by Sheila Connolly
I confess: I am agriculturally challenged. I simply cannot make things grow. Or they grow, but in stingy amounts, barely enough for one hearty meal. When we moved into our current house, I built a raised bed (yes, with mine own hands), ordered topsoil, attended an organic gardening class, shaped raised rows, and planted potatoes, thinking that if Irish peasants could do it, so could I. I did get potatoes, but if I'd been a peasant I would have starved to death in short order.
There is one exception. I have a sorrel plant in my garden, which just keeps chugging along, summer, winter. I can't remember where it came from, although I suspect someone gave it to me. A few times a year I whack off a few leaves and use them in a dish. My plant doesn't mind. It actually spreads, little by little.
Most people probably have never eaten sorrel, or seen it in a market. It's not to everybody's liking, because it's somewhat sour and astringent. But it goes nicely with fish, particularly if you cut the sharpness with cream. This is the simplest recipe I know, if ever you should stumble upon a bunch of sorrel and want to try it.
WARNING: This is an old-school dish, heavy on the cream and butter. I have another one for a lighter sorrel sauce for salmon, but I still have to find it.
Choose a sturdy white fish Note: fresh flounder would work, but I've found that the previously frozen type that we find in stores turns to mush when you cook it. Go with cod, hake, or haddock, which holds together much better.
Poach your fish:
1½ lbs. fish filets
4 Tblsp butter
2 Tblsp finely chopped shallots
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
Salt and white pepper
1½ cups water, fish stock or dry white wine
In a pan wide enough to hold your fish in one layer, melt the butter and gently sauté the shallots until soft. Add the thyme and bay leaf to the pan. Lightly salt and pepper your fish filets on both sides, then lay in pan over the shallots and herbs. Pour your liquid around it. Bring it to a simmer, cover and cook on low until the fish is done and flakes easily. Place the fish on a platter, cover lightly with foil, and keep warm until you're ready to assemble your dish.
While the fish is poaching, slice and briefly sauté mushrooms of your choice. I happened to find a nice batch of fresh oyster mushrooms, so I used those.
Strain the poaching liquid from your fish through a fine sieve into a large (1 quart) saucepan. Bring it to a boil over high heat and cook until the liquid is reduced to about half a cup (really intensifies the flavor!). Lower the heat and pour in 2 cups of heavy cream (I warned you!), stir, and simmer for 8-10 minutes until the sauce is reduced to about 1½ cups.
Take ½ lb. fresh sorrel, wash well, trim out the central stalk, and slice the leaves into shreds. In a small skillet, melt 2 Tblsp. butter and quickly cook the sorrel (it will reduce in volume) for a couple of minutes.
Make a beurre manié (hey, it's easy): place 2 Tblsp. butter in a small bowl and let it soften, then add 2 Tblsp. flour and mash together (I use the back of a spoon) until it forms a smooth paste. That's it! It's a handy thickening agent for any stew or sauce that seems a bit watery.
Whisk the beurre manié into the reduced stock-cream mixture and simmer, whisking, until it has thickened (2-3 minutes—this cooks the flour). Add the sorrel. Taste for seasoning.
Lay your fish filets on a plate and pour some sauce over them. You can serve the dish with rice or potatoes (I couldn’t resist these tiny new potatoes at the store), with a green vegetable or salad on the side.
P.S. My horseradish has survived its first winter. Now what do I do with it?