Sometimes simple is best. Sorrel sauce is a bedrock sauce in classic French cuisine, and while not quite a “mother sauce,” it is as versatile as it is easy to make. After all, there are only really four ingredients to it.
First off, however, I need to tell you about sorrel. Rumex acetosa, common garden sorrel, is one of my favorite things to grow in my garden. Why? For starters, it’s ridiculously easy to grow. It’s basically a weed with a deep root network. Drought tolerant, good to eat all year round, self sowing — hell, it’s borderline invasive.
What do you do with it? Well, sorrel is a hybrid herb and vegetable. It looks like a lettuce, but it tastes like lemonade in a leaf. That tartness comes from oxalic acid, the same stuff in rhubarb. But sorrel does indeed make a cool salad green. I love it in sandwiches, as an accent in salads, in sorrel soup, another French standby, and of course in this sauce.
Garden sorrel also has wild relatives. Oxalis is one — here in California there is a non-native oxalis with shamrock leaves and warm yellow flowers — there is also wood sorrel, a common weed, as well as sheep sorrel. Both of these last two grow wild all over the United States and Canada. You can absolutely use these sorrels in the kitchen, too, although they are a lot smaller.
Once you have your sorrel, you really ought to make this sauce. The cream tames the sometimes harsh acidity of sorrel, and the result is a lush, balanced sauce that is absolutely ideal for light meats and eggs. It’s the yin to the subtle yang you get with a piece of poached fish or poultry.
The ultimate classic is salmon with sorrel sauce, but sorrel sauce is wonderful with any white fish, with poultry like turkey, pheasant or chicken, as well as with egg dishes.
There are lots of versions of this sauce, but here I adapt a stripped down classic that I first read in Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking. My advice: If you catch fish or hunt wild turkeys, or if you like poached meats or eggs, memorize this sauce. You will not be sorry.
Classic French Sorrel Sauce
- 2/3 cup heavy cream
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/4 pound sorrel leaves, stems removed
- 2 tablespoons vermouth, or chicken or vegetable stock
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- Chiffonade the sorrel by curling up a few leaves at a time and slicing them very thin.
- Pour the cream in a small pot and bring it to a simmer. Doing this will prevent it from curdling when it hits all that acidic sorrel in a few minutes.
- Meanwhile, in another small to medium pot, heat the butter over medium heat and add the sorrel. Cook the sorrel, stirring often, until it melts -- it will cook down a lot and turn Army green. When it does, stir in the cream and bring the sauce to a bare simmer. It will be pretty thick, so you'll want to add the vermouth or stock to thin it out. You can add another tablespoon if you want the sauce even thinner. Add salt and white pepper to taste and serve.
Alice PiperMorris says
I’ve substituted with spinach, kale and added some lemon juice for acidic taste. (especially on fish) and it has been a very good alternative and easily available.
trudy trumpy says
any chance there are other greens that can substitute for sorrel if I cant find it right now? Granted… Im in New England and buried in snow right now! so what about microgreens? I happen to have radish,peapod,sunflower microgreens. they are spicy .Trudy
sadie kendall says
I make my sorrel sauce by using sorrel leaves, creme fraiche, grind in a cuisinart. No need to cook. The acidity of creme fraiche keeps th color bright.
susan vallon says
I have a bunch of baby sorrel leaves and I have creme fraiche, anything else? S&P? Stock? Or just toss it all in the Cuisinart? S
Carl Dulfer says
The pictures show a light-green sauce just like the sorrel sauces I have had in France (although the French sauces are always strained). When I make sorrel sauce at home, even after straining, they are a light brown in color. What am I doing wrong?
Hank Shaw says
Carl: Maybe you are cooking it too long? I don’t know.
Ambra Tosto says
Very nice recipe. Tried and liked it a lot. One small observation on the post though. At a certain point you say that Oxalis is a wild relative of sorrel. This is actually not correct: the two species are in different plant families and even indifferent orders. They only happen to both have oxalis acid.