Dining in Southern France
When exploring European cuisine outside of the major cities, you tend to often see many times when ingredients also serve as flavorings in certain dishes. We once talked about this back when Zuzana and I were in Greece.
The small town of Mirepoix (meer-pwah) sits close to the Spanish border in Southern France. With only a population of roughly 3100 people, it’s partially known for its classic Medieval look and feel, but more known for it’s gift to the culinary world.
Back in the 18th Century, the French aristocrat Charles-Pierre-Gaston François de Lévis, duc de Lévis-Mirepoix employed a chef who enjoyed sauteing a trio of vegetables (celery, carrots, and onion) as the basis for many dishes he created. Now while this idea of a “Holy Trinity” of vegetables had probably been used all over the region, it was in Mirepoix that the technique and recipes had been finally documented, borrowing the name from the town.
The combo has been used around the globe and adapted to many ethnic cuisines. Italians took the combo and called it sofrito, which isn’t the same as Spanish sofrito. The major difference between Italian sofrito and Mirepoix is the Italians will use olive oil to saute, while the French stick with butter. In Cajun and Creole cuisine, they also use the trio, nicknaming it “The Holy Trinity”.
Traditionally, the ratio for Mirepoix is usually 2 parts onion per 1 part carrot and 1 part celery. This isn’t set in stone, as we’ll see some use just a 1:1:1 ratio, or even split the two parts onion between yellow (or white) onions and green onions.
Now we’re going to pull out those Dutch Ovens I talked about yesterday and make some great French country food. I originally came across this recipe surfing around online, but had altered it to fit my own style and taste. Feel free to do the same.
Braised Chicken in a Mirepoix Ragout
- 4 chicken breasts
- 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 4 tbsp of olive oil
- 2 cups of onion, diced
- 1 cup of celery, diced
- 1 cup of carrots, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 1/2 cup of dry white wine
- 1 cup of chicken broth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat up your oven to 325°.
- Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper, then dredge them in flour until they are completely coated.
- On the stove top, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil in your Dutch Oven on medium-high heat.
- Place the breasts in the hot oil and fry until lightly browned (about five minutes each side).
- Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.
- Place 1-2 more tbsp of olive oil into the pot and saute the onions until they start to go soft.
- Add in the carrots and celery and stir. Cook for another minute.
- Mix in the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.
- Continue cooking for another minute or two, then add in the white wine.
- Use a wooden spoon to scrape any bits of flour or vegetables off the bottom of the Dutch Oven.
- Pour in the chicken broth and stir, then place the chicken breasts in, covering them with the ragout.
- Place your lid on the Dutch Oven and put the entire pot into the oven.
- Cook the chicken and ragout for 45-60 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked and the ragout has reduced to a stew-like consistency.
The technique of scraping the bits off the pan after pouring in wine is called deglazing. It not only makes it easier to clean your Dutch Oven later, but also puts those bits into the final dish as flavor.
After putting the pot in the oven, be sure to check on things after 40 minutes. Remove the pot from the oven when you see things are done. If you feel the chicken is done sooner, then pull the breasts out and let the ragout cook longer.
You don't have to use boneless skinless chicken breasts. Feel free to use on-the-bone breasts, or even thighs if you like.
I used olive oil in my dish because I like to use it. If you want to go totally traditional, then use butter.
Zuzana likes the ragout on its own with some good bread, but I'd suggest roasting up some sliced potatoes and then ladling the ragout on top. You could also skip the potatoes and use pasta or rice. Just something that will soak up that ragout and make a nice dish.