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.
*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.
- 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
- Strip the spinach and sorrel leaves off their ribs. Wash the leaves well and dry. Save 12 small sorrel leaves for garnish.
- 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.
- Season the fish with salt and pepper.
- 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.
- Remove the fish from the pan and set it, skin side up, on a board.
- Toss the radishes with the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.
- Serve the fish skin-side up, on a mound of the creamed sorrel and spinach, topped with radishes and fresh sorrel leaves.
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”.