Sofritos are an essential in Hispanic cooking. Cuban, Dominican Republican, Puerto Rican, and Spanish families all use sofritos in their cooking. It is an aromatic blend of vegetables, herbs, and spices used to flavor beans, fish, meats, rice and stews. It can act as a sauce, a stew, or a base upon which the rest of the recipe is built. The color of the sofrito will range based on the region where it is made and the food preferences of the cuisine that it is being made in. Colors include vibrant reds, sunburnt oranges, and deep greens. The flavors of the sofrito will range from mild to pungent. Sofrito comes from the Catalan verb "sofrier" which means "to gently fry." Sofritos actually originated in medieval Catalan cuisine and were adopted by the rest of Spain over time.
Sofritos are centered around garlic, onions, bell peppers of all color varieties, tomatoes, annatto seeds sometimes also called achiote seeds, cilantro, Mexican oregano, or parsley. They are traditionally prepared in an earthenware casserole dish called a cazuela. The cazuela takes a while to heat up, but after it has heated fully it maintains a more even temperature than a metal pan would. While preparation techniques vary, especially region to region, a sofrito will typically contain aromatic ingredients that are chopped up finely and then braised or sautéed in cooking oil, most frequently a high quality olive oil.
Sofritos make their way into other cuisines as well, though they tend to be a little different from Hispanic style sofrito because they do not use the exact same herbs and spices, though they will often use the same vegetables like onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes. In French cooking it is called "mirepoix," in German cooking it is called "suppengrun" and in the Philippines it is referred to as "ginisa." In Haiti it is called "epis" and then it was "refogado" in Portuguese. Finally in Italian, you will hear it called "soffrito," the least exciting of all these name variations. Sofritos are also extremely similar to the Cajun and Creole "holy trinity" of onions, bell peppers, and celery.
Plenty of Latin American and Latin Caribbean recipes begin with the direction, "make a sofrito," but the sofrito may not always be the base. Sometimes it is used at the end of the dish, making a sofrito a multidimensional ingredient. It is also pretty much impossible to have the exact same sofrito twice, unless you are using exact measurements for everything, but this is something that is usually passed down or perfected by the individual, so exact measurements and amounts aren't recorded.
What Are Some Popular Sofritos?
Spain - In Spain, a sofrito is a central ingredient in any seafood stew. A Spanish sofrito is mild and sweet. It primarily consists of garlic, bell peppers, onions, and olive oil.
Puerto Rico - Here, sofritos are lightly sautéed in olive oil or lard and added to braised chicken or fish as well as to stewed beans. They are slightly spicy and pungent, made with cilantro root recao leaves, aji dulce, annatto seeds, and sometimes have salted pork called tocino, ham or pimentos with olives and salted capers called alcapaardo.
Cuba - Add more complex flavors to beans, casseroles, rice, soups, and stews with a sofrito in Cuba. In Cuba they also use sofritos on top of grilled beef, pork, or chicken. The Cuban sofrito is mild and made with onion, garlic, aji dulce and ham. It is not uncommon to also include these ingredients: bay leaf, cilantro, cumin, tomato sauce, chorizo, or salted pork.
Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico - For the spicier sofritos, look to the Yucatan Peninsula, where they tend to gravitate towards the hotter, spicier part of the spectrum with roasted garlic, cumin, black pepper, and habaneros as ingredients.
Sofritos can be made in large batches and then divvied up and frozen for future use. If you have some vegetables nearing spoilage, making a sofrito with them is a great way to use them up before they go to waste. This is excellent practice for meal prep, or people who enjoy eating the same meal a few days in a row. Some people will make an enormous amount of sofrito and keep it for a month or so, while others just conserve an ice cube tray full of the stuff to be able to drop a cube or two into their soups and stews for an extra boost of flavor. Some make a huge sofrito and use it all the same day! The possibilities for sofrito are endless.
What is an Easy Sofrito Recipe?
Chicken is easy to make and there are some delicious sofrito recipes out there that pair nicely with this meat. If you are interested in something like that, we suggest giving this Chicken Sofrito Stew a try, as it includes a nice easy sofrito and some delicious, flavorful chicken. Served over rice, this hearty meal will fill both your belly and your heart.
In some places in the United States where there are larger Hispanic populations, you may find premade sofritos in the frozen foods section. These may be helpful if you are hesitant about making your own, or just want to give it a try. You will soon discover that a sofrito can be a great addition to any meal.