's say chicken soup, and all you used was some broth, some meat, and a few noodles or vegetables. It might taste like chicken, or it might taste like the vegetables, but it really wouldn't be a very memorable bowl of soup. How do you get all that great flavor? Herbs of course. Four or five sprigs of thyme, and four or five sprigs of parsley tied together and tossed into the pot add such a beautiful background of citrusy, herby freshness. Bay leaves, chives, rosemary, oregano, marjoram- any herb you can tie in a bundle or tie up in a square of cheesecloth (so you can easily fish it out later) make wonderful aromatics. 

Citrus and garlic- Roasting a whole chicken or turkey? Skip the bread stuffing in the bird and instead stuff your bird with a couple quartered lemons, or a handful of garlic. The best part? You don't even have to peel all the garlic! Just cut a head of garlic in half crosswise and it's ready to go. The heat from roasting cooks and steams those wonderful aromatics inside that bird and it infuses the meat with amazing flavor and moisture. Stuff a handful of fresh herbs in there too. 

Now you have the elementary basics- get cooking!

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