What links the sprightliest greenery in my early summer garden with a dish created in 1962 at a railroad halt at the head of the navigable Loire? L’oseille is what the French call sorrel and in the unassuming industrial town of Roanne two chefs created culinary magic by marrying this acidic, zesty herb to a salmon escalope.
I first read about it in 1978 in remarkable book called Great Chefs of France, essentially a handsomely illustrated roll call of all the figures who created ‘Nouvelle Cuisine’. Roanne-based Les Freres Troigros, Jean and Pierre, sounded the most fun. Asked to create a dish for Paul Bocuse’s Legion d’Honneur lunch for Giscard d’Estaing, they came up with Escalope de saumon a l’oseille and the rest is history. I have been slavishly following the recipe for this delicate, almost Zen-like dish since 1980 when the brothers published their own cookbook, Nouvelle Cuisine, part of a series translated into English that included Cuisine Minceur by Michel Guerard, the only one of that groundbreaking kitchen generation still alive.
By 1968 the brothers had gained a third Michelin star for the restaurant, which it has held ever since, while morphing from the station’s Hotel Moderne, prospering from the Route Nationale 7 running past, via a more sophisticated makeover in 1976, to its current incarnation after a switch to a rural site in 2007. Jean died of a heart attack in 1983, Pierre in 2020 at the age of 92, the Troigros legacy long since consolidated in the hands of Pierre’s son Michel (and now a new generation). Influences on the menu in recent times have been Japanese, a logical extension of the pared down intensity of the original Nouvelle Cuisine movement.
Alas, I’ve never eaten in the restaurant proper. On a press trip to explore the wines of the Roannaise region a Troigros lunch was organised for us. A lovely prix fixe three courses yes, but it was in a spin-off down the street, the Cafe Epicerie Le Central. It cost just 23 euros, quarter of the price of a main at the big place, where the other day I struggled to find salmon with sorrel on the website menu.
My own sorrel crop has mostly been perennial. When one year it failed we were rescued by a cutting from the unlikeliest of sources, the Michelin-starred Mr Underhills in Ludlow.
Chris Bradley was virtually a one-man band at the stove (hence a no choice five course menu) with his wife Judy front of house. Quite a team, both now retired, the building down by Dinham Weir sold on as a private house.
The no choice dinner we had in the garden was utterly memorable with salmon and sorrel as a starter. Which led to our lament about our own lost herb. Not only did Judy come up with a replacement from her own garden, she even volunteered Chris to drive us back to our hotel in the absence of Ludlow taxis. Now that was Michelin star service. Here’s my take on the original Troisgros recipe…
1kg fresh middle cut of salmon, skinned; 80g fresh sorrel leaves; 2 shallots; 500ml fish fumet; 4tbsp dry white wine; 2tbsp Noilly Prat; 400ml double cream; 40g butter; juice of ½ lemon; salt and freshly ground pepper; small amount of arachide or other light oil.
Divide the salmon into four fillets and put them between two sheets of lightly oiled wax paper and flatten the fish evenly, using a mallet. Remove the stems from the sorrel by stripping the central veins from each leaf.
To prepare the fish sauce put the fish fumet, white wine, Noilly Prat and shallots into a saucepan and cook over high heat until a near glaze is reached. Add the cream and reduce until the sauce is slightly thickened. Add the sorrel for around 20 seconds while stirring. Then incorporate the butter off the heat. Before serving add a few drops of lemon juice
To cook the fillets, sprinkle salt and pepper on the least presentable side. Heat up the oil (or use a non-stick pan), then add the salmon with the seasoned side down for 25 seconds. then turn to the second side for another 25 seconds. The salmon should be undercooked since it will continue to cook after plating. Add the sorrel sauce, enlivened with a squeeze of lemon, to each warmed plate then add the salmon. Voilà!