Friday, November 28, 2008

Thyme for Mirepoix

Thanksgiving logistics hinged on lots of aromatic and flavorful magic from sauteed carrots, celery and onion, infused with fresh leaves from my still verdant thyme plant in the garden. Making two different stuffings (bread for the kids, rice for me and Dan) and two different gravies (turkey drippings-based for the meat lovers and mushroom-based for the vegetarians) was made a whole lot easier by chopping up a whole bunch of celery (leaves and all), 6 big, scraped carrots and 3 onions, sauteeing the lot in a stick of butter and then seasoning with salt, pepper and a handful of thyme leaves stripped from their stems.

In classical French cuisine, this fragrant mix is called mirepoix (pronounced meer-pwah) and it forms the basis for many soups, stews and braised dishes. I made up a whole mess of mirepoix and then divided it into fourths to make my vegetarian vs. carnivore, kid vs. adult, celiac vs. non-celiac menu dance a little easier. The Crispy Cook didn't need to get any crispier during Thanksgiving meal prep.

For a traditional bread stuffing for the kids, I took the 1/4 of my master Mirepoix mess and mixed it in with an assortment of torn up stale bread, frozen waffles they refused to eat and subsequently lounged about for months, leftover hot dog rolls from a Labor Day cookout and a few other stale oddments of bread that I had cleverly stashed in the freezer. I then added enough vegetable broth (a la crockpot) to moisten, threw in a beaten egg and then tamped the lot into a greased baking dish and baked it 30 minutes.

Another quarter of my Mirepoix was then added to 3 cups of cooked brown rice and augmented with 10 oz. fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced and sauteed in butter. More veggie broth moistened it and I threw in about 2/3 cup grated Asiago cheese and that was an awesome mushroomy rice stuffing for Dan's Thanksgiving portabellas, with much more rice stuffing baked up on the side.

The rest of the Mirepoix was divided in half and each portion formed the basis for gravy. Dan's gravy was started with 2 cups of vegetable broth and a quarter of the Mirepoix in a small saucepan. I had some of those sauteed mushrooms reserved from the rice stuffing above to throw in and then I used some of the hot broth mixed with cornstarch to make a paste which I then whisked back into the boiling broth. When it was thickened, about 10 minutes later, I turned off the heat and I was done. I added a further bit of richness to his gravy by adding some wheat-free soy sauce.

The final quarter of the Master Mirepoix was mixed in with drippings from our roast turkey and the same cornstarch paste technique was applied to thicken it up. Dan's gravy had sliced mushrooms floating in it, so it was readily identifiable.

The thyme was the perfect seasoning for all of the four gravies and stuffings above: it was nicely herbal without being too overpowering or musty, like sage can be and having the fresh herbs was a treat now that the garden has largely gone into hibernation. And the Mirepoix certainly kept me delightfully sane in the Crispy kitchen when I was juggling all my family's food requirements and holiday requests. Thank you, Mirepoix!

I am submitting these tips for using thyme and mirepoix to this week's round of Weekend Herb Blogging (WHB), a food blog event that celebrates the use of herbs and unusual plant ingredients now maintained by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything Once. Our host for WHB #161 is Scott the Real Epicurean, a U.K. blogger who likes to focus on wild and seasonal food and sustainable foods. Be sure to check out Scott's blog, especially after November 30th, to see an always-intriguing, always-educational roundup of recipes.


Kalyn Denny said...

This is one of my favorite flavor blends. I think thyme really accentuates the flavors of the veggies in this mix.

Alicia Foodycat said...

Beautiful! Sounds like you have the logistics of your family meals totally under control. And thyme was so definitely the right thing - heavenly with mushrooms and poultry.

Deb in Hawaii said...

I love Thyme! I swear woman, I don't know how you stay sane with all the different variations (four!?!) you have to cook! ;-) They all sounded good though!

What's Cookin Chicago said...

Looks and sounds fabulous! Hope your Thanksgiving was wonderful (and tasty!) :)

Rachel said...

This mirepoix really did save my sanity in preparing the meal for my gastronomically-challenging family. That's why I'm the Crispy Cook!