One trend, three trailblazers

Three ways with: sorrel

A trio of chefs tell us how they use the foraging favourite, which brings a sharp freshness to dishes.

9 May 2018

The trend

  • All you need to know about wood sorrel's flavour is in its Latin name, Oxalis acetosella. The genus – Oxalis – comes from the Greek term 'oxus,' which means 'sharp' while 'acetosella' means 'slightly acid.'
  • When made into a syrup by steeping leaves in boiling water and adding the same ratio of sugar, wood sorrel can be used in drinks such as lemonade – or in cocktails.
  • Wood sorrel is best used in moderation due to the presence of high levels of oxalic acid (also found in lower levels in spinach and broccoli).  A build-up of oxalic acid can bind up the body's supply of calcium leading to nutritional deficiency.

If you go down to the woods today, you're not necessarily sure of a big surprise, but you are sure of finding a plant that is capable of adding a sharp kick of acidity to all manner of dishes. 

Wood sorrel is a woodland plant with small, clover-like green leaves and white, lilac-veined flowers that tends to appear from April and into May, depending on which end of the UK you live in.

As keen forager and restaurant chef Oliver Gladwin explains, the ideal habitat for wood sorrel is the shadowy space beneath trees, where it grows in clumps. Both the flower and the plant have the same flavour, but refrain from telling others to ensure your continued supply, Gladwin advises: “Once you find your foraging spot, keep it a secret, so it is yours.”

If scrabbling about in the earth isn't possible, you can easily substitute wood sorrel with another kind of sorrel, says Simpsons chef director Luke Tipping.

“Sorrel is incredibly easy to find in the UK. It comes in many forms,” he explains. “There are many types of oxalis, which all have a great citrusy taste and are probably hiding in the garden and you wouldn't know!”

Wood sorrel in particular will lend a freshness to any dish – savoury or sweet – with the flavour similar to apple skin, according to Kevin Tickle of The Forest Side in Grasmere, who plans to use wood sorrel into October.

“When the flowers are gone, the plants put all the effort into the stalks, and that's when you get the juicy red stalks,” he says.


The trailblazers

Kevin Tickle, head chef at The Forest Side in Grasmere, Cumbria, uses wood sorrel to garnish a cold starter of dashi onions, Ragstone cheese, black garlic, and sage and onion stuffing: “I braise little silver-skin onions in dashi stock so they're quite salty and punchy and serve them with a Ragstone goat’s cheese puree, black garlic mayonnaise, onion crisps, sage stuffing, a couple of pickled shallots and a sage and onion dressing. The ingredients are layered with the cheese on the bottom and the stuffing on top, then the dressing last. The wood sorrel is sprinkled on top. It's quite a rich dish and wood sorrel's got an acidic flavour caused by the oxalic acid which puts a sharpness through it. The wood sorrel cuts through the richness instead of using vinegar or lemon juice and just brings some freshness to the dish.”


Luke Tipping, chef director at Simpsons in Birmingham, uses sorrel in a pre-dessert dish of sorrel, lemon curd and oats: “We make a granita from the French sorrel, which is a large leaf sorrel, and make a stock syrup from it. We make a basic stock from water and sugar and blend in the sorrel. After it has been passed to remove the pulp, it is frozen to order using liquid nitrogen. The French sorrel pairs really well with citrus and high-fat or creamy products, which is why it works so well with the lemon curd, and freezing it in liquid nitrogen creates one of the textures for the dish, the other being the oats. The main purpose of the dish is to refresh the palate, and the sorrel – which is high in acidity – creates the freshness we are looking for and helps us achieve this.”


Oliver Gladwin, co-owner and head chef at Rabbit and The Shed restaurants in London, uses wood sorrel in a main dish of Chalk Stream trout, wood sorrel, trout eggs and buttermilk: “I sweet cure the trout, similar to how you would with salmon for gravlax. Then I make a buttermilk and trout egg dressing, adding wood sorrel to it to before bringing it all together on the plate. I keep the clover-looking leaves on the stalks of the wood sorrel, as it looks and tastes more raw. The wood sorrel gives an amazing acidic, citric burst of flavour to the dish which replaces lemon and gives a different kind of acidity to the buttermilk. I like to think of all dishes with different levels of flavour and texture. So to start, the trout is sweet, cured and salty, with rich omega fats. The eggs give it a richness that enriches the dairy acidity of the buttermilk. The sorrel then gives it a fragrant, lemony, earthy burst.”

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