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I Spice: Sage

Forgive me. This column is 100 percent selfish. I chose the featured ingredient so I could try chef Dan Barber’s sage-threaded potato chips with smoked paprika.

I have known sage only in stuffings. It is not an herb I grew up with. And then one day I saw a photo of that recipe and I knew I had to do it.

The visuals made me do it; keep reading to get the recipe. (Monica Bhide)

Sage has a very distinctive flavor, sometimes bitter, with strong hints of mint and eucalyptus. It is one hearty herb that thrives in my garden despite my non-green thumb. Not really surprising, though, because sage is a type of evergreen plant.

According to, in medieval times, growing it was thought to bring prosperity; also, sage in the garden was a sign that a woman ruled the house! The Greeks and Romans used it mainly for medicinal purposes. It wasn’t used much for cooking until the 1500s. The flowers of sage plants are edible, too, provided they haven’t been sprayed. Sage-blossom honey is quite delicate in flavor and color.

Christie Matheson, food writer and co-author of the 2008 Harvard Common Press book "Wine Mondays," loves sage. It goes great with butter, she told me, so what's not to love in that? She advises buying organic sage in small bunches. Look for healthy, silvery-green leaves with no wilting or dark spots. Keep sage in the fridge wrapped in a light towel and then in plastic. To keep it longer than a few days, rinse and dry the leaves thoroughly. Then you can wrap them well and freeze them, or keep them in olive oil for up to two months, which has the added benefit of giving you flavored oil to use for sauteing and in salad dressings.

Sage stands up fairly well to cooking and baking, unlike softer herbs that are best added right at the end of cooking or off the heat. Matheson told me that sage is often featured in wintry dishes such as stuffing and sausages, but she likes it even better with sauteed corn or mushrooms, roasted or grilled tomatoes, roasted butternut squash or pumpkin, baked apples or roasted peaches. And here is something I learned from her that I had not thought of before: Use sage in desserts such as ice cream, cookies and fruit crumbles, because its flavor plays well against sweet ingredients.

Canadian food writer Dana McCauley provided this sage advice (come on, I had to use that line!): Sage leaves can vary greatly in intensity when picked fresh from the garden, so cooks should taste them before using them. She and I are also in full agreement that this is one of those ingredients that tastes better fresh than dried.

Friends, relatives, strangers and connections on social-networking media indicated to me that they love using sage with poultry (turkey soup, chicken salad and so on) and with pork; in butter and sage ravioli (from "The Silver Spoon" cookbook); and in crostini alla toscana (mashed chicken livers on toast, essentially), often served in northern Italy.

Science writer Jill Adams had high praise for Alice Waters and her sage recipes: “There's a lovely sage and squash risotto recipe in the “Chez Panisse Vegetables” cookbook in which the sage is used in three different steps: a couple of whole leaves in with the cubed squash as it's cooked to softness, several leaves chopped fine in with the risotto as it's soaking up liquid, and a handful of leaves cut into slivers and fried to a crisp in butter as a garnish.” And, of course, evergreen for evergreen: sage in stuffing.

-- Monica Bhide

Sage Potato Chips
4 servings

With a few knife slits and fresh sage leaves, an elegant snack is created.

Adapted from a recipe by Dan Barber of Blue Hill that appeared in the March 2009 issue of Saveur magazine.

Canola oil, for frying
2 large unpeeled Yukon Gold or russet potatoes, scrubbed
25 sage leaves
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Smoked Spanish paprika, for garnish

Pour enough oil into a large (6-quart) pot for it to reach a depth of 2 inches. Heat over medium heat until the oil registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Place a wire rack on top of a baking sheet. Line a platter with several layers of paper towels.
Use a mandoline to cut the potatoes into 1/16-inch-thick slices. Use a very thin, sharp knife to make 2 slits in the center of each slice, spaced vertically about 1 inch apart.

Working in batches, fry the slices for about 10 seconds each. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked chips to the prepared rack. When they are cool enough to handle, thread 1 sage leaf through the slits in each slice.
Increase the heat under the pot to medium-high, or as needed so the oil temperature reaches 360 degrees.

Working in batches, fry the potato chips again for 1 to 2 minutes, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the chips to the paper-towel-lined platter. Sprinkle with salt and the paprika to taste; serve immediately.

Per serving: 191 calories, 4 g protein, 33 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 0 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 271 mg sodium, 2 g dietary fiber, 1 g sugar

By The Food Section  |  June 19, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  I Spice , Recipes  | Tags: Dan Barber, Monica Bhide, sage  
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I love sage. And rosemary. Mm....

Sage is quite good in bean and mushroom (especially dried) dishes, minced and added in the cooking early. One thing my mom used to do was take whole sprigs/branches of sage and rosemary, place them in a pan with butter and olive oil, and then pan fry chicken (on the bone, with the skin). The herbs are left in the pan for the entire cooking time, giving off their scent to the fat and chicken. The same treatment was used for our Thanksgiving potatoes, first cubed and then fried (they were not pre-cooked) on each side for a few minutes. I always hated having guests for Thanksgiving because you can only have one layer, so there wasn't enough if more than immediate family came over. In this case we had mashed potatoes instead...

One minor quibble with the otherwise excellent blog post. "Crostini alla toscana" is by it's name, a dish from Tuscany. This is central rather than northern Italy. The dividing line may be a bit fuzzy, but generally northern Italy is considered the part of Italy that isn't on the peninsula.

Posted by: ArlingtonSMP | June 19, 2009 8:52 AM | Report abuse

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