Food & Dining

Banish bland, develop deep flavors on the cheap: Sofrito, your new secret ingredient

I’m not going to lie, I stole the idea for this post from someone else’s roommate’s boyfriend. I did so with good reason. I wanted the first recipe featured on The Sexy Politico to be something accessible; I wanted it to be cheap, straightforward, and not to require a pair of culinary tweezers–even though you really should be tweezering everything.

Sofrito. It’s an easy recipe that can add an instant shot of flavor to everything you’re already cooking. You’re already familiar with sofrito even if you call it something else. Maybe you know it as mirepoix, the Cajun Holy Trinitysoffrittowłoszczyzna, refogado, or a number of other names from different countries. The point that I’m trying to belabor here is that this combination of ingredients, when prepared in this manner, is a fundamental cooking technique that serves as the foundation for a multitude of recipes. I’ve had a lot of experience with Spanish cuisine, so sofrito is what I’m familiar with calling it.

The fundamental technique I discuss here, rough-chopping vegetables and careful application of heat, brings a remarkable depth of flavor to the dishes sofrito is added to. If you choose to source your ingredients from your local farmer’s market, you’re one step closer to cooking with Time & Place.

What professional chefs know is that this simple process lends a wonderful boost to whatever it is you’re actually trying to make. It’s far and away more useful than anything David Venable tries to hawk on QVC. I think that many home cooks fail to realize the importance of gently cooking aromatics before building a dish on top of it is because they’ve never tasted it on its own. I can and do eat sofrito with a spoon, straight up. My mother, however, omits onions from her chili because she hates raw onions. Try as I might, I cannot convince her that there remains no actual onion flavor in the pot when the sofrito is done cooking.

All of my future recipes will follow a more rigid formula. But since sofrito is so ancient a process, I think we’ll make like the Italian-Jewish Grandmother I wish I had and just wing it:

Onions are indispensable to this endeavor. Any color and variety will work. I generally choose to have onion compose 50% of the ingredients; I used 500g of medium-diced white onion. The other ingredients are flexible, and recommendations will vary depending on what culinary tradition someone comes from. I went with equal parts (200g) organic carrots and celery and threw in 100g of a green bell pepper that was on its way out. Making sofrito is great way to clean out your veggie drawer in one go. (Please forgive the crummy images in this article, my potato is not of high quality.)

You will need a fat to cook with. Olive oil, butter, coconut butter, anything you want. When I’m not cooking privately or writing for The Sexy Politico, I work part time as a butcher; I bring home a lot of scraps and trim. On the weekend, I rendered a several pounds of beef fat into tallow, so that’s the fat that will be in my rotation for a while. (I will write a piece about how saturated animal fats truly do deserve a place at your table very soon.) You need just enough fat to cover the bottom of the pan.

Heat the pan over a medium-high flame. Add the fat. When it’s hot, add the onions. If they sizzle and crackle loudly, you’re running too hot and need to turn down the fire!

When the onions are translucent, soft, and just beginning to take on a bit of color, add the rest of the vegetables. Then, with confidence, grace, and speed, jerk the pan to mix the contents together. Just like the professionals! Or use a heat-safe tool to stir them from time to time. You must resist the temptation to constantly manipulate them.

Continue to cook until the vegetables are soft and have taken on a golden color. This may take 25 minutes to an hour, depending on your heat source, how often you manipulate the pan, and how much you’ve loaded it. I added a head of smashed garlic and about 25g of ginger batonettes in the final 7 to 10 minutes, but this is optional. You may also want to deglaze the pan with a splash of cider or white wine vinegar before removing from heat. This pulls the fond, the delicious dark bits, off the bottom of the pan and incorporates them into the mixture.

That’s it. You’re done. Remove the pan from heat. Eat a spoonful and tell me something magical didn’t just happen in that pan. Allow to cool completely. You can store the sofrito in oil in your fridge for five days or for several months in your freezer. Fill and ice cube tray with it and use it to add the taste of Time to the next thing you cook. Put a dollop on your huevos rancheros. Stir some into your grits or oatmeal for a savory breakfast. Puree it up and add it your soups, stews, and sauces. Anywhere that you seek umami flavor, a shot of sofrito will be able to answer the call.

The real thing to learn is the technique, not the ingredients. Patience, time, and gentle heat are all important things to control here. We’ve achieved a remarkable depth of flavor with minimal fat, no salt, and absolutely no black pepper. Next time around, add some cured meat, cooked bacon, a different root vegetable, tomato paste, whatever you like and just let it happen!

I chose this recipe because it’s a simple but special way to prepare ingredients everybody is familiar with. While it’s often used as the foundation for another recipe, I think sofrito can be used as a condiment.

With this recipe, I have sought to shed flattering light on an oft under-appreciated and misunderstood aspect of cooking. The Sexy Politico strives generally to bring a unique aspect of discussion to all topics, from our Purple Politics to our practical cooking advice. Keep checking this space to see what I cook up next!

Were you already familiar with sofrito as a flavor base? What are your little tricks or additions that you use to make it yours? Is there anything you’d like to see The Sexy Politico cook next?

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Thomas W.

    June 16, 2015 at 5:45 pm

    Well written article on a topic that will help the home cook give deeper, richer flavor to many dishes.

    Try adding diced pancetta to the sofrito, then some canned, diced tomatoes (or fresh if they are in-season and local), simmer another hour, then use as a sauce for gnocchi or pasta. Or, spoon into a shallow baking dish or skillet and crack eggs on top. Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and bake until the whites are set and the yolks are still runny. Serve with crusty bread.

    • SB Swae

      June 17, 2015 at 6:16 pm

      Thomas,

      Many thanks for your kind comment! I very deliberately set out to have the first “how to” post I made be something accessible and to have a number of applications in the kitchen.

      Both of your suggestions sound delightful. I hope that my readers will try them.

      I’m a big fan of using a pressure cooker to stew my pasta sauces. How about you?

  2. Isaac Veysey-White

    June 14, 2015 at 5:21 pm

    I think paella is one of my favorite uses of sofrito. Not that I can cook well x)

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