Cooking Class with Chef Ivan Flowers: Lesson One

By Chef Ivan Flowers,

I believe that anyone can be an accomplished cook. One only needs to get the proper techniques, because delicious dishes come from one’s heart, not a cookbook. This series will give all the tips, tricks and techniques one needs to become a master of deliciousness. So come on this journey with me and discover your inner chef.

Okay, first lesson, mirepoix (pronounced mihr-PWAH). This is one of the first things they teach in culinary school. So, what is a mirepoix? Basically it is a fancy French name for onions, carrots and celery. The ratio of a mirepoix is 2:1:1, so 2 parts onion, 1 part celery and 1 part carrot. A mirepoix starts a dish with a foundation of flavor that the cook then builds upon. It is used in a variety of ways: stocks, sauces, soups, braising and roasting.

When making a mirepoix, try to keep all the components the same size, this will insure even cooking of all the elements. Start it in a scant amount of oil or butter and depending on what dish you are making, cook until caramelized or translucent. That’s it! Now, let’s have a little fun…

As a chef, I’m always adding my own spin to things to increase the flavor and make something even more delicious. A mirepoix is no exception. One can add: herbs, garlic, red pepper flakes, black pepper, sea salt, etc. The only limit is one’s imagination.

One of my favorite ways to use a mirepoix is to make chicken stock. Not only because it is a great way to practice using a mirepoix, but also because it reminds me of my Grandmother Millie. When I was a young boy in Brooklyn, she would make homemade stock (with fresh chickens!) and from that stock make the most incredible Matzo Ball soup. Every time I make chicken stock, I feel close to her. And trust me, once you have homemade chicken stock, you will never want store bought again. Aside from the flavor difference, store bought is extremely high in sodium and usually full of preservatives.

This technique will make a large amount of chicken stock, so feel free to freeze what you are not going to use immediately. You can use this stock in soups, sauces, sautés, as well as when you make risotto or rice. You will be amazed at the flavor this stock imparts to a dish. Using a good stock will take an okay dish to a fantastic dish.

Let’s make some chicken stock. You will need a ten gallon stock pot with a heavy bottom, look for a pot marked “heavy gage.” Dice two large white onions, 12 stalks celery and 12 carrots into one-inch pieces. Because this is a stock, the mirepoix can be cut in a larger dice, you will want a smaller dice when using it for sauces.

To the mirepoix add ¼ cup whole garlic cloves, peeled.

You will use three-3 pound chickens for this stock. Wash the chickens thoroughly before cooking them. Place the chickens in the pot with four cups of ice cubes. Yes, ice cubes! This is a trick that chef’s use to make a clear stock. Now add enough cold water to the pot to just cover the chickens. Cook uncovered over medium/high heat until it is simmering. Skim any foam off the top of the water.

I know what you’re thinking, “Where is the mirepoix?” Normally, a mirepoix STARTS a dish, but with a stock, you wait to add it. Why? Adding it later will allow for a much clearer stock. Now, add the mirepoix and a bunch of fresh thyme. Simmer uncovered over low heat for six to eight hours. Strain and enjoy!

Wait! Don’t throw out all that beautifully poached chicken. Remove the meat and use it salads, soups, tacos, burritos, sandwiches, etc.

That’s it! Now have some fun, experiment with the technique and make it your own. As with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what creates delicious.

Chef Ivan Flowers brings 25 years of fine cuisine experience to Top of The Market, San Diego. Prior to becoming Executive Chef at Top of The Market, Chef Flowers owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.

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