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Mirepoix vs. The Trinity

by Elizabeth Skipper | March 24th, 2015 | Ask the Chef
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french dishFrom various cooking shows and recipes I have learned the difference between a mirepoix and a trinity. Do you find them to be fairly interchangeable, or when following a recipe, do I need to stick with the noted ingredients? The reason this comes to mind is that recently I ran to the store to get carrots for a mirepoix but had all the ingredients for a trinity. My cooking partner insisted I shouldn’t switch, but I thought the trinity would have been fine.

I wonder what the shows and recipes you’ve seen say is the difference between the two, because they’re not the same at all. A mirepoix is the classic sautéed flavor base used in French cooking, and a trinity is the holy three-ingredient flavor base used in Cajun and Creole cooking. They have onion and celery in common, but the third ingredient in a mirepoix is carrot and of a trinity, green pepper. Those two vegetables are hardly interchangeable.

Without knowing the dish you were making, there’s no telling whether the substitution would have worked; but I’m doubtful it would have. It depends entirely on what you were making. As a flavor base, these mixtures are an important component of the character of a dish. All cuisines have them – Italy has its soffritto; Spain and Puerto Rico their sofritos; Portugal its refogado; Indians and Asians have versions which use ingredients like ginger, garlic, and chiles, to name a few.

The quantities and proportions of vegetables vary; and meats, spices, and herbs may be a part of the ingredients. The cooking medium can be butter, animal fat, or some kind of oil. In Mexico, ingredients like chiles, garlic, tomatoes, and tomatillos are dry roasted on a comal, or griddle. Sometimes you gently cook all the ingredients until they’ve simply softened and yielded their essence to the fat; sometimes you caramelize them for another dimension of flavor. In all cases, they add their unique taste to a dish.

There are lots of overlaps – I make a ragù Bolognese which begins with the same ingredients as a mirepoix, although the proportions differ a little. So there’s plenty of room to experiment. Just remember that each vegetable has its own character. Carrot adds sweetness, celery used in excess can be bitter, and green peppers can be a bit harsh. Garlic mellows with cooking, but used in excess can overwhelm other ingredients. Once you’ve tried a recipe as written, go ahead and experiment. Just keep in mind what the desired outcome is.

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