Lazy, Lazy People

March 22, 2010 · 10 comments


Last week She Who Must Be Obeyed emailed me this photo, taken in the produce section of the Whole Foods in Fresh Pond, Cambridge. The sign reads:

MIREPOIX  celery + carrots + onions

Use as a starter for soups, stews, sautees, and sauces

Those are one-pint deli containers, each costs $2.89.

I reposted the photo on Facebook, with the caption “Lazy, lazy people.” Much to my surprise, people defended the existence of this high-end convenience preparation. “If you know it will take you a half hour to chop up carrots, celery, and onions, and you don’t have the time, I can see buying that.” “It might take me half an hour to chop up those veggies and they wouldn’t be as evenly cut. My knife skills are not the best.”

If you’re using mirepoix as a base for a dish, the regularity of the dice isn’t that important. It’s not like Thomas Keller is hovering over your shoulder criticizing the size of your brunoise cuts. If irregular cuts bother you, that’s a strong motivation to improve your knife skills. If it takes you half an hour to chop a pound of assorted vegetables, then you’re not doing it wrong, you’re not doing it enough.

About ten years ago I was given a gift certificate for any class of my choosing at Cambridge Culinary Academy. I signed up for the Basic Knife Skills class, hoping that my self-taught technique wasn’t so far off that it couldn’t benefit from some professional correction. What did I do for the first half of that two-hour class? I cut mirepoix. Pounds of the stuff. Enough to make gallons of soup stock. But by the time that hour was over, I knew that at home I’d be able to bang out a pint of chopped vegetables in less than ten minutes.

Take the time, cut your own damned vegetables. Why pay a ridiculous $2.89/pound for someone else to improve his knife skills, when you could be improving your own? It’s such  fundamental part of cooking; you owe it to yourself.


Terra March 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm

I suppose it would be heretical to point out the existence of food processors…. (Talk about uneven dice, though.)

David March 22, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Many recipes that use the veg for browning rather than a sweat suggest reducing them almost to a puree in a food processor. This post from last year uses that technique, which is a favorite Cook’s Illustrated trick.

Melanie Campbell March 22, 2010 at 5:04 pm

Pre-cut stock veggies?; that is on the nether end of “believable”. My knife-skills are low, so I factor in extra time for chopping. Food takes time dammit!

David March 22, 2010 at 6:53 pm

Agreed. If you’re going to drop three bucks on “soup starter,” spend three bucks on a can of soup instead.

Darrin March 22, 2010 at 7:58 pm

I have to disagree a little bit. I would rather have someone buying freshly prepared mirepoix to make a preservative free soup at home than buy a can of crappy soup, of only a serving or two. Whole foods ingredients tend to be pretty good, though expensive. But someone is also gaining income by simply preparing this for someone as opposed to a machine filling cans of processed crap. I completely understand your point of simply cut it yourself, but in day and age, many don’t have the time or skills, and are choosing to feed their kids at home instead of in the minivan at McD’s!

David March 23, 2010 at 6:46 pm

If I wasn’t clear, I did mean a can of soup from Whole Foods.

Colin Summers March 22, 2010 at 8:51 pm

It’s not three dollars, because you have the buy the vegetables. You are buying a size that you can’t buy of the vegetables, so you are paying for portion convenience as well. But it really comes down to which you have available: time or money. If you have the time, definitely spend it preparing your food, which is a great way to spend some time. If you are pressed and that little pre-cut package is the difference between having have an hour to bathe your child (your child stinks, needs bathing), and you have the money to spare… easy choice.

Me, I buy the Whole Foods soup (I have two children and need HOURS to convince them to bathe). But I do heat it up myself. I wish it weren’t quite so salty. Now that they have invented to caffeine-tester strip I wrote to David about years ago, when are they going to get around to the stick-that-removes-salt-from-food-as-you-stir-with-it? (It needs a clever name, obviously.)

David March 23, 2010 at 6:50 pm

A bag of carrots, a bag of onions, and a bag of celery would cost twice as much to buy as the mirepoix, would last for weeks, and would let you chop up as much of the stuff as you wanted.

I agree that the time/money analysis is always a factor, but sometimes time should win out.

There’s a thing that removes excess salt from food. It’s called a slice of raw potato, and it works by osmosis.

Peter March 24, 2010 at 9:13 pm

Half an hour? Seriously? Anybody requiring that amount of time to chop one carrot, one celery stalk, and half an onion shouldn’t be allowed to operate a motor vehicle, let alone a kitchen knife.

David March 24, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Or worse, a sharp kitchen knife. Sad, isn’t it?

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