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Sage: Get Wise To A Flavorful Herb

Updated on June 29, 2010

Sage is a powerful herb, and its potency is probably responsible for its being credited with various medicinal properties throughout its long history. Galen and Hippocrates believed it had healing powers, the Crusaders thought it was an antidote for venom, and the Druids believed it could resurrect the dead. Americans, being the skeptics that we are, believe it makes a fine turkey stuffing.

A proverb from Provence has it that "he who has sage in his garden needs no doctor." While that may be true, sage's virtues are more culinary that medicinal.

Sage's musky flavor can serve as a foil for strong tastes, such as bacon, and give a boost to mild flavors like beans. It complements pork, duck, mustard, garlic, red wine, mushrooms, cheese, onions, smoked meats, rice, and a host of other food. Be warned that sage has a slightly bitter edge that some find distasteful.

During the summer (and in many places, year-round), you should have no trouble finding fresh sage. If you can't find it, buy dried whole leaves rather than what is called rubbed sage; the whole leaves will stay fresh longer.

However you use it, keep in mind that sage is a pungent herb and shouldn't be used in the same liberal quantities as parsley or cilantro. Try a little, then taste and adjust accordingly.

  • Sage is a classic flavor for poultry dressing, and combines with sausage, oyster, or plain old bread stuffing.
  • Saut√© sliced shiitake mushrooms with onions, garlic, and sage. Turn it into a pasta sauce by adding red wine, beef or chicken stock, and a splash of sherry or Worcestershire sauce. Add a little more sage at the end of the cooking time.
  • Add roasted garlic and chopped sage to mashed potatoes.
  • Pan-fry a fish and deglaze the pan with some sage, lemon juice, and white wine. Pour the deglazing liquid over the fish.
  • Make a chicken sandwich using grilled chicken breast and caramelized onions with sage.
  • Flavor a white bean soup with sage and some smoked ham.
  • Use it instead of basil in a basic tomato sauce.
  • Make a simple risotto with shallots, sage, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese.

If, because you have used it judiciously, you have leftover sage, let it dry out completely in a cool, dry place and keep it in a sealed jar.  

Fried Broad Beans, Red Onion, and Figs With Sage

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, sliced thin
1 pound cooked and drained broad beans, or similar beans
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 figs, each cut into 6 to 8 wedges
Purple sage leaves for garnish

In a large skillet set over moderate heat, heat the oil until hot. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until softened. Add the beans, sage, and salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Add the figs and toss until just heated through. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with purple sage.


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