What is Sofrito?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

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.

Sofrito is often flavored with cilantro.
Sofrito is often flavored with cilantro.

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.

Olive oil, which can be used to make sofrito.
Olive oil, which can be used to make sofrito.

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.

Cardamom is commonly used to season Mediterranean versions of sofrito.
Cardamom is commonly used to season Mediterranean versions of sofrito.

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.

Oregano is regularly added to Cuban sofrito.
Oregano is regularly added to Cuban sofrito.

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.

Mediterranean versions of the sauce are also seasoned with turmeric.
Mediterranean versions of the sauce are also seasoned with turmeric.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments

anon83873

Well, Cuba is belong to the Caribbean, like Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and Haiti.In Puerto Rico we made sofrito with cilantro, culantro (recao), little sweet peppers, onion, garlic, long green pepper (Cubanelle) and oregano. That's all We don't used bell peppers. We do not add salted meat to sofrito, either. Sofrito is a mix of fresh ingredients we use to cook with. It's like a mirepoix: carrots, onions and celery.

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