Hello Lust for Cooking family. We’re back from a very busy summer, and we’re excited to talk about cooking again.
We’re going to start right off with some crucial cooking knowledge. Did you know that most cooking traditions have a standard flavor base? Ok, it sounds obvious, right? Cajun food tastes like Cajun food. Italian food tastes like Italian food. But once you know what these bases are, you can easily tour the globe from your kitchen without having to consult a cookbook. Also, you’ll sound really smart at dinner parties. Here is the breakdown:
Most meals start with the chopping of the veggies and sautéing them in…something, right? Well that part is the flavor base. It always consists of sautéing aromatics (the chopped veggies) in fat (oils and/or butters).
French cooking has been ubiquitously influential on all of Western Cuisine, so this is going to look really familiar. But just think, that means you’ve been cooking like the French all along!
Mirepoix – Celery, carrots, and onion cooked in butter. Typically in a 1/1/2 ratio respectively. You know this one right? Well now you know it has a fancy name too.
Saffritto – celery, carrots, and onion cooked in olive oil. Wait a minute! That’s like almost the same as the other one! Yes. Yes it is. So when you haven’t been cooking like the French, you’ve probably been cooking like the Italians.
Safrito – Not to be confused with the above, seriously – garlic, onion, bell pepper, tomato in olive oil. There are a lot of different cooking traditions that fall under this category – from Portuguese to Puerto Rican – so this can vary somewhat from region to region, with the pepper coming and going, or the addition of paprika or saffron.
The Holy Trinity – I’m not making this up. I promise – Onion, celery, bell pepper in olive oil AND butter.
Suppengrün – Carrot, leek, and celeriac (celery root) in… whatever’s handy. They don’t seem to be to picky on this. This combination is also commonly boiled in water, instead of sautéed, for a soup base.
Dashi – Kombu (dried seaweed), bennito flakes (dried, cured fish), shitake mushrooms (optional) boiled as a stock 10-30 minutes. This is the ultimate umami combination and it is the base for everything Japanese, and I mean everything. Once you go dashi you don’t go back.
Ok, I’m kind of making that up. But once you leave the realm of French cooking the word “mirepoix” becomes the catch-all word for flavor base. Chinese cuisine also varies widely from region to region, but you’re pretty safe starting off with garlic, green onion, and ginger in vegetable oil.
There are so many wonderful curries out there, but they will almost always start with onion, garlic, ginger, and chilis finely chopped and sautéed in ghee (clarified butter).
With all flavor bases, it’s important to keep in mind flexibility. There are many additions and substitutions, and you can occasionally just skip an ingredient altogether. To quote a favorite pirate, “They’re really more like guidelines, anyway.” But once you have this down, you’ll be surprised how accessible global recipes become.
For a great infographic on suplements and substitutions for various flavor bases, check out finedininglovers.com.