M is also for Mission Impastable, my culinary mystery filled with recipes built around the murder. (Couldn’t resist making a plug before getting into today’s cooking terms.)
If you watch many cooking shows you have learned terms like mise en place (food prep technique which means getting everything gathered and chopped and measured BEFORE you begin cooking so you don’t have to interrupt the cooking) or MUFAs (the healthful monounsaturated fats from seed, nuts, olives, and the like). See how sneaky I was to get in some more “m” cooking terms?
And maybe from the Food Network you learned macerate and mirepoix, but if not, today is your lucky day!
Macerate is a relative of marinate. When you marinate, you want to infuse flavor into the meat or whatever. It also helps soften the food for easier digestion. (Please pay attention to the times given for marination as you can ruin a piece of chicken by over-marinating it so it becomes mushy. Yuck!)
Macerate, on the other hand, means that you are going to soak or steep (see Infuse earlier this month) a food to soften it. Often we macerate dehydrated foods in order to make them juicier for eating. But you can macerate fresh foods, too. If you have ever added sugar to cut strawberries and let them sit before serving, you are macerating. The sugar brings out the juices in the strawberries to deepen the flavor and make them more digestible.
Sometimes we macerate to separate food. Soaking the food breaks it into parts (see the warning on over-marinating above). You might macerate grapes to separate into the skins and juice and seeds so you could extract the liquid for wine. You want it to break up. Liqueurs are made by macerating ingredients.
Mirepoix is a chopped veggie combo, called aromatics, used as a flavor base to make your own stock, soups, sauces, and stews. Traditionally, the mirepoix mixture is ¼ carrots, ¼ celery, and ½ onions. Mirepoix has relatives in other aromatic combos.
The holy trinity of Cajun and Creole cooking is onion, celery, and bell peppers. Other cuisines have their own aromatic combos, but every one I know of uses onions!
If the mirepoix is brought to the table to be eaten as a side dish, it is called matignon. Mirepoix can be prepared au gras (with meat) or without meat as au maigre. So many M words today!