Sage (Salbei), was a healing plant (Heilpflanze) of great renown throughout the Middle Ages, although it was also valued as a culinary herb (Küchenkraut). Today, the tapered, gray-green leaves, are known to give dishes like stuffings and pork sausages their wonderful woodsy fragrance and depth of flavor.
Althought there are countless varieties of sage to choose from, most culinary sage used these days is "Salvia officinalis" (the common garden sage), or "Salvia fruticosa" (Greek sage or three-lobed sage).
We all know the distict texture of its supple leaves, which can be as velvety as rabbits' ears. And you will probably often find yourself rubbing them between your fingers before you start cooking, releasing an intense smell that springs from the oil glands at the base of each leaf hair. Thus, it is the fuzziest leaves that smell and taste the most intense.
Raw sage is usually too intense to eat, you have to cook this herb to bring forth its aromas. Sage is especially popular in Tuscany and other parts of central and northern Italy. For a distictively Tuscan dish called „fagioli all´ uccelletto“, white beans, tomatoes, garlic, and fresh sage leaves are cooked together until the beans are tender and permeated with sage flavor. And when you eat an Italian classic dish called „Saltimbocca“, a dish with veal scalopine and prosciutto, it is rather obvious that the bright flavor of the sage leaves is the reason the dish's name translates to "jump in the mouth".
Sage has a bracing effect on rich dishes because its astringency cuts cleanly through fat. Chopped and simmered with mushrooms and cream, it makes a succulent topping for thick slices of country bread. And sage leaves inserted beneath the butter-rubbed skin of a chicken before it is roasted will crisp themselves as the chicken cooks, adding a nice savory crunch to the meat.
And no other herb is as delectable as sage when fried, either in extra-virgin olive oil or in brown butter or when encased in a light batter as I have done in the recipe below.
As already mentioned above, sage was long considered a medicine rather than a food. That fact is obvious from its Latin name. Its Latin name "Salvia" comes from the Latin verb "salvere" (to save) an obvious nod to its medicinal virtue. The ancient Greeks and Romans are said to have used sage to treat a wide range of ailments. In tenth-century Arabia, physicians even believed that sage had the power to extend life. Sage had emerged as a presence in the kitchen by the time of the Middle Ages, when Europeans began munching sage fritters at the end of banquets to aid digestion. In America, sage was being cultivated as early as the 1630s.
For the following recipe, it is best to use only young, bright green, freshly harvested sage leaves.
If you buy sage, you should look for strong leaves with a bright, fresh color and no yellowish discolorations. The branches should be firm and if you rub the leaves between your fingers, there should be a discernable intense and woodsy smell.
For the Fried Sage Leaves recipe, the leaves are coated with a nice light batter and they puff-up during baking, making them look like little mice, hence the German name "Salbeimäuse" which, literally translated means "sage mice"
Fried Sage Leaves (Salvia Fritta)
- 20 to 30 freshly picked sage leaves, stems attached – choose large, very fresh leaves for this recipe - NOTE: the younger the leaves, the less pungent they are
- 125g AP (plain) flour, spelt flour or wholemeal flour
- 3 tbsps neutral oil or melted, unsalted butter (cooled)
- 2 eggs (L), free-range or organic, separated
- 125ml milk, room temperature
- some fine sea salt and some freshly ground black pepper
- canola oil (or other vegetable oil suitable for deep-frying)
- coarse sea salt for serving
- Rise sage leaves and pat dry with paper towels.
- In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, oil, two egg yolks, milk, salt, and pepper until the batter has a smooth consistency with no lumps.
- Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let the dough rest for a good 30 minutes so that the gluten has a chance to develop properly.
- Then just before frying, in a clean bowl, whip the egg whites together with a pinch of salt to soft peeks.
- Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the batter.
- In the meantime, pour the oil in a pot safe for frying (or use your deep-fryer), and heat the oil until it reaches 190° C (375°F).
- Once the oil is hot, dip the leaves into the dough mixture individually, and allow the excess to drain off as best as you can.
- Carefully drop into the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 3 minutes - be careful not to let them brown too much.
- Remove the leaves from the oil, and let dry on paper towels.
- Continue with the remaining leaves until they have all been fried.
- Once all leaves have been fried, sprinkle lightly with coarse sea salt, and serve immediately while still warm.
- 20 bis 30 frisch gepflückte Salbeiblätter mit Stiel TIPP: je jünger die Blätter, je milder sind sie im Geschmack
- 125g Weizenmehl, Dinkelmehl oder Weizenvollkornmehl
- 3 EL neutrales Öl oder flüssige Butter, abgekühlt
- 2 Eier (L), Bio- oder Freilandhaltung, getrennt
- 125ml Milch, Zimmertemperatur
- etwas Meersalz und frisch gemahlener schwarzer Pfeffer
- Öl zum Ausbacken
- grobes Meersalz zum Servieren
- Die Salbeiblätter abspülen und mit Küchenkrepp trocken tupfen.
- In einer mittleren Schüssel das Mehl, Öl, zwei Eigelb, Milch, feines Salz und Pfeffer mischen und den Teig glatt schlagen.
- Mit einen Tuch bedecken und den Teig gute 30 Minuten ruhen lassen, damit sich das Gluten richtig entfalten kann.
- Kurz vor dem Frittieren, die Eiweiß mit einer Prise steif schlagen.
- Das geschlagene Eiweiß vorsichtig unter den Teig heben.
- In der Zwischenzeit das Frittieröl auf 190° C erhitzen - man kann hier natürlich auch eine Fritteuse benutzen.
- Wenn das Öl die richtige Temperatur erreicht hat, die Blätter einzeln in den Teig tauchen und den überschüssigen Teig etwas abtropfen lassen.
- Vorsichtig in Öl schwimmend ausbacken. Das dauert ungefähr drei Minuten. Dabei aufpassen, dass sie Blätter nicht zu dunkel werden.
- Die Blätter aus dem Öl nehmen und auf Küchenkrepp abtropfen lassen.
- Mit den restlichen Blättern genauso verfahren.
- Wenn alle Salbeiblätter ausgebacken sind, mit etwas grobem Meersalz bestreuen und sofort servieren.
These fried sage leaves are wonderful as an appetizer. But you can also offer them along with a nice glass of wine, or as garnish for grilled meats or seafood. But they can also be enjoyed with a fresh summer salad for example. And they are particularly delicious if served as part of a cheese spread.
Speciality greengrocers or nurseries often sell a wider range of herbs than supermarkets do. Look out, too, when you visit farmers' markets, for more unusual varieties of robust culinary sage such as golden sage and tricolor sage used for cooking or the more delicate fruit sages such as orange and pineapple sage used in fruit salads, jams, jellies, and tea.
„Cur moriatur homo, cui salvia crescit in horto?" -
Why should a man die in whose garden sage grows?
This wonderful Latin adage is from a famous medieval didactic poem on maintaining good health, the "Regimen Sanitatis Salernitanum" (The Salernitan Rule of Health)