Friday June 10, 2011

I Hate Rhubarb...when it's bad

Some people like everything, true omnivores. Often, they receive praise for their cavalier appetites while “picky eaters” face judgement for their restrictive tastes. Someone having a choosier palate and a wide range of likes and dislikes doesn’t bother me. Understanding one’s own likes and dislikes, makes for a happy eater. I love that.

What I don’t love? When people judge something they’ve only had in its worst form. Like people who claim they’re not “chocolate people” but have only eaten Hershey’s. They don’t hate chocolate. They hate bad chocolate.

Likewise, don’t hate rhubarb. Hate bad rhubarb. Because the good stuff’s a thing of beauty.

a jar of lemongrass poached rhubarb

To follow that thought to its logical conclusion: don’t love rhubarb, love good rhubarb. Stop settling for the goopy stuff. Ninety nine percent of the time I see a rhubarb dessert, whether out at a restaurant, a friend’s house, or merely on a blog post, it looks awful and probably tastes worse. Why do some people keep eating that stuff?

I’m not the first person to write about the universal crappitude of rhubarb preparation, but it’s an important point to acknowledge.

I’d hate rhubarb too if eating it meant sitting down to a “dessert” that’s had every bit of its ruby flesh boiled to gray, with sour-as-a-lemon pucker covered in a cloying sweetness, and all the texture of a bowl of wet toilet paper.

Good rhubarb has all of the tenderness of a perfectly ripe pear and a balance of sweet-tart more pineapple than lemon. A good dose of salt tames the sugar it’s cooked in and highlights its natural minerality.

Imagine eating an apple pie bereft of spices. To begin with, your kitchen would smell awfully boring without apple pie’s famous cinnamon laden aroma wafting about. And while the best apples may taste quite lovely with nothing more than sugar and a buttery crust, even the most ardent food purist will agree a pinch of freshly grated cinnamon and nutmeg transforms a pile of baked apples into something so much more.

Likewise, there’s no virtue in eating naked rhubarb. I poach mine with a few stalks of lemongrass and a vanilla bean. They lend an amazing floral sweetness which balances the rhubarb’s unbridled sour. Their aromatic qualities let the more subtle flavors of the rhubarb hitch a ride too, bringing out flavors otherwise left behind.

vanilla flecked rhubarb slices

This simple preparation takes almost no hands on effort to prepare, few ingredients, and leaves you with a jar of succulent rhubarb ready for a hundred different applications.

1. Spoon it over creamy desserts like ice cream or panna cotta.
2. Nestle a single piece inside of a rhubarb macaron
3. Serve with yogurt and granola at breakfast.
4. Use rhubarb in place of a classic fruit tart’s mixed fruit.
5. Stir the rhubarb scented poaching liquid into cocktails or fancy lemonade.
6. Churn the poaching liquid into sorbet; add a splash of milk for sherbet.
7. Use the poaching reduction to replace the corn syrup in marshmallows. Seriously.
8. Puree the rhubarb with its poaching liquid and pour into Popsicle molds.
9. Serve over buttermilk waffles with a dollop of Crème fraiche
10. Make Rhubarb Profiteroles.

(Recipe for St-Germain profiteroles with rhubarb in my next post, but sneak peak below.)

vanilla bean and lemongrass poached rhubarb

Many thanks again to Victor Sizemore for coming to my aid during rhubarb season and dropping by the restaurant to photograph the ruby goodness. His rhubarb profiterole photos are even more spectacular, check them out here. I’ll add the sorbet recipe soon too, with any luck.

If that sounds good to you, get your mise en place:

Lemongrass and Vanilla poached Rhubarb

posted byStellaand filed under:  Fruit  Gluten Free  Lactose Free  Victor Sizemore

31 comments and counting

Jun 10, 2011 · 12:43 PM

My grandmother used to serve rhubarb, but I was not eager to give it a try and always avoided it. The name just didn’t sound appealing. Years later a friend brought a pie with the rhubarb you described, gray, mushy… blech. I’ve never tried again. But it does look so pretty… Maybe, just maybe I’ll give it a try. And if I do it will all be because of your encouragement! Thanks!

