Sage advice: Skye Gyngell cooks with the base-note herb

Sage gives a beautifully earthy undertone to both meat and fish dishes – but beware, says Skye Gyngell: use too much and this autumnal leaf becomes dangerously strong
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Distinctly autumnal, earthy and slightly musty (in a nice way), sage is the perfect herb to take advantage of right now. Along with rosemary, it is what I consider a base-note herb, one that underpins a dish. It works well with slow-cooked dishes and can be very good with the addition of cooked tomatoes, which lift it, cleaning it up and adding a sweet, fresh finish. In my garden at home, I grow both purple and moss-green varieties. A note of caution: use with care, the flavour of sage should be faint rather than overpowering.

Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Church Lane, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, www.petershamnurseries.com

Veal chop with sage and aioli

When the need for meat overwhelms me, a simple veal chop is just the thing. Sage has a natural affinity with meat – its earthiness stands up well to the texture and taste of protein. Please look for English veal; our rosé veal is some of the best in the world.

Serves 4

4 veal chops
Sea salt and black pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
16 sage leaves

For the aioli

3 eggs
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
The juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper
200ml/7fl oz extra-virgin olive oil

First make the aioli. Put the eggs in a food processor and add the crushed garlic, lemon juice and some salt and pepper. Turn the motor on and very slowly pour the oil in through the funnel in the top until it is thoroughly blended. If you do not have a food processor, you can also do this by hand by slowly whisking the oil into the egg mixture. Now set aside while you cook the chops.

Place a large, non-stick pan over a medium to high heat. Season the veal on both sides generously. Add the oil to the pan and then the sage leaves. When hot, lay the veal in the pan. Cook without turning for six minutes. The veal should be golden-brown with a delicious salty crust. Turn and cook on the other side for a further five minutes. The veal at this point should be just pink on the inside. Remove from the pan and allow to rest for five minutes to relax. Serve with a wedge of lemon and a good dollop of the aioli.

Dover sole with sage butter

Dover sole is a delicate fish. I like it cooked simply, gently browned in a pan then finished off for one or two minutes in the oven. Unsalted butter infused lightly with sage, a sprinkle of coarse salt and a good grinding of black pepper is all it needs. As an accompaniment, spinach is perfect, and perhaps one or two little boiled potatoes.

Serves 4

60g/21/2oz unsalted butter
A small bunch of sage
4 Dover sole. Ask your fishmonger to prepare them for you
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little olive oil for the pan

Heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas5. Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan over a very low heat; it should not bubble. Once the butter has melted, gently bruise the stalks of the sage using the handle of your knife and add to the butter. Turn off the heat and leave in a warm place to infuse.

Season the fish on both sides with the salt and pepper. Place a pan – preferably non-stick – on a low to medium heat. I find it easiest to put one fish in the pan at a time, as overcrowding is not a good idea – it makes the fish difficult to brown.

Once the pan is warm, add the fish skin-side down and leave undisturbed for three minutes, then, using a spatula, turn the fish over very carefully and brown on the other side for a further three minutes.

Gently transfer to a warmed, ovenproof dish and place on the middle shelf of the oven to cook for a further two minutes. Remove from the oven and spoon over a little of the sage butter. Continue with each fish, and serve while it is still deliciously hot.

Slow-cooked shoulder of pork with sage

Serves 6

2kg/4lb shoulder of pork (it will weigh 1kg once trimmed of its fat and deboned – ask your butcher to do this for you)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
600ml/1 pint sweet white wine or verjus
1 bunch of sage
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3 dried chillies, crumbled
20 little ripe tomatoes, squashed
4 tbsp crème fraîche

Heat your oven to 160C/325F/Gas3. Place a pan large enough to accommodate the shoulder of pork on the stove. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper and add the oil to the pan. When the oil is very hot, lay the pork in and brown well for about 10 minutes on one side then carefully turn and brown the other side.

Remove the pork from the pan and pour off any excess fat. Turn down the heat on the stove and deglaze the pan with the wine. Lay the browned meat in a roasting tray and add the sage, garlic, dried chillies and tomatoes. Pour over the wine from the pan and cover the tray with foil. Place on the middle shelf of the oven and cook for 11/2 hours. Then remove the meat from the oven, take off the foil and turn the meat. Cover again and return to the oven. Cook for a further 11/2 hours, then remove. The meat should be so soft that it is falling apart. Remove the meat from the tray and set aside while you finish the sauce. Place the hot tray over a medium heat on the stove and add the crème fraîche. Stir well with a wooden spoon. Taste for seasoning, adjusting if necessary. Pour the sauce over the meat and serve.

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