Mirepoix, a trio of aromatic vegetables, became popular in 19thcentury French cooking and is named, in the fashion of so many French culinary terms, after a Duke who was a regarded as a pretty incompetent Field Marshall and Ambassador, and who owed much to Louis XV affections towards his wife. Mirepoix is a small, fine dice normally of onions, carrots, and celery roughly in the proportions 2:1:1. It is the base flavour of many classic sauces and stocks and slow-cooked casseroles and stews. Mirepoix can vary from recipe to recipe and region to region and include garlic, leeks, mushroom stalks and tomatoes.
Mirepoix au gras has the addition of finely diced ham or streaky bacon. Similar base vegetable mixes are to be found in German cooking called suppengrün or soup greens. There is also the holy trinity of Creole cooking; onions, green bell peppers and celery and soffritto an Italian soup and sauce base of vegetables, garlic and parsley stewed in olive oil.
Matignon is traditionally a finer dice of aromatic vegetables including onions, carrots, celery, and leeks which are sautéed in butter and flavoured with a pinch of thyme and perhaps some crushed garlic. It is usually finished with salt, sugar if required and a splash of Madeira wine. The result can be used as a stuffing or a base to present poultry and meat on.
When you are cooking with real vanilla pods using the seeds to flavour whipped cream or crème Anglais reserve the empty pods. If they have been used to infuse their flavour into milk, remove them and pat dry. The reserved pods can be placed in a plastic container or jar filled with caster sugar. Any remaining essential oils will infuse the caster sugar with a delicious vanilla flavour which can then be used in cakes or as a topping for freshly baked biscuits.
Chinese Five Spice is a staple in Chinese kitchens although not used in every recipe, an even blend of the following aromatics; pungent star anise, cloves, and cinnamon, fiery Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds. However, like many recipes, it is not definite and other ingredients may be added or substituted such as ginger, nutmeg, turmeric and in south China orange peel. It is often used in ‘ Red ’ cooking or Chinese slow cooking, where meat is braised for many hours in heavily flavoured stocks or sauces
The sweet, tangy taste of Chinese Five Spice is excellent with fatty meats such as roast pork, duck or goose staples of classic Cantonese cuisine. An extremely versatile flavoured salt can be easily made by dry-roasting table salt with five-spice powder on a low heat in a wok until the spice and salt are well mixed. It makes an excellent spice rub for chicken, duck, pork, particularly Char sui – Cantonese BBQ pork, ribs, and seafood.
Chinese Five Spice Recipe
For best results blend the following whole spices in a spice grinder and store in an air-tight container in a cool, dark cupboard.
10 Star Anise pods
1 heaped tablespoon Fennel Seeds
3 cm piece of Cinnamon Stick
½ teaspoon Sichuan Peppercorns
½ teaspoon of White Peppercorns
½ teaspoon ground Ginger
Many Tex-Mex, Cajun, North African and Asian recipes contain chillies in various proportions to add from just a little kick to a beer swilling, throat ripping heat. Chillies are one of the earliest cultivated crops and come from the south-west of the Americas. Christopher Columbus called the chillies ‘ peppers ‘ after the taste similar to the black and white peppercorns already used in Europe. Travellers were often in search of new sources of spices due to their immense rarity and value. The chilli spread through many of the Spanish and Portuguese colonies to particularly to Mexico, Goa, parts of China and Indonesia. Chillies can be served sliced and diced raw, or dried and flaked or ground to a powder and in numerous sauces and condiments such as Sriracha, Harissa and Thai Chilli paste.
Chillies are all part of the nightshade family of plants some common variations are the red and green Bell peppers ( green are simply unripe bell peppers ), Cayenne, Jalapeño*, Anaheim, Serrano and Poblano peppers ( which when dried are the Ancho pepper ) these collectively are Capsicum annuum peppers. Capsicum frutescens are the family of hotter chillies including the Piri piri, Tabasco and African Birdseye chillies. The hottest chillies are the Habanero, Scotch bonnet and Naga chillies from the Capsicum chinense chilli family. Chillies are high in Vitamin C, Potassium, Magnesium and Iron but do not add greatly to the overall nutritional content of a meal because of the relatively small amounts in a dish.
* The Chipotal pepper is a variety of smoked then dried jalapeño
Chillies come in many varieties here are just a few examples;
Sweet and Fresh – have distinct vegetal aromas reminiscent of freshly cut red bell peppers and fresh home grown tomatoes, Costeño, dried Anaheim, California or Colorado and Choricero peppers.
The Hot Ones – Can be like Cascabels with some complexity and depth of flavour or others like the Pequin or Arbol,which are all about heat.
Dried / Smoky – Some chile peppers, like Chipotles are dried and smoked Some are naturally just dried like Ñora or Guajillo used to make a mild salsa for tamales.
Rich and Fruity – Have distinct aromas of sun-dried tomatoes, raisins, chocolate, and coffee. These include some of the best-known Mexican chiles, like Ancho, Mulato, and Pasilla.
When preparing, try to handle cut and chopped chillies as little as possible. Many chefs wear disposable latex gloves. Wash and clean any equipment that comes in contact with the peppers thoroughly. The main active constituent in the chilli is the naturally occurring chemical Capsaicin. ( It is now the main ingredient in pepper spray and some animal deterrents ). The majority of the Capsaicin is found in the seeds and pith, if your not a fan of chilli heat remove these before preparing your chillies.
