On her very first menu at Louisville's Decca, chef Annie Pettry folded a slow-cooked white sofrito of sweet yellow onions, garlic, cilantro and lime (see the recipe) into couscous that she served alongside poached sole, which brought brightness and a buttery finish to the otherwise mildly flavored little granules.
These days, she's got a sweeter tomato paste version. A leek variation adds depth to her shellfish dishes. In fact, a majority of the plates that pass through the Decca kitchen are touched in one way or another by sofrito.
Though the big batches take more than an hour to make, only a small amount added to a recipe brings maximum flavor impact—and freezing small portions for future cooking means hands-on time in the kitchen is cut down overall. "It makes cooking on weeknights really easy," Pettry says. "People will think you've been cooking for hours, because the sofrito locks in so much of that slow-cooked flavor."
Here are just some of the many ways you'll want to use Pettry's dead-simple onion jam:
Grilled Meats: Heat one-half cup of leek or white sofrito in a sauté pan, remove it from the heat and fold in one tablespoon each of parsley and other chopped herbs that complement whatever meat you're cooking, like tarragon for beef, mint for lamb or oregano for chicken. "The sofrito adds depth to grilled meats," Pettry says.
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Breakfast Everything: "We use the sofrito all over staff meal breakfast," Pettry says. Add a few tablespoons of white sofrito and chopped herbs to soft-scrambled eggs. Or fry potatoes, then toss them in the sofrito of your choice with some lemon zest and salt.
Corn Chowder Starter: Pettry cuts out the 45 minutes she'd usually spend slowly softening onions for a chowder base by using the white sofrito instead. Make a roux by heating up half a cup of the sofrito until it bubbles, and then add one-quarter cup of flour, cooking them while stirring for five minutes until almost completely dry. Slowly whisk in two cups of milk, one cup of cream and three cups of vegetable or corn stock, bringing the mixture to a simmer and cooking it down until the lot thickens slightly. Add four cups of corn kernels and let it all come together for 10 minutes. Add salt and sugar to taste.
Chicken Liver Quick Fix: For a quick liver-and-onion dish, sear one pound of chicken livers in enough butter to coat the pan, then melt in one-quarter cup of white sofrito. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and cook until the livers are slightly pink inside. Add a handful of chopped parsley and some lemon zest; let them cook down for five minutes. "The sweetness and acidity of the sofrito and balsamic pull out some of the mineral tang of the livers," Pettry says. To remove even more of the funk, she suggests soaking the livers in salted ice water for a few hours prior to cooking.
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