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diced vegetable base


Like Portuguese tefogado or Italian soffrito and Spanish versions of the same, mirepoix is the base for many French savoury sauces, soups and other dishes made with finely chopped (en brunoise) onions, carrots, and celery (or celeriac) and gently cooked olive oil, butter or other fat until soft but not brown or caramelized. The onions and carrots add an underlying note of sweetness.

You can also find side dishes of mixed vegetables chopped into a larger dice, (a mirepoix de légumes d'antan could contain sweet potatoes, turnips, pumpkin, and carrots) or pick them up frozen in the supermarket. Then it’s usually cammed a Matignon.

In the past, mirepoix often contained meat (usually ham or bacon), as a mirepoix au gras, but these days it’s nearly always au maigre (without meat).

How did it get its name? Like several other dishes, an otherwise non descript French aristocrat had a talented chef with a sense of PR.

Gaston Pierre de Lévis-Mirepoix (1699-1757)

The name of the chef was lost to history, but the aristocrat was Gaston Pierre de Lévis-Mirepoix (1699-1757), Duke of Mirepoix in the Ariège, described by Pierre Larousse as ‘an incompetent and mediocre individual... who owed his vast fortune to the affection Louis XV felt toward his wife and who had but one claim to fame: he gave his name to a sauce made of all kinds of meat and a variety of seasonings.’

Because few recipes noted down in the 18th and 19th centuries are the same, it’s hard to even know what was really in this sauce mirepoix invented by the anonymous chef! But the charming name lives on.

Cooking techniques

Text © Dana Facaros

Images by Javier Lastras, Unidentified painter