Sage is one of those herbs chefs love to love. With its earthy, peppery perfume and textured leaves that fry crisp like chips or saute soft like blankets, it offers a range of savory sensations that can help pull together an elegant Thanksgiving menu.
Sage is beloved around the world for its heady aroma and its ability to coax depth from nearly any ingredient. Primarily known for the way it enhances different meats – the veal and pork saltimbocca of Italy, the ham of Germany, even mutton in the Balkans – it also stars in vegetable dishes such as minestrone soup. Marinades are made from it, cheeses are studded with it, teas in China are brewed from it.
The British pair sage with onions to flavor poultry and sausage. Sound familiar? Think traditional stuffing with sausage and sage, or the one here with cranberries; creamy and crisp roasted potatoes peppered with sage; and a golden turkey dappled with the almond-shaped leaves.
“It’s almost effervescent, it has a great pronounced flavor,” says Scott Drewno, the executive chef of The Source in Washington. And its ability to complement the other flavors of the season make it a perfect choice for Thanksgiving.
“It’s an herb that’s warming, like cinnamon, star anise,” Drewno says. “Those are spices and herbs that are warming. They’re ideal for the fall and the winter.”
Sage also has the distinction of being both versatile and unique. A friend to many ingredients, but a slave to none, its instantly recognizable taste can put a distinctive stamp on your holiday meal.
“It’s unusual,” says Niki Segnit, author of The Flavor Thesaurus. ‘’It doesn’t taste like anything else.”
In a blender, combine
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup orange juice
6 chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
salt and pepper to taste
Blend until smooth. Serve with your favorite greens. Serves 12.
PEPPERED SAGE CORNBREAD
Prepare boxed cornbread mix according to package directions. Add 2 tablespoons of minced fresh sage and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper. Bake as directed. Serves 12.
CRANBERRY SAGE STUFFING
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat a splash of oil. Saute 1 chopped yellow onion, 1 diced carrot, 1 diced celery stalk and 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage. Add ½ cup dried cranberries and ½ cup orange juice. Simmer until the orange juice is mostly evaporated. Stir into a 12-ounce bag of stuffing mix, then prepare according to package directions. Serves 8.