Sage - How to Cook and Grow

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Sage is an old favourite of mine, a robust herb with a striking taste and aroma and once its strength is appreciated becomes an invaluable herb in any kitchen. Like many herbs sage is steeped in history, used for centuries by the ancient Greeks, Romans and Chinese for medicinal purposes it is said to be particularly good for fighting colds and throat disorders. One of the reasons for its wide use in sausages is because of its antiseptic properties, which act as a preservative. For me it is the Italians who have mastered the art of cooking with sage, wonderfully simple dishes of pork, veal, seafood and polenta cooked with olive oil, brown butter and a sprinkling of shredded sage leaves. It is a perfect partner to lemon and onions of course and can be found in cheeses and forcemeats.

Variegated Sage

How to Grow

Incredibly, there are some 500 species of sage with only two that are indigenous to England. The main types used for cooking include common or garden sage, gold sage (a variegated variety pictured here), Spanish sage, purple sage and the curious pineapple sage. A relatively easy herb to grow, it does well in containers and any area of the garden with good drainage. Don’t be afraid to cut the plant back hard in early spring and be prepared to renew the plant after four or five years as they become woody with far fewer leaves.

How to Cook

Sage whether fresh or dried should be used with caution as it can easily overpower a dish, a few shredded leaves are usually ample for any dish. Try adding it to some nut- brown butter before pouring over some grilled fish or fried liver or adding a bundle to a chicken or pork stock for a wonderful roast gravy. Deep frying some young leaves in a light batter make an excellent canapé or garnish for meat or seafood.

Content and picture © Miles Collins