Sage: Not just for savory dishes

November 4, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The Mediterranean herb has been a staple for centuries, revered for both its culinary and medicinal purposes. During this time of year, however, poor old sage is either a dried relic in your spice cabinet or a bit-player in a sauce with brown butter.

But now, two restaurants in town are using this ancient herb in a number of modern interpretations.

Sage is everywhere this time of year, but in desserts? Not so much. Patrick Fahy doesn't mind. As the Pastry Chef at the Sofitel, he oversees all of the sweets at the hotel and the restaurant, Cafe des Architects, and he says his appreciation for the herb stems from his first dish in culinary school, back in Italy, 10 years ago.

"The first pasta dish I ever did was a brown butter sage ravioli. We just brown our butter, throw in some sage and toss it some pasta. Once I had that, my wheels started turning about desserts," Fahy said.

So sage is steeped in heavy cream on the stove, infusing its distinctive flavor. That cream is then combined with milk chocolate to make a ganache, which is eventually piped into tiny molds and chilled, becoming a uniquely different mignardise, or tiny dessert treat.

Fahy also embeds shortbread cookie dough with sage, rolls it in sugar, and then cuts it into small cookies that are scented with the herb for a beguiling aroma.

Even tarts are fair game. He'll make a sage dough first, pressing it into a tart mold and cutting off the sides so it fits. Then he'll pipe in an almond cream that's been infused with a bit of brown butter and sage. Giant pears are poached with spices and then sliced evenly, for an elegant presentation on top. The final flourish: candied sage, made simply by dropping some leaves into hot oil, then tossing them in granulated sugar.

"It tastes like fall. It's very earthy, very aromatic at the same time. It really brings out a lot of flavor in a lot of fall fruits and vegetables. Especially apples and pears to me," he said.

In the South Loop, the herb has also found its way into drinks. The Sage Smash cocktail is the latest addition to the menu at Mercat a la Planxa, inside the Blackstone Hotel.

"Tequila is made from agave which comes from the desert and then sage naturally comes from the desert. So we kind of felt that they sort of are a match made, a little bit. They're just both real rustic and work really well together in a cocktail," said Jacob Daniken, manager at Mercat a la Planxa.

Fresh sage is first torn and tossed into a glass; honey is then muddled into the herb. Fresh lime juice is added, and the combination is then poured into a wide-bottomed snifter and topped with ice. At the table, they add two ounces of De Leon premium tequila.

"It is a little more of an expensive drink and the bottle's really super cool, so at the end of the day we wanted to just really add that element of service and style to the drink," he said.

Another common usage for sage is in sausage with apples this time of year, and of course, in a few weeks, we'll all be seeing it in gravy, dressing and stuffing.

Sofitel Hotel Chicago
20 E. Chestnut St.
(312) 324-4000

Mercat a la Planxa
638 S. Michigan Ave.
(312) 765-0524

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