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The Dansville Online
  • Jim Hillibish: The Cajun holy trinity

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  • We’re watching a food show and the expert chef says, “And now we make a trinity.” Then she makes not a trinity. We can hear the cooks in New Orleans groaning.
    At least she got the classic ingredients right: onions, celery and green bell peppers. Then she blew it, sautéing them “for a few minutes until the onion is caramelized.”
    Wrong, groan, cringe.
    Beyond rarely cooking it right hereabouts, trinity is the most abused word in cookery. In the States, there are “trinity” recipes everywhere: trinity wedding punch, parfaits, cocktails, cookies, on and on. We’ve morphed what should be an exact cooking term into anything that has three ingredients.
    Wrong again.
    A real Trinity (capital “T”) is the vegetable trio of onions, celery and green bell peppers, but they must be specially cooked to make a flavoring. You’ll find it in hundreds of Cajun and Southern regional dishes, plus Mexican, Spanish, Italian, Moroccan and French.
    Trinity is cooked religiously. Anything less is a sin.
    First, get the proportions right: 2 parts onion, 1 part celery, 1 part sweet green bell pepper. Chop these. Then coat a heavy skillet with a film of olive oil, place on low heat and add the vegetables. You want to “sweat” them, not fry, stirring often. Cook far slower than the sizzle of a sauté. No browning is allowed, only a slight release of steam.
    The result can only be described as mushy, a term most often used as something to avoid at all cost in cooking vegetables.
    But what a mush it is. Slow cooking releases, but does not caramelize, the sugars in the three veggies. Their flavors indeed mush together, crafting an entirely different taste. Three separates make a whole, a Trinity.
    Use a Trinity as a flavoring in sauces, soups, braising liquids, whatever. It does not take the place of onions, celery and peppers. You’ll still want to add these if the recipe calls for them.
    A traditional Trinity adds a depth of smooth flavor. It turns a common tomato sauce into a deliciously complex tomato sauce. Trinity in meat gravies is a wow. Your diners will exclaim, “Oh Lord, this is good.”
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    Contact Jim Hillibish at jim.hillibish@cantonrep.com. On Twitter: @jhillibishREP.
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