 · Kim - Liv Life ·

Jun 10, 2011 · 12:57 PM

Rhubarb sorbet? Yes please!
I just had a dessert the other night that consisted of lemon curd, crumbled meringue and a quenelle of rhubarb sorbet on top. Simple, but perfect.
I’d been meaning to try replicating it at home…now I’ll have to await this promised sorbet recipe with bated breath because it sounds even more perfect than plain ol’ rhubarb.
(OK, so the profiteroles sound pretty darn amazing too… so I’ll await those too.)

 · Isabelle @ Crumb ·

Jun 10, 2011 ·  1:26 PM

Rhubarb marshmallows? I promise you that I will be trying that. I am a marshmallow making robot because I have a son who is allergic to corn products and also happens to love the darn things. Love all the ideas you listed. They all sound infinitely better than eating a bowl of wet toilet paper…I know from experience. I had a strict British grandma who believed that the secret to good rhubarb was to simmer it for hours. I still shudder.

 · Terris @ Free Eats ·

Jun 10, 2011 ·  4:53 PM

What a neat idea to infuse the rhubarb with lemongrass – sounds divine. Personally, I like it with cardamom and recently made it in a cream tart. Yes, it’s close to the norm, but to be fair it was from Estonia and a new experience for me Loved your photos.

 · Sasha (Global Table Adventure) ·

Jun 10, 2011 ·  7:49 PM

@Kim, before this spring, I was a total rhubarb hater. But the local rhubarb the farmers kept bringing to the restaurant was too beautiful for me to snub. To my utter amazement and joy, I found it was actually delicious and that I’d needlessly shunned it for all of these years. I hope you do try it, it can be so amazing. But when it’s bad, it’s traumatic.

@Isabelle, omg, that dessert sounds sour-tastic! The sorbet is super easy, it’s just the poaching liquid reduced by half, pinch of salt, splash of rhubarb bitters if you’ve got ‘em. At work, I used the same poaching liquid over and over as I poached rhubarb every other day for a few weeks. So obviously, it became especially intense, but even with just one round of poaching, it is so good. Actual recipe soon, I hope!

@Terris, I’ve heard overcooked rhubarb is a special culinary crime of the British. Poor dear. Keep me posted if you make the marshmallows! They’re the sweetest pale pink.

@Sasha, oh, cardamom sounds amazing. Pretty much anything aromatic like that will give it the omph it needs. I’ll have to try that!


Jun 10, 2011 ·  7:56 PM

Ugh. I’m going to have to try rhubarb again now. Damned vanilla and lemongrass spiked my curiosity.

 · isabel ·

Jun 11, 2011 · 12:38 AM

I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but the link to the recipe leads to a 404. Fortunately I found the recipe using your search function – your rhubarb looks PERFECT, can’t wait to try it. Thanks for writing about this, I will admit I’ve probably murdered rhubarb terribly in the past! It deserves to be celebrated

 · Zo ·

Jun 11, 2011 ·  1:04 AM

I finally tried a piece of strawberry-rhubarb pie, for the first time ever, a couple of months ago… I hated it. I’m used to eating rhubarb raw. But this, this looks stunning. I WILL be making this ASAP.

 · cathy ·

Jun 11, 2011 ·  1:20 AM

@Isabel, I’m troublesome that way. You’ll thank me later.

@Zo, thanks for bringing that to my attention! Typo in the link. All better now.

@Cathy, I hate rhubarb pie. Poor rhubarb just can’t stand up to those temperatures for that kinda time! Ew. You’ll like this. Promise.


Jun 11, 2011 · 11:31 AM

I don’t hate rhubarb, I’m just done with everyone obsessing about it! I like your take on good rhubarb…too many times have I seen mush rhubarb….no thanks this looks lovely!

 · Nelly Rodriguez ·

Jun 11, 2011 ·  5:05 PM

I love the sorbet idea. 5 lbs of rhubarb just got dropped off at our doorstep tonight and beyond muffins, I was at a loss of what to do with it all. Thanks for your tips.

