Our rhubarb is field-grown on our farm in Devon, giving it a blush, green-tinged hue. The flavour is fantastic but it can be slightly sharper than supermarket varieties. Sugar will temper the sharp acerbic taste, but never forget that its sharpness is its charm.
Storage & prep
Will keep for about a week
Storage: Store in the fridge, ideally in a plastic bag as it loves moisture. It should last a week. The stalks might turn a little limp but they’ll still be good to use.
Prep: To prepare rhubarb, give the stalks a wash, then trim off the top and bottom to tidy them up. Chop into batons or chunks, depending on your recipe. Make the pieces a similar size so they cook evenly, as rhubarb can go from firm to mushy in the blink of an eye.
The astringency will almost always need to be tempered with sweetness when cooking. The most common method is to stew it with sugar, orange juice and some aromatics such as vanilla or star anise. You can poach or roast it too; if you are gentle and attentive you can cook it while retaining its shape. It needn’t always be puddingy; it makes a great relish or sauce to go with fatty meats, oily fish or cheese.
Roasted or poached: Cut the stalks into thick batons. Roast or poach gently in a sugar syrup (equal weights of sugar to water). If you time it right, it will hold its shape; cook for too long and it tends to collapse. The best trick is to cook it lightly until half done and then remove from the heat. It will finish cooking in the declining heat of the pan. Consider adding some orange juice and zest to the pan; maybe some aromatics such as vanilla, cinnamon, star anise or ginger.
Cocktails & dreams: Cook the rhubarb as above but overcook it until it breaks down, then blend into a thick, sweet purée. For a summery rhubarb bellini, load a champagne flute with a shot of purée and top up with fizz, stirring as you pour. You can pass the purée through a sieve to remove the pulp. The resulting syrup pairs well with gin, vodka or bourbon; muddled with plenty of crushed ice and mint for a sour smash. A raw baton makes a good swizzle stick; you can gnaw on it between sips to increase the sourness.
Relish: The sharpness of rhubarb can be harnessed in savoury dishes to cut through rich fatty foods. Try cooking some diced stalks down with vinegar, brown sugar and spices to make a relish. Balance with a pinch or two of salt. It works wonders with oily fish such as mackerel or with fatty slices of roasted pork. It even marries well with a strong sharp cheddar as part of a cheese board.
Rhubarb & ginger fool
Rustically pretty, soft, pale and creamy, rhubarb fool offers the perfect balance of sweet and tart. Serve in glasses, layered with rhubarb compote too if you like, decorated with orange zest.
Serves 4 - 40 min
Rhubarb works well with:
Sugar – to temper the sharpness
Citrus – orange in particular
Other fruits – strawberries and/or apples in a crumble
Warming spices – ginger, cinnamon, star anise & cardamom
Aromatics – rosewater, orange blossom, bay, vanilla
Mackerel, salmon or other oily fish
Pork or duck - as a sharp side to cut through the fat
Dairy – custard (of course) but also cream, crème fraiche & yoghurt, and as relish next to cheddar.
Spirits – a great cocktail ingredient, cooked or raw.