All About Sage
Here is another post from contributing writer Chef Mark R. Vogel. When I hear of sage I immediately think of using it with chicken but as you will see in this article, there are lots of ways it can be used and is a vital ingredient for Veal Saltimboca.
Imagine a plant that:
- prevents excessive bleeding, yet can also increase blood flow
- increases urine output (a diuretic)
- reduces excessive sweating
- treats snakebites
- increases women's fertility
- has anti fungal properties
- is an astringent
- is an antibiotic
- suppresses muscle spasms
- promotes estrogen
- assists with hypoglycemia
- can treat Alzheimer's
- is an anesthetic
- aids digestion
- and in general possess restorative and healing properties.
And Now the Truth About Sage
Allow me to introduce you to the herb sage, whose name is derived from the Latin "salvus" meaning healthy or safe. Ancient Greek and Roman doctors, folklorists of the Middle Ages, and even a few modern herbalists have all attributed one or more of the above claims to sage.
It's no wonder that it was referred to as "Sage the Savior" or that a Provencal proverb asserted that "he who has sage in his garden needs no doctor."
Too bad there isn't a botanical entity that promotes common sense. Most of these claims hold less water than the cells of the plant itself. (I particularly like the diametrical beliefs that it prevents and increases blood flow.) Over the ages most of sage's medicinal claims have been abandoned in favor of its one unequivocal use: in cooking.
Characteristics of Sage
Sage is a perennial herb from the mint family indigenous to the Mediterranean. Nowadays it is grown in most temperate regions of the world. It has woody stems, grayish-green leaves and purple flowers.
The Romans introduced it to Europe. Charlemagne was so enamored with sage that he ordered widespread planting of it in 812.
Sage is a very pungent herb, a fact to keep in mind when employing it. Peppery, minty, and slightly bitter are the most common adjectives describing its taste. However, there's a variety known as pineapple sage which believe it or not, has a pineapple scent.
Buy Fresh When Possible
Fresh sage is available year round. Like any herb, look for batches with a bright aroma, vibrant uniform color, no blotches, and no signs of desiccation. If the leaves look arid or limp, opt for its dried, jarred counterpart. Most herbs are a shadow of themselves in dried form but dried sage is fairly decent. Remember the general rule of thumb; one part dried spices/herbs equals three parts fresh.
Storing Fresh Sage
Unused fresh sage can be wrapped in damp paper towels and stored in a bag in the fridge. Or, my preferred storage method with herbs is to stand them up in a small vessel of water, (like flowers in a vase), ideally with a sealable lid, and then refrigerate them. You need only enough water to submerge the base of the stems.
How To Use Sage
Sage has a wide variety of uses but due to its robust flavor, it marries better with heartier dishes. It is a classic pairing with fattier fare because of the aforementioned beliefs in its digestive properties. It is also utilized with pork, beans, certain cheeses, sausage, goose, forcemeats, marinades and especially stuffings.
In France it is most popular in Provence, a region enthusiastic about herbs in general, where it is combined with meats and soups. In Germany they use it to season eel and even beer. The Chinese infuse it in tea.
In the Middle East it is enjoyed with mutton. And in Italy where it is quite popular, it can be found in osso buco, paupiettes, (rolled and stuffed meats), rice, soup, and the star of this article: veal saltimbocca.