Look for sorrel in a supermarket and if you’re lucky, you might find tiny bunches hidden beneath the basil. And you’ll pay dearly for them. But head for the farmers market, and big bunches are yours for a song.
When my husband and I spot them, we immediately grab at least four or five. Not that this stash lasts long.
Sorrel is terrific in so many dishes, after all. It’s got that distinctive zing, which makes it work well with any savory dish that gets along with lemon.
And even better, sorrel develops a beautifully fluffy texture when it’s cooked, giving body to soups and sauces, while retaining all of its flavor.
Although sorrel does make cameo appearances year-round, spring is its showtime.
Not only is sorrel abundant, but it tastes best now. Its bright spinach-like leaves are farmers markets all over. You can choose younger leaves (they’re smaller and more tender) to toss into salads or layer in sandwiches such as BLTs for a little zip.
These baby leaves, just several inches long, are also good for cooking, but you’ll want the larger and more mature leaves for a stronger pucker.
It’s this very quality that gave the herb its name -- “sorrel” has Germanic origins that mean sour -- and plays a big part in what makes it so versatile.
This lemony tang has been my inspiration in the kitchen, and so instead of tucking lemon halves into a chicken before roasting, I tuck some chopped sorrel with garlic and shallots under the skin of chicken breasts before sauteeing them in butter.
For even more sorrel flavor, I make a white wine and cream sauce for the chicken using more of this herb. The sauce plays on two strengths of sorrel. One is that velvety consistency when cooked. The other is its easy relationship with cream; unlike lemon juice, sorrel won’t curdle it.
I often whip up a simpler sauce to serve with poached eggs for brunch -- a marvelous combination I learned from my husband’s Hungarian family.
The sauce is a perfect foil for the rich yolks. To make it, saute a tablespoon of shallots in butter, then add a pound of cleaned sorrel leaves. When they’re wilted, stir in more butter (about six tablespoons) bit by bit.
Finally, add half a cup of milk, a teaspoon of sugar, and some salt and white pepper to taste. Spoon some sauce onto a plate and put the poached eggs on top with a sprinkle of Hungarian paprika or snipped chives.
Sorrel isn’t limited to supporting roles, though. Give it top billing and it won’t let you down. Sorrel soup is a great example of this, making it one of my favorite springtime dishes. For me, it’s the best way to experience the pure essence of this herb. And the soup is luscious and satisfying, with or without cream.
Sorrel’s bright flavor makes it a fine match for fish as well. A creamy flan made with this herb is a perfect side dish, whether you’ve grilled, poached or baked the fish.
When shopping for sorrel, look for leaves that are bright green and crisp. To clean them, plunge the leaves into a sink of cold water to remove any dirt. If the leaves are thick and large, fold them in half and pull the stems off and discard.
Drain the leaves on paper towels, then spin-dry them in a salad spinner to remove excess moisture. You can do this ahead and store them in plastic bags in the crisper bin of the refrigerator.
Just be sure you have enough on hand. There’s no reason to miss out on sorrel, especially when it’s this good.