Seared Char with Creamed Spinach and Sorrel

This is the easiest elegant dish you will ever make.  Seared char with creamed spinach and sorrel.  Despite my French introduction to cooking I’m not a fan of the just-add-butter-and-cream approach to life on the stove top. It’s too easy to lapse into a dish whose primary flavors are cream and butter rather than the ingredients you brought home from the store.  Nevertheless, there are combinations that ask for butter and cream.  Salmon, spinach and sorrel is one of them.

This post evolved along the If-you-give-a-mouse-a-cookie principle, one ingredient tugging us along to the next.  We had intended to write about a simple dish of creamed spinach, but then we saw the sorrel and thought spinach and sorrel wasn’t a combination we’d seen before.  When we began asking ourselves what we’d like to eat with our side dish the obvious answer was salmon–salmon with a creamed sorrel sauce is a French classic.  Going from salmon to char is a very short hop from one gene pool to another–so short your feet won’t have time to dry.

Sorrel is often overlooked by home cooks.  It’s not exactly cheap, you have to hunt it down and, in defiant opposition to it’s tart lemony flavor,* during cooking its vibrant lime color declines into a dull army green.  If you’ve ever made a breakfast smoothie with a couple of scoops of hemp protein powder you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  Cooking it with spinach makes it go farther, both greens play well with cream AND char.  Adding spinach to sorrel is a less expensive wrinkle on the classic French combination and a decided improvement over the color of sorrel alone.

Moderation in all things.

Ken

*Sorrel’s tartness comes from its oxalic acid content (also found in rhubarb and spinach), and while this is rarely a danger, people with kidney stones are advised to resist the impulse to indulge in large quantities of sorrel, especially raw.

Seared Char with Creamed

Spinach and Sorrel

Makes 4 entree servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, about 12 ounces
  • ¼ pound fresh sorrel
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large shallots, thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 12 ounces char fillets, skin on–cut into 4 pieces
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 – 4 small radishes, sliced paper thin
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon

Directions:

  1. Strip the spinach and sorrel leaves off their ribs.  Wash the leaves well and dry.  Save 12 small sorrel leaves for garnish.
  2. Heat the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook 3 minutes or until tender and just begin to color.  Add the curry powder and cook 30 seconds.  Add the spinach and sorrel (it looks like a lot of greens, but they’ll cook down), season with salt and pepper, toss, and then cover and cook 5 minutes or until wilted and tender.  If there is any residual water, remove the cover and cook until the water has evaporated.  Add the cream and cook 3 minutes uncovered.  The cream should cling to the greens.  Keep warm.
  3. Season the fish with salt and pepper.
  4. Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the fish, skin side down.  Arrange  a lid so it covers the pan by all but 1 inch and cook until the skin is crispy and the fish is just cooked, about 10 minutes. It should still be pink in the center.
  5. Remove the fish from the pan and set it, skin side up, on a board.
  6. Toss the radishes with the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
  7. Serve the fish skin-side up, on a mound of the creamed sorrel and spinach, topped with radishes and fresh sorrel leaves.

Jody Notes:

This is an old-fashioned kind of dish, but the acidic lemony flavor of sorrel cries out for butter and cream.  For a lucky inhabitants of rural New England, sorrel is common spring visitor in their yards.  The rest of us have to rely on farmers’ markets or a VERY well-stocked produce department, and it may be scare or expensive.  If you have a lot, use a lot.  Increase the ratio of sorrel to spinach and decrease the spinach.  If you can’t find sorrel, use other greens or all spinach and season with a squeeze of lemon.  The classic seasoning for creamed spinach is nutmeg  and often used with an overly heavy hand.  I couldn’t bear to add it to this dish.  The curry addition is perfect.

This stovetop method results in a piece of fish with a crisp skin and delicate flesh.  It’s worth the wait.  The radishes provide a crunchy, sharp counterpoint to the rich softness of the greens and fish. 

