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Mirepoix — a combination of chopped carrots, onion and celery root — can be used as a base for many soups and sauces. [ARI LEVAUX]

Flash in the Pan: Fresh mirepoix elevates even the topmost of ramen

Spring is on the march, but winter isn’t done with us yet. That means that I am not done with soup.

At the winter market last week, I found carrots, onion and celery root, which are all I need to make anything into soup. Together, these ingredients constitute mirepoix (meer-PWAH), a chopped mixture of aromatic vegetables used as a base for many a soup and sauce. There are many regional variations of mirepoix that go by different names and involve the occasional substitution of ingredients (leek for onion here, bell pepper for carrot there). Today we’ll stick with the French way, which is how I learned about it. This may be the closest thing to a French cooking lesson you will ever get from me, as I discuss how mirepoix can be used to enhance two easy soup recipes.

Cheater’s Chicken Soup makes use of rotisserie chicken (one of my favorite ingredients) and mirepoix. The other recipe, Haut Ramen (that’s “Top Ramen” in French), employs mirepoix in the preparation of packaged Ramen noodle soup.

Because both recipes include the part where you have to make the mirepoix, let’s review that process:

Trim and mince equal parts onion, carrot and celery (or celery root, aka celeriac). If using celery stalks, include the leaves. Cut it all into consistently sized chunks, large or small as the recipe calls for. (The Haut Ramen recipe requires a brunoise, which is French for “finely diced.” Making brunoise is a technique that’s more effectively shown than described, so check it out on YouTube.)

Cheater’s Chicken Soup

• Rotisserie chicken, whole or partial (or a home-baked chicken if you have the foresight)

• Mirepoix (larger chunks)

• Tomato, canned or frozen

• Spicy things (optional; my preference is pickled jalapeños)

• Salt, soy sauce, fish sauce, garlic powder, herbs and other flavorings

• Olive oil or butter

Gain control of the remains of the chicken, pull it into pieces, and remove the bones. Snip the bones and tendons into small pieces with cooking scissors, and place them into a pasta basket or similar arrangement that can be submerged in boiling water, along with its contents, and just as easily be removed from the water. One could also put the chicken skin in the pasta boiler to make the soup more oily, if that’s your thing.

Heat the water and simmer the bones while you get the rest of your mise en place, which is French culinary-speak for arranging your cooking materials.

The next step is to cut the mirepoix and sauté it gently in olive oil, allowing a mild brown to develop.

While the mirepoix is browning and bones are simmering, cut or pull the chicken meat apart to the consistency you wish, and add the meat to the browning mirepoix, allowing it all to cook together for a moment. This would be a good time to play around with herbs and spices. I like thyme, but you could go ginger/lemongrass, or my mom’s favorite: dill.

The soup can be taken in many directions at this point. Remove the pasta basket with bones inside, add the mirepoix and chicken to the pot, and replace the basket of bones back in the pot. At this point, I add some frozen tomatoes from last summer’s stash to the basket, so the tomato skins can be removed along with the bones and skin. I also add a pickled jalapeño or two, allowing it to contribute gentle heat and acidity to the pot without getting lost and giving someone a hot surprise.

The soup will be ready as soon as the carrots are soft enough to eat. But if possible, take a little extra time and let everything cook together for an hour or so. As it cooks, tweak the seasonings as necessary: a little salt here, a bit of garlic powder there, a lil’ soy sauce, a squirt of fish sauce, squeeze of lime — until it tastes right. Then drop a dollop of mayo on that masterpiece, and you’ve got some evidence in hand that sometimes cheaters do win.

Haut Ramen

• 1 package of ramen (preferably the good stuff, like Sapporo Ichiban)

• 1 cup mirepoix, equal parts carrot, celery and onion, chopped into brunoise

• Sesame oil

• Seaweed (a ripped-up sheet of nori, or furikake seasoning)

• Egg (optional)

Heat the water. Add brunoise mirepoix and flavor packet from the ramen. When the water returns to a boil, add the noodles. When the noodles are done, add your egg, if using. Wait a moment, then turn off the heat.

Leave the egg whole, or give it a minimal stir with a fork, depending on how you like your yolk, then put the lid on for two or so minutes. Remove the lid. If egg is done to your liking, sprinkle with seaweed, drizzle with sesame oil, and start slurping.

Now that you have a taste of the mirepoix possibilities, try to include it elsewhere, including beyond the soup pot. Equal parts mirepoix brunoise and leftover rice make a fantastic fried rice, for example. If you keep some mirepoix in the fridge, chances are you’ll find ways to use it.

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