Chilli ‘ heat ‘ is measured in Scoville Heat Units, I’ve listed a few varieties of chilli pepper and their SHU to give you an idea of the scale and the relative strength of commercial available peppers. Interestingly some of the the hottest chillies in the world have recently been grown not in Mexico or Asia but in Grantham and Poole in the UK.
Bell Peppers 0 units
New Mexico Green Chillies 1500 + units
Jalapenos 2500 + units
Birds Eye Chillies 50,000 + units
Scotch Bonnets 100,000 + units
Habaneros 300,000 + units
Nag Viper chillies 1,300,000 units
for comparison Tabasco sauce is around 2000 units
Ginger is a flowering plant of which the large underground stems or rhizomes are used grated or once dried, ground as a powder in numerous style of cooking and cuisines. Ginger is part of the same family as turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Ginger is believed to have first grown in India, certainly, by the first century AD it was part of the spice trade to Europe and was a staple of Roman cooking.
Powdered ginger is used extensively in baking in gingerbread and parkin, ginger snap biscuits and fruit cakes and as the principle flavour in ginger beer and ginger ale. Candied ginger, or crystallized ginger, is the root cooked in sugar until soft and is a type of confectionery.
In Indian cuisine, ginger is one of the main spices used for making lentil based curries and vegetable dishes. Fresh, as well as dried, ginger is used to spice tea and coffee. In Japan, ginger is pickled to make Beni shōga, 紅生姜 the pink-hued accompaniment to many rice dishes. In fiery Kimchi, the fermented Korean cabbage dish ginger juice or minced ginger is added to the ingredients of the spicy paste just before the fermenting process. Chinese cooks slice ginger onto steamed fish alongside sesame oil and spring onions and chopped ginger is added with garlic to stir fry dishes. Ginger is also used in a number of Burmese, Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian and Vietnamese dishes.
Ginger is used in traditional Indian medicine and some small studies have found that it can be effective as a treatment for seasickness and morning sickness when taken as a tea or infusion.
There are many types of Chorizo sausage popular not only in Spain and Portugal but also Mexico, South America, the Philippines and in Cajun and Creole cooking. They are normally made from pork, pork fat and salt and can be flavoured with garlic, wine and spices, and herbs such as cloves, thyme, and oregano. Chorizo sausage is usually made with natural casings and can be raw, in which case they require cooking, or fermented, cured or smoked. The different textures, flavours and tastes mean Chorizo is very versatile, the softer varieties used for slicing and the fattier sausages used for cooking or flavouring dishes.
Spanish Chorizo and Portuguese Chouriço get their distinctive taste and distinctive deep red colour from the addition of lots of pimentón or dried smoked red peppers. The two main styles are Dulce which is sweet and mildly spiced and or Picante with a lot more kick. Dulce Chorizo are normally longer and thinner in shape and shorter sausages tend to be Picante but this is not always the case. In Spain texts from the Yuste Monastery mention the manufacture of sausages from the 16th century, before pimentón was widely produced in Spain. Peppers were introduced in Spain by Christopher Columbus after his first voyage to the Americas, in 1493. Spanish Chorizo can be eaten simply sliced into a sandwich, or fried and grilled. Spanish Chorizo is the staple ingredient in many tapas dishes.
Portuguese Chouriço is made with pork, fat, wine, paprika and salt and slowly dried over smoke. There is also a blood Chouriço (chouriço de sangue) very similar to the peppery black pudding in English cuisine. A popular way to prepare Chouriço is partially sliced and flame-cooked over a burner at the table. Special glazed earthenware dishes with a lattice top are used for this purpose.
South American ( Mexican ) Chorizo sausages tend to use locally grown chilli peppers rather than the sweeter milder pimentón pepper. The meat is normally ground or minced rather than chopped and tends to be quite fatty, releasing a flavoursome oil on cooking. In Mexico, restaurants, and food stands make tacos, burritos, and tortas with cooked Chorizo often with refried beans. Perhaps the most famous dish is Chorizo con huevos served at breakfast it is made by mixing fried Chorizo with scrambled eggs. Another popular dish is Chorizo con queso, small pieces of Chorizo served in or on melted cheese, and eaten with small corn tortillas. Mexican Chorizo is also a very popular pizza topping.
Perhaps the most famous tapas is Chorizo a la sidra, from Asturias. Slices of Chorizo stewed in cider and olive oil, a classic combination the cooking is typically Spanish, decidedly uncomplicated relying upon premium quality ingredients. As the cooking liquor is reduced and the slight sweetness of the cider infuses the Chorizo and the garlic, paprika and fat from the sausage enrich the stewing juices. Serve with some crusty bread and cold, crisp, still cider.
Chorizo a la sidra
300 gr raw Chorizo
500 ml dry still Cider
100 ml quality extra virgin Olive Oil
Slice the Chorizo in one and a half centimeter slices. Heat the olive oil on a moderate heat in a large, heavy-bottomed, frying pan. Add the Chorizo slices and fry until they change in colour and start to caramelise but take care not to burn. Add the cider and bring to the boil, cook for ten to fifteen minutes, until the sauce has reduced by around a quarter. Serve in small bowls while still warm.
Cooking with Chorizo