This combination of sorrel, smoked salmon, and eggs makes one of the best brunch dishes I've ever eaten. When sorrel leaves are shredded and cooked in butter, they wilt dramatically and quickly turn into a puree, almost as if they melted. Add some cream, and you have a lemony sauce that complements the smoked salmon more keenly than a rich hollandaise. Just remember it takes a lot of sorrel leaves to make a little bit of sauce, so make this dish when you have plenty to harvest or can buy big bunches at the market, usually in the spring or early fall.
Crumpets are worth searching out. They're often sold packaged next to English muffins. They have more body than English muffins and remain softer when toasted, so they make the dish easier to eat with knife and fork. Don't split the crumpets - use a whole one under each egg.
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
8 crumpets, whole, or 4 English muffins, split
8 large or extra-large eggs
8 wide slices cold-smoked salmon or Nova lox, about 4 x 2 inches, at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped (about 3 tablespoons)
8 ounces sorrel, stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped (3 to 4 cups gently packed)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
shipped chives or chive blossoms
1. Sauce: Melt the butter in a medium (10-inch) skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until it is softened but not browned, less than 1 minute. Add half the sorrel, stir until it is wilted, then add the rest of the sorrel and continue to cook until it is melted into a purée, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the cream and salt. Taste and season generously with pepper, and additional salt if needed.
2. Poaching the eggs: Meanwhile fill a wide (12-inch), deep pan with water, add the vinegar, and bring it to a simmer. Toast the crumpets or muffins and keep them warm in a very low oven. Crack 1 egg into a saucer and gently slide it into the simmering water. Repeat with the remaining eggs. Adjust the heat so that the water stays just below a simmer. You should see bubbles at the bottom of the pan, but they should not rise rapidly to the top. Cook until the whites are firm but the yolks are still soft, about 4 minutes. (The eggs can be poached ahead of time, transferred to cold water, and refrigerated in the water for up to 1 day. When ready to serve, reheat in a pan of simmering water for 1 minute.)
3. Assembling: Arrange 2 of the toasted crumpets or 2 English muffin halves on each of 4 warmed plates. Lift the eggs from the water with a slotted spoon and hold them over a paper towel to soak up any excess moisture. Place an egg on each crumpet or muffin. Arrange a slice of smoked salmon on each egg. Reheat the sorrel sauce and spoon it over the salmon, dividing it evenly among the 8 pieces. Sprinkle with chives and serve right away.
For the Gardener:
Several times each season, depending on how often you cut them back, your chives will send up lovely globes of pink florets held on sturdy stems. These little flowers have a flavor very similar to the chive leaf but are even stronger tasting. Tear the individual florets from the flower heads with your fingers and sprinkle them with restraint onto eggs, salads, grilled fish, or any dish that benefits from the onion flavor of chive leaves. Never garnish with the whole blossom, for it's much too overpowering to eat, and always discard the stem that carries the blossom - it will be much tougher than the leaves it resembles.
Adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook: A Guide to the Vivid Flavors of Fresh Herbs, © 2000 by Jerry Traunfeld (Scribner).
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