Brought over to Britain in the 16th century, it’s said that rhubarb was so highly regarded and much sought after that it could command nearly three times the price of opium. New ways of cultivating it here later sparked the Victorian rhubarb craze – akin to our contemporary frenzy for avocados. Even now, the rhubarb harvest is eagerly awaited, a short burst of zingy flavour and bright colour marking the turn of the season and the promise of warmer weather to come.
This seasonal star finds its way into Riverford veg boxes every year, to the delight and sometimes confusion of customers…this is because although we associate it with crumble and custard, it is actually a vegetable. Its sharp, fruity flavour makes for some intriguing savoury pairings, and if you want to expand your rhubarb repertoire here are a few ideas to get you started.
Relish a new flavour combination
Surprisingly enough, rhubarb’s sharpness brings out the fruitiness of tomatoes in a chutney or relish. Orange also works very well – like in this easy rhubarb relish. It goes well with so many things: tangy cheese, roast pork, cold beef sandwiches and grilled mackerel, to name a few. Try it with your next barbecue, you may decide it is not as crazy as it sounds.
From fish to flowers
The pairing with fish such as mackerel may seem unusual, but it makes sense – the acidity cuts through the oiliness. You can just make a simple, slightly sweetened compote, or try a rhubarb butter sauce for fish – we suggest serving it on salmon that has been parchment-baked with a head of elderflower and white wine. Floral flavours like lavender, elderflower, or rose also bring a real fragrant lightness and subtlety to everything from cocktails to cakes. This rhubarb and vanilla yoghurt cake recipe features delicate orange flower water. Enjoy the cake warm or cold, at tea time or for dessert, served with a dollop of yoghurt.
Spices, sweetness and salt
Salty, earthy flavours, such as sheep’s cheese, roasted carrots and beetroot, love rhubarb’s distinctive tang. Coupled with warm spices like star anise, cardamom or ginger also works really well – a cardamom scented fool is delicious and uplifting, for example. At the opposite end of the taste spectrum, this tender spiced pork belly with rhubarb uses punchy ginger and rich umami soy sauce in quite a special way.
A word of warning!
Even if you hate food waste, never be tempted to eat rhubarb leaves as they are poisonous due to their high levels of oxalic acid. As with other relatively acidic foods, it is also recommended that it is not cooked using aluminium pots.