When I lived in Paris, one of the delights of early spring was the arrival of the first sorrel at the farmer’s market – a sure sign that the most delectable of gastronomic delights, sorrel soup, was about to appear on café menus throughout the city. Strangely, sorrel – an easily seeded perennial – is rarely grown here in the US, and when it is, people seem unaware of what to do with it – other than to add the leaves to salads. That’s a real shame, as sorrel’s sour cum lemony flavor is the perfect spring tonic when paired with eggs or fish, or used in cream based soups. So, to whet your appetites, I thought I would share with you several of my favorite recipes featuring sorrel. You should note that in all these recipes, the preference is for the first young tender sorrel leaves, which can be used almost whole. As the season progresses, sorrel leaves lengthen and toughen, so remove any veiny or stringy parts on older leaves before cooking.
Sorrel and Celery Soup
This take on the French classic is a the perfect opener to a classy spring dinner.
8 large stalks of celery, roughly chopped
1 medium onion, diced
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
1 cup sorrel leaves, tightly packed
Salt and pepper to taste
Over medium heat, soften celery and onion for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile heat the stock until simmering, and in a separate pan, careful heat the cream still steaming. Combine the sorrel, celery and onions together with a little stock, and puree. Add the remaining stock and cream, season to taste.
Here’s a recipe that the noted chef Deborah Madison introduced to me one spring day while hosting the Victory Garden:
2 tablespoons melted butter
1 large onion finely diced
3 to 4 cups of trimmed sorrel leaves (see note above)
1 ½ cup Arborio rice
6 cups heated vegetable or chicken stock
¼ cup crème fraiche (heavy cream will work too)
¼ cup fresh parsley (fresh chervil works too, if you have it.)
freshly grated Parmigiano
salt and pepper to taste
In a sauté pan, and butter and onion and soften over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Add the sorrel and ½ teaspoon salt, and cook until softened. Add the rice, stirring for one minute. Add two cups of stock, simmering until absorbed. Then turn the heat to high, and add the rest ½ cup at a time until absorbed, stirring continuously. When the rice is tender stir in the cream and parsley, season to taste, and add cheese.
Simple, easy, elegant, this omelet is sure to please. Add crumbled goat cheese to the filling for a real treat.
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup finely chopped sorrel
¼ cup heavy cream
pepper to taste.
Melted sweet butter
In a saute pan, wilt sorrel with a tablespoon of butter, about one minute. Add cream, set aside. Whisk eggs, salt and pepper. Prepare omelet, adding sorrel filling when you are ready to fold over. Slide onto plate, brush with sweet butter, serve.
Sorrel Butter for Grilled Salmon
Nothing says salmon like sorrel, and in fact, in France, you’d be hard pressed to find the two separated in spring.
1 shallot finely diced
1/3 cup dry white wine
1 ½ cup finely diced sorrel leaves, all stems removed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, allowed to soften at room temperature
Salt and pepper to taste
In a sauté pan, add one tablespoon butter and wilt the sorrel, about 1 minute. Remove to plate. Add the shallot to the pan with the wine and a little salt over medium heat, reducing the liquid to about 2 tablespoons. Work the cooled sorrel and shallot mixture into the butter. Grill or cook salmon as desired, spreading the sorrel butter on the fish just before serving.
A final note or two on sorrel culture: Easily grown from seed, sorrel prefers full sun and a rich composted soil. (Like rhubarb, it loves a layer of compost or manure each fall.). Established clumps can be divided in spring. In warm weather, sorrel has a tendency to bolt. Remove flower stems as they appear, and keep well watered. There are technically two species: common sorrel, rumex acetosa, and French sorrel, rumex scutatus. However, in the trade, these are often confused. (Johnny’s, for instance, lists their rumex acetosa as a “French type.” Go figure.) Purists will insist that French sorrel, which has narrower sword shaped leaves than its cousin, tastes stronger. I’ve grown both; the difference is minor. What is most important is that the leaves be harvested young. Old leaves get grainy and bitter.