The subtitle of this post should be “Evolution of a Recipe.”
On a recent visit to a local produce farm with French-born and trained chef David Baruthio, of Baru 66, I was surprised to find sorrel, a leafy green herb that the French love, but that’s not too common here in Amerique profonde.
I had enjoyed dishes in France made with sorrel, and I was curious to see what this chef would do with it, so I said to Chef David, “Let’s do something with sorrel today.”
Here’s what it looks like:
Back in his kitchen, I loved watching the recipe evolve. Here’s what we did. (If you don’t need a blow-by-blow account, just skip to the bottom of this post for the recipe).
First, David laid out all of the beautiful produce that we had picked that morning from Sunstead Farms.
Next, we went abut washing the sorrel. David filled his massive produce sink (a sink he only uses to wash herbs, fruits, and veggies) with water, and dumped all the sorrel in. We swished the sorrel around until it was clean; gently shook it off, and put it aside until we needed it.
We tasted the sorrel and bandied about some ideas about what might go well with it. It has a fascinatingly astringent side to it that’s refreshing, yet clearly too sour to use in abundance.
We wondered what would happen if we blanched it. So we gave it whirl.
That was, without a doubt, the worst idea we had all day. Not only did the sorrel look awful, but it tasted awful, too. The bright-green fresh flavor vanished, and all we were left with was sourness.
David remembered a wonderful preparation he had enjoyed in one of the many restaurants he has worked in (from Belgium to Mongolia, to Beverly Hills…). It was a salmon dish in a beurre blanc, sparked with sorrel as a finishing touch. So, we went to work.
For four servings, we chopped a major shallot (came up with between 1/3 and 1/2 cup); David brought out some butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper, olive oil, a bottle of Jurançon wine (from the Southwest of France) that he loves to cook with. (Use a Riesling if you can’t find Jurançon).
David melted 1 tablespoon butter into 1 tablespoon olive oil, and seared the salmon on both sides over medium-high heat. Note that for this experiment, we only worked with one piece of salmon, but all other recipe proportions will work just fine for four servings. After the salmon was seared on both sides, David basted it with the pan drippings.
We decided that some fingerling potatoes would be a lovely accompaniment to this simple plat du jour. So when the salmon got close to being cooked through, we threw some potatoes in a pan with some butter, oil, a sprig of fresh thyme. Note the way David just put the sprig into the pan to delicately flavor the potatoes, rather than chopping the herb up and sprinkling it over the potatoes. French food is all about subtlety.
Now, for the beurre blanc. David placed finely minced shallots, 1/2 cup Jurançon and 1 tablespoon lemon juice in a pan and let it boil away until it was reduced by 3/4. That is, we had just a few teaspoons left in the pan. He reduced the heat and added (gulp) a stick of butter, whisking it in, bit by bit, into the reduction. Yes, a stick of butter sounds like a lot, I know. But it is only 2 tablespoons per person. Don’t butter your bread, and enjoy the sauce instead!
I told David that my recipe for Beurre Blanc had a touch of cream in it—it helps keep the sauce from separating, and I thought that for the novice cook, this would ensure success. He gave me a French sigh of exasperation that I’ve come to know quite well, and said, “In France, we call that ‘sauce bâtard.'” Bastard sauce. I guess it’s considered cheating.
Well, that’s the difference between a chef and a bonne femme—between someone who cooks for a living and one who cooks for pure pleasure (and the need to get a good meal on the table without a lot of fuss).
Back to the beurre blanc. He strained the sauce, leaving the shallots behind in the sieve.
The finished Beurre Blanc:
To plate this gorgeous dish, we placed the warm potatoes on a warm plate:
He then placed the salmon, skin-side up (it’s more dramatic that way) atop the potatoes and spooned some beurre blanc around it. Then, scattered the sorrel and a few teeny-tiny heirloom baby tomatoes around it.
It was wonderful. The unctuousness of the beurre blanc completely balanced the spark of the sorrel, and vice-versa. The sorrel diminished any cloying quality that the beurre blanc, by itself, could have had. And the salmon (wild salmon, of course) had a beautiful richness to it that, again, was complimented by the bright, sour spark of the sorrel. We were thrilled with this dish.
Saumon à l’Oseille, Façon “Le Chef et La Bonne Femme”
(Salmon with Sorrel, in the style of The Chef and The Good Wife)
4 (4- to 6-ounce) salmon fillets, skin-on, about 1 inch thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1/2 cup Jurançon wine (or use Riesling)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
Pan-fried fingerling potatoes (see subrecipe)
1/2 cup sorrel, cut into chiffonade
Baby heirloom tomatoes, whole if tiny, halved if merely small
Season the salmon with salt and pepper. In a skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium. Cook the salmon fillets until seared on both sides. Then, continue to cook while basting with the pan juices, about 6 minutes. It should not be cooked through at this point, but a rosy medium-rare in the center (it will continue to cook as it sits, and you will also reheat it later). Set the pan aside.
For the beurre blanc, combine the shallot, wine, and lemon. Boil this mixture until reduced to about 2 tablespoons. This will take about 10 to 15 minutes (do not allow the shallots to brown). Add the butter, one piece at at a time, whisking until each piece of butter is incorporated into the sauce. Do not allow the sauce to boil, and remove it from the heat once the last piece of butter is incorporated. Season with salt and pepper. Strain the shallots out of the sauce with a fine-mesh sieve. Keep the pan warm, but off the heat
Working quickly (you don’t want the beurre blanc to sit too long!) return the pan with the salmon to medium heat; cook until heated through and desired doneness. Divide the potatoes among each of four dinner plates. Place the salmon atop the potatoes. Divide the beurre blanc among the salmon; sprinkle with sorrel. Serve.
Pan-Fried Fingerling Potatoes: Slice 1 pound fingerling potatoes lengthwise into 2 long pieces. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat; add 1 large sprig thyme. Cook the potatoes until tender (10 to 15 minutes, depending on the size). Remove the thyme sprig.