Navigating through the ever changing waters of the seafood sustainability has kept chefs busy for years.  When I first started cooking in restaurants 30 years ago, farmed Norwegian salmon was prized and celebrated.  It was rich, fatty and tender.  Everyone loved it.

Then came the wild-salmon-only evangelists in the 90’s.  They preached that fish farming was evil, that farmed salmon didn’t taste like fish, that fish farms polluted coastal waters with their food and waste, and that escaped farmed fish were corrupting wild fish stocks.  We were told, “Never eat farmed fish.”

And today?  Wild fish stock are in serious trouble.  Fish farming isn’t just an alternative, it’s a necessary solution.  Supporting responsible aquaculture is the sustainable thing to do.  Arctic char has been named a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch “because it’s farmed in an ecologically responsible manner.” And Arctic char is delicious, beautiful, and good for you. 

After a recent visit to a fish farm in Haiti and a trip to Rwanda (where the government is hoping to develop fish farming), I’ve started cozying up to tilapia.  It too is on the “Best Choice” list.  Look for a tilapia recipe on The Garum Factory in the next few months. 

I’m with my friends at Island Creek Oysters, whose motto is “We believe in aquaculture”.

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15 thoughts

  1. I’m glad you wrote about sorrel–it’s on the far edge of most cooks’ repertoires for the reasons you mentioned. We used to make soup from the wild sorrel we found up the road from our house in the Catskills, but since then I’ve kind of forgotten about it. Worth seeking out, and always good with fish. I’d love to hear more about sustainable (farmed) fish next time you do a fish dish. Clearly there is a lot of confusion about it.

    p.s., let me know if you want more hemp powder. I tried it. It tastes about as good as it looks.

  2. Heh-heh, poor hemp powder. I do like its taste, but it’s color… well, ’nuff said. The farmed fish issue IS complicated. I’m afraid we’re headed to a place we’re supposed to be with meat, i.e. don’t eat much, try to use it as a complement to the other stuff on your plate instead of making it the center of attention, etc. I suspect, whether we like it or not, farmed fish is in our future. Thanks for the comments. Ken

  3. Look, I know I will never see sorrel at Stop & Shop. And, I don’t remember it at my farmers’ market (but I will check again this year when it opens.) Could I use Swiss chard instead — or is that too hard core?

    • I love that–hard-core chard. You can substitute it (or just go with all spinach)–it simply won’t contain the tart component that sorrel brings to the table. You could also add a little squeeze of lemon. Again, different, but still good. Ken

  4. Thanks, Lewis. I love sorrel by itself, despite its color. Cream of sorrel soup is a fabulous old-school concoction, probably most enjoyed by people who followed it with a main course of sweetbreads. I like char too, but if I were king I’d make sure the seas were teaming with wild salmon, which I LOVE. All of us face compromises in life (Jody is threatening–sorry, I mean, offering–to do a tilapia post soon). Ken

  5. I too am always disappointed in the color of sorrel after cooking, so I generally use it as an accenting green in salads. Luckily, I have some sorrel already to harvest from my garden, so I will be making this dish soon for sure.

  6. Sorrel is one of those things I always want to like and try every year just because it screams Spring. You’ve solved at least one of the problems with it with the spinach. Beautiful photos!

  7. I recently used farmed salmon from Maine Aquaculture in a cooking class. http://www.chefbikeski.com/?p=1784 They supplied me with two HUGE fillets. The transport of the young salmon from the freshwater interior lakes in Maine to the seacoast sounds pretty amazing. And I have always preferred farm raised salmon for hot smoking – the higher fat content results in a moister end product. I’ll have to try this out when I can get my hands on some sorrel; I love the addition of curry

  8. Interesting. Given my druthers, I’d always take wild over farmed (the latter doesn’t seem to have as intense a flavor, plus it’s fattier), but now you’ve given me a reason to reconsider, especially when cooking in the summer on our Big Green Egg. Thanks. Ken

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