it's easy being green: fish in sorrel sauce with sautéed potatoes

fish in sorrel sauce with sautéed potatoes
Sorrel is a member of the knotweed family, which is about as unappealing as it is misleading. Don't be fooled, it is a delicious sour-tasting herb, which goes very well with chicken and fish and makes a lovely salad herb. It is also perfect in soups or steamed or puréed and makes a great omelette filling.

Years ago, on my first holiday abroad without my parents, a few of my friends and I were driving through France down to Grasse in the south. We stopped overnight in a fairly anonymous motel off the motorway. But you kind of know you're in France when in the restaurant you are served such a sublime meal that it stays in your memory for years. A Little Chef this most definitely was not.

I'm scanning the menu and trying to translate from French to English. I was also in those far off days more or less a vegetarian. But since I was on holiday and didn't want to spend two weeks on a diet of omelettes (in those days if you mentioned to a waiter/ess in France that you were a veggie, there was lots of sucking in of breath and head shaking) I decided to choose the trout dish, which even my limited French vocabulary could identify since it is truite.

I had no idea what l'oseille was, although apparently it was some kind of sauce that came with the fish. My French-English dictionary drew a blank. (Yes, it was so long ago that the internet wasn't available so I couldn't check.) Our waitress looked baffled when I asked, although I suspect all my arm waving wasn't really helping to further cross-channel understanding either. So I decided to chance it anyway. (Well that and the fact that my friends were rolling their eyes and muttering impatiently.) The fish arrived arrived on a mysterious greeny-brown bed of a sauce. It didn't matter that it wasn't pretty; it tasted gorgeous and wonderfully sharp.

sorrel sauce: not pretty but utterly delicious!
It wasn't until we returned to England that I discovered that l’oseille was in fact sorrel, a herb that until then I had only read about in Culpepper's famous herbal. I’ve since learned that sorrel was eaten in this country for centuries. In Medieval times it was used to give a tartness to both sweet and savoury dishes (at a time when most people would not have been able to afford lemons for sourness). It is also rumoured that Mary, Queen of Scots made sorrel fashionable, which makes sense in that she had very strong links with France, where sorrel is still popular. I can only assume that a greater availability of citrus fruits and cheaply produced vinegar in Britain from the 18th century meant that poor sorrel fell out of favour. Well that and industrialisation. Either way, it is a great shame, as it has a very agreeable tart flavour.

Sorrel also contains oxalic acid. Don’t worry this is not toxic in small quantities! It is however chock full of vitamin A as well as a little vitamin C and minerals. You can eat it as a vegetable, much like spinach, by blanching it in boiling water (which will help reduce some of the acidity). You may find that you lose some of the colour, but fret not, it won’t affect the flavour.

Serves 4
Skill level: Easy

4 x fish fillets, skinned and patted dry (I used haddock, but oily fish such as salmon or sea trout are a marriage made in heaven!)
2 x shallots, very finely chopped
120ml white wine
140ml double cream or crème fraîche
1 x bunch of sorrel, roughly chopped (I used the stems as well, finely chopped)
45g butter
salt and freshly ground black pepper
sautéed potatoes, to serve
fresh flatleaf parsley, finely chopped, to serve


  1. Preheat the oven to 220C / Gas Mark 7.
  2. In a non-reactive saucepan, melt about half of the butter. Add the chopped shallots together with a pinch of salt and cook gently for 10 to 15 minutes until softened but not browned.
  3. Add the sorrel and stir, cooking gently, until the sorrel begins to "melt".
  4. Add the wine and cook until reduced by about a quarter.
  5. Add the cream and cook gently for a few minutes until the sauce begins to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Don't allow to boil as it ruins the flavour.
  6. Check the seasoning. (I found I needed more salt than I would normally use.)
  7. Melt the rest of the butter. 
  8. Place the fish in an oven-proof dish. Pour over the melted butter and ensure that the fish is well-coated in butter. Season with a little salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on how thick your fish fillets are.
  9. Serve the cooked fish on a bed of sautéed potatoes, topped with a generous dollop of sorrel sauce and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.


Anonymous said...

Yum, that does look good! I love sorrel, such an under-used herb/veg and as you say, also makes sublime soup.

Bintu @ Recipes From A Pantry said...

In Sierra Leone we have sorrel (called sour sour) and I love it. " of my fav ways to eat it is in a garlicky yoghurt sauce and a few leaves thrown in a green salad. I can image in brings a wonderful contrast to the fish in this dish.