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.