Sorrel: A short-lived spring treat

New York TimesMay 20, 2014 

I’m not much of a gardener, but when tiny green sorrel shoots start inching up from the pots on my deck every spring, I feel an undue sense of accomplishment. That this perennial herb is weedlike and nearly impossible to kill doesn’t matter. I take pride in its vigor. And then I gleefully eat it up.

Sorrel is sour, grassy and bright in flavor. You can use it raw as an herb or cooked as a vegetable, though the leaves do darken from grassy green to a less-attractive drab olive when heated.

If you’re the kind of person who squeezes lemon juice on everything, you’ll probably like raw young sorrel leaves added to salads. I like to toss it with milder lettuces such as butter and bibb, but it also works with bitter arugula and radicchio. Go lightly on the acid in the dressing, or skip it entirely and just gloss the salad greens with good olive oil and some salt.

As for cooking sorrel, traditional recipes pair the green with something either rich or sweet as a contrast. On the rich side are eggs, heavy cream and salmon fillets, which often serve as a lush bed for a creamy green sorrel sauce.

In this recipe, I take the sweeter route, making a quick sorrel butter sauce for a pan full of seared sea scallops. The scallops, which are browned on only one side to keep them from overcooking, are a tender contrast to the vibrant sauce. And that the whole thing comes together in minutes keeps the flavors bright and alive – and makes it an incredibly easy weeknight dinner as well.

Just make sure to dry the scallops well before adding them to the very hot pan so they sear rather than steam. The brown bits they leave on the bottom of the pan are as important for the flavor of the sauce as the garlic and salt.

If you think this dish may be for you, make it soon. The window for sorrel is short. Now is the time to pounce if you see it at the market. Or if you have the space and the sunshine, try planting a pot of sorrel. The biggest reward will come next spring.

Scallops With Sorrel Butter

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound sea scallops, patted dry

Kosher salt and black pepper, as needed

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon dry white vermouth or white wine

4 ounces sorrel (about 3 cups loosely packed), stems removed

2 tablespoons chopped chives

HEAT a large skillet over medium-high. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet. Season scallops with salt and pepper; place in pan in a single layer. Cook without moving until bottoms are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Do not turn. Transfer scallops to a plate.

RETURN pan to medium heat. Add garlic and cook 10 seconds. Stir in vermouth and scrape up any browned bits from bottom of pan. Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter and the sorrel; season lightly with salt and pepper.

RETURN scallops to pan, seared side up. Continue cooking until sorrel is a dark olive green and falling apart and scallops are just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Sprinkle in chives and serve.

Yield: 2 to 4 servings.

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