So I’m strolling through my fave Président Wilson marché early on a Saturday morning, already panting in anticipation. And there it is Joël Thiébault’s fabled stand, seemingly a city block long of every sort of sparkling fresh vegetable you could dream of, in season, just plucked from the earth at Carrières-sur-Seine, west of Paris. The cheerful serveurs hand me a wire basket and by the time I get to the cashier, no matter how darkly I mutter under my breath to myself to be moderate, it’s filled to the brim. Today I found a couple of longtime springtime friends, pictured. Rhubarb and sorrel. These, along with a couple AOC belon oysters THAT I SIMPLY CANNOT RESIST, have me whistling all the way back to my apartment.
Sorrel! Do you know it? So tart, so greenly lemon, so sour from its oxalic acid, so crisp and fine when it’s raw…and turning into a slimy mess the minute it hits heat and liquid. I have struggled with sorrel. It’s been eaten since ancient times as Rumex acetosa, cultivated tenderly, and known as “sour dabs” or dock. John Evelyn, 17th century English diarist and gardener, says about it, “…it gave so grateful a quickness to a salad that it should never be omitted”–and I agree.
But, yes, I have struggled with it in the soup pot. Back in Falls Church, when it was thick in my garden, I tried any number of recipes and any number of ideas without success. Okay, fine, I’ll just eat it raw, I decided.
But. But now I’m in France with Joël Thiébault’s sorrel, for heaven’s sake. So I start with Crème Santé (Creamy Health Soup) in Louis Diat’s Basic French Cookbook. It’s so simple and so pure. Clean and shred enough sorrel to make 1/2 up, firmly packed. Melt a tablespoon of butter in a small saucepan, stir in the sorrel over low heat, and cook til all the moisure has cooked away, about 15 minutes. Stir it into 6 cups of Potage Parmentier, heat, then stir in over low heat 1 egg yolk mixed with a half-cup of heavy cream. Reheat, stirring, without bringing to a boil, then ladle into flat soup plates and garnish with fresh chervil (or shredded sorrel).
This time it’s terrific–and not just hot, as I served it (pictured) to Carmen last Sunday, but also cold, as I served it to Ana on Monday when she locked herself out of her apartment and needed some TLC and a little Santé to boot while her keys were being located.
So let’s try the big magilla, I think: the classic sorrel soup of French haute cuisine, Potage Germiny. This is the one that always slimed on me in Falls Church. And you know what? It’s exactly the same as Crème Santé–except it uses beef broth instead of water as a base…and the sorrel is boiled before it goes into the soup.
Please know that all the fuss about Santé and haute cuisine literally boils down to the fact that sorrel is a natural laxative. Potage Germiny was created in 1869 by chef de cuisine Adolphe Dugléré at his Café Anglais in Paris for the very very old, at that point, Comte de Germiny, former Minister of Finance and Governor of the Bank of France. Ah, regularity–a welcome thing to an old man. So while it’s true that, in Rowley Leigh’s words, “sorrel soup, with its dirty grey-green colouring, is sadly no pin up,” there is room on an old gourmet’s table for Potage Germiny.
Me, I’m not that old (yet). I tried the recipe again…and it slimed. Apparently no way around it when you boil the sorrel first. So I threw it out and am sticking to Crème Santé with its technique of removing the water in a butter saute.
And what about the rhubarb and oysters? The rhubarb made up into such an adorable little latticed pie, and the oysters were so layered in flavor, that, as in the case of the walrus and the carpenter calling out to their delicacies, “answer came there none–and this was scarcely odd, because I’d eaten every one.”