Sage is beloved around the world for its heady aroma and its ability to coax depth from nearly any ingredient. Primarily known for the way it enhances different meats — the veal and pork saltimbocca of Italy, the ham of Germany, even mutton in the Balkans — it also stars in vegetable dishes like minestrone soup. Marinades are made from it, cheeses are studded with it, teas in China are brewed from it.
The British pair sage with onions to flavor poultry and sausage. Sound familiar? Think traditional stuffing with sausage and sage, or the one here with cranberries; creamy and crisp roasted potatoes peppered with sage; and a golden turkey dappled with the almond-shaped leaves.
“It’s almost effervescent, it has a great pronounced flavor,” says Scott Drewno, executive chef of The Source in Washington. And its ability to complement the other flavors of the season make it a perfect choice for Thanksgiving.
“It’s an herb that’s warming, like cinnamon, star anise,” Drewno says. “Those are spices and herbs that are warming. They’re ideal for the fall and the winter.”
Sage also has the distinction of being both versatile and unique. A friend to many ingredients, but a slave to none, its instantly recognizable taste can put a distinctive stamp on your holiday meal.
“It’s unusual,” says Niki Segnit, author of “The Flavor Thesaurus.” “It doesn’t taste like anything else.”
SAGE ROASTED TURKEY AND GRAVY Start to finish: 3 to 4 hours
Makes a 12- to 14-pound turkey with gravy
1 large yellow onion, cut into chunks
1 large carrot, cut into large chunks
½ cup (1 stick) butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup minced fresh sage, plus 12 whole leaves
12- to 14-pound turkey
½ cup white wine
2 cups chicken or turkey broth
¼ cup all-purpose flour
Heat the oven to 350 F. Place the onion and carrot in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Fit the roasting pan with a rack.
In a small bowl, mix together the butter, salt, pepper and minced sage. Gently loosen the skin of the turkey and massage some of the butter under the skin on the breasts and legs of the turkey. Massage more of the butter on the interior of the cavity, as well as on the outside of the skin all over the bird.
Place the 12 whole sage leaves under the skin of the turkey in various spots. Place the turkey in the roasting pan on the rack, breast side up. Cover with foil and roast for 1 hour. Remove the foil and roast for another 1 to 1½ hours, or until the breast meat reaches 160 F and the thickest part of the thigh reaches 170 F.
Remove the rack and turkey from the roasting pan and cover with foil and a few kitchen towels to keep warm.
Remove and discard the onion and carrot pieces from the pan. Place the pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop (it may rest over more than one burner, if so, turn on both) and add the wine. Scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any browned bits, bring the juices to a simmer.
In a small bowl, whisk together the broth and flour. While stirring continuously, pour the broth mixture into the pan. Bring to a boil and stir for 3 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Strain the gravy, if desired. Serve alongside the turkey.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 510 calories; 230 calories from fat (46 percent of total calories); 25 g fat (9 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 225 mg cholesterol; 2 g carbohydrate; 64 g protein; 0 g fiber; 360 mg sodium.
In a blender, combine ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ cup red wine vinegar, ¼ cup orange juice, 6 chopped fresh sage leaves, 1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth. Serve with your favorite greens. Serves 12.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 90 calories; 80 calories from fat (97 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (2 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 1 g carbohydrate; 0 g protein; 0 g fiber; 80 mg sodium.
PEPPERED SAGE CORNBREAD
Prepare boxed cornbread mix according to package directions. Add 2 tablespoons of minced fresh sage and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper. Bake as directed. Serves 12.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number):150 calories; 80 calories from fat (56 percent of total calories); 9 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 20 mg cholesterol; 14 g carbohydrate; 2 g protein; 1 g fiber; 230 mg sodium.
CRANBERRY SAGE STUFFING
In a large skillet over medium-high, heat a splash of oil. Saute 1 chopped yellow onion, 1 diced carrot, 1 diced celery stalk and 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage. Add ½ cup dried cranberries and ½ cup orange juice. Simmer until the orange juice is mostly evaporated. Stir into a 12-ounce bag of stuffing mix, then prepare according to package directions. Serves 8.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 220 calories; 35 calories from fat (15 percent of total calories); 4 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 6 g protein; 4 g fiber; 560 mg sodium.