Sofrito is a sort of umbrella Spanish word for a savory and flavorful sauce. The word and definition have a commonality with the Italian soffritto. This Italian word refers to something that is sauteed. This is a sensible definition as, in order to make sofrito, one must sautee vegetables and spices. There are many different types of sauces covered by this term, and many different cuisines use a variation of it in numerous culinary manners.
In Spain, Haiti, France and Italy, sofrito is made by cooking tomatoes, garlic, and onions in olive oil. It is often used as the cooking base for sauces, stews, and meat dishes. In Haiti, this sauce and cooking base is called epis. In France, it is referred to as mirepoix.
In the Caribbean Islands and Latin America, sofrito is made much like it is made in Spain, Haiti, France, and Italy. However, the ingredients also include roasted peppers and herbs. That made in Cuba is similar to what is made in Caribbean and Latin America. Spices added to Cuban sofrito include bay leaves, cilantro, cumin, and oregano. Furthermore, in Cuban cuisine, chorizo, bacon, and ham are sometimes added. This is often done when the sauce is being prepared for a bean dish. Puerto Rican cooks often add recao and aji dulce or bell peppers, and it is traditionally made with salted and cured meats.
Sofrito is also used in Mediterranean cooking. It is a bit different, however, in terms of the thickness and ingredients that are used. In Sephardic cuisine, native to the eastern quarters of the Mediterranean region, it is made of water or soup stock that is flavored with lemon juice. The spices that are used to flavor it are garlic, turmeric, and cardamom. It is often used to cook meat, poultry, and fish dishes. In Greece, sofrito is generally only found on the island of Corfu, where it is made with white wine, garlic, and herbs. There, it is used for a slow-cooked veal steak which is served with rice.
It is possible to find bottled sofrito in some American grocery stores and markets, especially in areas where people from Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Mediterranean reside. It is an excellent way to add some extra flavor to soups, chilis, and meat dishes.