Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Herb of the Week - Sorrel

Although a bit late, coming in just under the wire before midnight on Wednesday, it is generally a Wednesday event to have the herb of the week, where we highlight how to grow and use a particular herb.  I love lemon herbs, and this week's herb has an almost bitter lemony underflavor that puts it in my book as a lemon herb, but not many use it that way.  So let's learn more!

This week’s Herb of the week is Sorrel

Sorrel is derived from the French word “surele” which translates as “sour.”  There are two sorrels that are commonly used in cooking.  French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus) and Garden Sorrel (Rumex acetosa.)  Both plants have an acidic leaf with a slightly lemon flavor.  French Sorrel is more highly favored, because it is milder.  The sour taste of sorrel leaves is due to their high levels of oxalic acid.  An ancient herb, Sorrell was eaten by the ancient Egyptians and during the medieval era was used to make vinegar.

French Sorrel on the left
and larger leafed Garden Sorrel on the right
To Grow
French Sorrel has round, bright green leaves; very different from the arrow-shaped leaves of Garden Sorrel.  Both grow to about 18 inches with fleshy, large spinach-like leaves at the end of succulent style stems.  They are hardy in Zones 4 to 8 and will tolerate just about any type of soil.  Sow seeds in moist soil in a sunny spot.  You don’t need to cover or much the seeds.  Thin to 12 inches apart.  Harvest the leaves regularly during the growing season and cut back the stalks to keep the leaves tender.  If you allow a few stalks to flower and set seed, the plant will self-seed for next year.  Plants can also be propagated by division.  About every 4 years you can divide them so they do not get too crowded.

To Use
Sorrel’s young tender leaves provide an interesting tang when used fresh in salads.  The larger leaves can be used in traditional sorrel soups.  The fresh leaves can be blanched in boiling water and frozen for later use.  Never cut more than you need, as sorrel does not keep once prepared. 

Sorrel is an important part of French and Polish dishes, often cooked in a cream sauce as an accompaniment to salmon or veal.  Sorrel also pairs well with eggs, goat cheese and poultry.  It is a popular as a salad green in Britain, Ireland and China. 

When cooking with sorrel make sure your equipment is all stainless steel as the leaves can discolor your pots and knives.


Sorrel Soup
serves 4

2 cups fresh sorrel leaves
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and 1" dice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
6 cups water
2 whole eggs

Wash and remove the stems from the sorrel leaves.   Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot, add the sorrel leaves and potato.  Stir until the leaves are wilted.  Add the water and simmer until the potatoes are soft.
Puree the soup with a hand-held mixer or in a food processor until smooth.  Add the cream, salt and pepper to taste and bring back to simmer.

Poached Salmon with Sorrel Sauce
Serves 4

4 cutlets of salmon
½ cup sweet butter
1 large bunch of sorrel, washed and chopped
1 cup heavy cream or crème fraiche
salt & pepper

Poach the salmon is boiling salted water for about 8 minutes.  Remove and set aside on a warm plate.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Add the chopped sorrel – it melts into the butter very quickly.  When it has bubbled for a few minutes, add the cream and seasoning, bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  If you are using crème fraiche, boil very rapidly for a few minutes.  Pour the sauce over the salmon and serve immediately.

copyright 2011, Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

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