Everyone uses aromatics. Regardless of who you are and what you’re cooking, nearly all delicious dishes start with a blend of aromatic vegetables, oil or fat, and possibly a small amount of meat.
Despite being referred to by different names, these mixtures play a pivotal role in creating captivating aromas, and infusing deep flavour in the dishes they’re used in.
The Latin sofrito, the Italian soffritto, the French mirepoix, and the Portuguese refogado are all aromatic bases that use slightly different ingredients to create extremely different end products. The beauty here is that two people can make zucchini pasta, and they will taste completely different depending on the base that was used.
The aromatic combinations of vegetables used in these bases are quite similar, despite being used by various different cultures.
For instance, the Italian soffritto (which is so commonly used in Italian cooking) consists of onions, carrots and celery, slowly fried in olive oil. This creates a delicious base for a variety of meals. The French mirepoix is a very similar base which also consists of onions, carrots and celery, but is fried in butter, which affects the end taste significantly. The same concept occurs in traditional Spanish cuisine, but with the addition of tomato.
The size that the ingredients are cut into can make a huge impact on the smell, presentation and palatability of the end product.
Soups and braises should be diced into medium sized chunks, as this will increase the flavour and smell, and make the food easier to eat. Ensure that no whole vegetables are in the soup.
On the other hand, ingredients in long-cooking stews can be cut into larger pieces and still impart their flavour on the dish due to the long cooking time. Celery ribs can be put in whole, onions can go in after only being cut into quarters, and carrots can be cut into medium sized chunks.
For aromatics like ginger, lemongrass and turmeric, which are too fibrous and too strong to eat in large pieces, they are minced or grated before being cooked. This is unless they’re being used in long-simmering dishes, in which case they can be crushed slightly or even left in whole, and then taken out before the food is served.
The following are a list of aromatics:
Onion, celery and green bell peppers fried in olive oil and butter. Garlic, parsley, shallots and paprika lend themselves well to this base and can be added.
Garlic, green onions and ginger fried in any refined cooking oil. Chillies, shallots, chives, cilantro, Chinese five spice and star anise lend themselves well to this base and can be added.
Onions, carrots and celery fried in butter. Parsley, thyme bay leaves and herbes de Provence lend themselves well to this base and can be added.
Onions, garlic, chillies and ginger fried in Ghee (traditionally Indian clarified butter). Tomatoes, cardamom seeds, ground or seeded cumin, curry powder, cloves, fenugreek, garam masala and turmeric lend themselves well to this base and can be added.
Onion, carrots and celery fried in olive oil. Garlic, fennel, bay leaves, red wine, parsley, sage, prosciutto and pancetta lend themselves well to this base and can be added.
Garlic, onions, bell peppers, and tomato fried in olive oil. Chillies, bay leaves, coriander, cumin, paprika, cilantro, bacon, chorizo, ham, red wine and vinegars lend themselves well to this base and can be added.
Garlic, onion, tomato, scallion and raisins fried in any cooking oil or clarified butter. Ginger, saffron, turmeric and cinnamon lend themselves well to this base and can be added.
Thai curry paste
Shallots, garlic, chillies fried in cooking oil and coconut milk. Galangal, kaffir lime and lemongrass lend themselves well to this base and can be added.