from the old French word for sour, and sour is indeed the name of the game.
In addition to that quality, which comes, as does the sourness of rhubarb,
from oxalic acid, sorrel is piquant and refreshing, with a pleasant, indefinable "green" taste that makes it an almost universally useful herb.
A few leaves do wonders for salads, for instance, or enhancing the palate- cleansing qualities of green leaves in vinaigrette sauce. In classical French cuisine, it is used as a sauce for rich fish like salmon and shad, as filling for omelets, and in a lovely puree soup, enriched with egg yolks, called potage Germiny. The British have long used it in a sauce for roast goose, and it goes well with bland starches like potatoes and dried beans.
Getting hold of this wonderful herb is becoming easier as green-grocery departments expand, but it's still much easier to grow than it is to find in stores.
It is perennial, inclined to spread, hardy, undemanding and of no particular interest to bugs. One of the first plants to green up in spring and the last to go by in fall, it will produce all summer if it is constantly
cut back. A square foot and a half of ground will support a clump big enough for one family's needs, and if it is less than beautiful, it is at least unobtrusive.
All this should make it an ideal market crop, and I have no doubt that if the market existed, specialty growers would start producing it.
Unfortunately, although it has been popular in Western Europe from medieval times and continues to hold a place of honor in Polish and Russian cooking, where sorrel soups and sauces are pretty much taken for granted, the sorrel revolution has yet to hit these shores.
No time like the present. Starting is easy, once you've got the sorrel,
because almost all recipes are based on a simple puree made by melting the shredded leaves in butter.
Melted is the word for it, too; cooked sorrel doesn't just soften, it disintegrates. It also cooks down, to a degree that puts spinach in the shade. Within about 20 minutes' cooking, six or seven cups of shredded sorrel will reduce to a heaping cup of concentrated olive-green sourness.
This is very convenient when it comes to preservation - tablespoon-size lumps of the puree freeze well and thaw fast. Put up a cup's worth in a season and have the perfect enhancing touch ready for a winter's worth of rich soups and fat meats.
BASIC SORREL PUREE
1 pound fresh sorrel
4 to 6 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped, about 3/4 cup (optional)
Pick over the sorrel, and cut away any tough stems. The older the plants, the more of these there will be. Chop roughly, and set aside. Melt the butter over medium heat in a wide skillet. If you want an onion flavor, saute the onion in the butter until golden. Add the sorrel, a handful at a time, stirring as each handful is added and inserting more as soon as there's room. Cook, stirring, until a smoothish puree is achieved. That's it. It makes about 1 1/4 cups of puree, and this recipe can be reduced. Some uses for the puree:
SORREL SAUCE 1. For each two servings, heat one-half cup of heavy cream until almost boiling. Stir it into two tablespoons of the puree, season lightly with salt, white pepper and nutmeg. Serve with simply poached fish, roast chicken, open-face grilled fontina and rye bread sandwiches, fresh broad beans, etc.
SORREL SAUCE 2. Make a standard Hollandaise sauce. Season with about two tablespoons of puree for each one-half cup of Hollandaise. Serve with any of the above, or with fried clams, steamed asparagus, artichokes, fiddleheads, broccoli, wild rice or new potatoes.
SORREL OMELET. Allow about one heaping tablespoon of puree for a three-egg omelet. Spread it down the middle right before folding, when the eggs are almost set. Resist the temptation to add more, or the eggs will be overpowered.
This is one of these sauces that would probably taste good ladled over an old boot. Use it in any of the ways already suggested, or thin it into soup, as explained below, and eat it plain. In this recipe, I've called for pork paillards.
SUPER SORREL AND MUSHROOM SAUCE
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons minced shallot
1 1/2 cups chopped mushrooms
1/4 pound sorrel leaves, about 3 heaping cups prepared
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
4 thick-cut boneless pork chops, about 4 ounces each
Flour, butter, olive oil
1/3 cup vermouth
2 jumbo egg yolks
Salt to taste
Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a heavy, non-corrodible saucepan. Add the shallots, and cook, stirring often, until they are transparent and just starting to turn golden. Stir in the mushrooms, raise the heat slightly, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms have shed their liquid and are starting to brown.
Set aside five or six of the sorrel leaves, and chop the rest. Add the chopped leaves to the saucepan, and cook, stirring, until they wilt. Pour in the broth, cover the pan, lower the heat, and simmer gently for about half an hour. (Sauce may be prepared to this point up to several hours ahead.)
While sauce is cooking, trim all fat from the chops, place them between sheets of waxed paper and pound gently until they are a bit less than one- quarter-inch thick. They'll be about the size of salad plates. Set them aside.
At serving time, cut the reserved sorrel into tiny shreds. Dust the pork lightly with flour. Reheat sauce, if necessary. Heat a thin film of half butter, half oil in a skillet just large enough to hold one paillard at a time, and cook them over high heat, allowing about two minutes a side. Add only enough extra fat to prevent burning. Set the meat aside to keep warm. Swirl the vermouth in the skillet briefly and add it to the sauce.
Beat the egg yolks until light and well-mixed, then add about a tablespoon of the sauce liquid. Add a bit more and a bit more until yolks are well- thinned and heated. Return yolk mixture to saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, over very low heat or over hot water, until the sauce has thickened - five minutes or less. Do not allow to boil. Taste, and add salt if necessary.
Put a puddle of sauce on each warmed plate, top with a paillard of pork, and spoon on a bit more sauce. Garnish with the shredded sorrel, and serve. Makes four servings.
VARIATIONS. This process applies nicely to almost any quickly cooked piece of rich meat - flattened chicken, or even better, duck breast, salmon or bluefish filet, even hamburgers. To serve with vegetables, eggs, etc., simply omit the wine.
SORREL AND MUSHROOM SOUP
1/2 pound or slightly more sorrel leaves
3 tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups chopped onion
4 1/2 cups chopped mushrooms, about 3/4 pound
6 cups chicken broth
3 or 4 jumbo egg yolks
Cook the sorrel, butter, onion and mushroom as in the sauce recipe above, simmering the mixture for 45 minutes to an hour. Add the broth, egg yolks and
salt. Crisp toast is a fine accompaniment, especially if the bread in question is a light egg bread like brioche or hallah. Makes four servings.