 · siri ·

Jun 11, 2011 · 10:35 PM

Rhubarb is my life! Great blog!!

 · Vicky · 

Jun 11, 2011 · 11:36 PM

I lOVE rhubarb! I grew up eating it raw from my great grandparents farm – I now live on that farm with my family and we have patches EVERYWHERE lol even in the driveway – I love anything with vanilla bean in it and can’t wait to try your recipe

 · Ashley · 

Jun 11, 2011 · 11:53 PM

@Nelly, in Kentucky, our various produce often has such a short window of availability, it’s so hard not to obsess over pretty much anything. I’m so excited for whatever fresh, local produce I can get. Sigh. Soon enough I’ll move on to the next thing.

@Siri, do you have a rhubarb fairy? How great is that! Have fun.

@Vicky, hahaha. Oh, the rhubarb life.

@Ashley, that is such a cool story! I have to admit, I’ve really acquired quite a thing for raw rhubarb. As I slice it up at work, I can’t resist taking a bite every now and then, and I just love it as-is. Amusingly, I’ve never even seen it growing before. I have a reverse green thumb, so I try to keep away from anything still in the ground.


Jun 12, 2011 ·  6:57 PM

Poaching it with lemongrass is a fabulous idea!!! YUM!

 · Dana ·

Jun 13, 2011 ·  1:38 AM

aaah, the beauty of this alien vegetable. Yes, I believe I read it is a veggie. Growing up, my Mom made this amazing jam. I can still see the Mason jars holding this gelatinous goo, it was heavenly. I’m from Maine where Strawberry Rhubarb pie and sundaes are a smashing good time! Thanks for sharing your view and ideas on how to tame it! ;D

 · Ellen ·

Jun 13, 2011 · 10:29 AM

@Dana, I’ve had kind of a lemongrass thing going on lately, and made a happy discovery with the rhubarb.

@Ellen, so happy to hear another positive rhubarb memory. I was beginning to think there was only early childhood rhubarb trauma…


Jun 13, 2011 · 10:03 PM

Could the poaching liquid also be used in melonade?

 · Mallowsota · 

Jun 13, 2011 · 10:16 PM

Only if you’re prepared for a Tidal Wave of Marshalade!


Jun 17, 2011 ·  8:02 AM

I had a bad experience with rhubarb when I was little and have never liked it since. This week, for French Fridays with Dorie, I made compote (LOVED!) and roasted rhubarb (HATED TEXTURE). I need to try a few of your tricks I think…

 · Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite ·

Jun 18, 2011 ·  1:41 PM

@Mardi, they real key here is baking them slowly in plenty of liquid (which acts to both insulate the rhubarb slices from the heat and to prevent them from withering). They stay plump, maintain their texture, and are sweetened simultaneously. But if you forget to keep an eye on them, you’ll just have rhubarb pulp. They do require a bit of babysitting.


Aug 05, 2011 · 11:45 PM

@stella, I’ve been thinking of a cocktail with OYO honey-vanilla vodka and a rhubarb-vanilla syrup. Not really sure how to exactly make the syrup or what else (if anything) to add to the drink. Any insight, recipe or advice would be great.

P.S. Loved the S.E. article.

 · Peter · 

Feb 08, 2012 · 12:05 PM

I live in ND, and everyone grows it here. IMHO, no pie anywhere tops strawberry/rhubarb. Also commonly served up in a custard pie with cinnamon.

 · OTA Mom · 

Feb 08, 2012 ·  2:01 PM

@OTA Mom, strawberry rhubarb all the way!!


May 30, 2013 · 10:17 AM

Our parents (in the 70s UK) just used to cut a stalk, clean it and give us a small bag of sugar to dip the rhubarb in and we ate it raw – best times!

 · Jayne ·

May 30, 2013 ·  9:58 PM

Hey Jayne! My cheeks puckered just thinking about it, haha.


Jun 09, 2013 ·  8:22 PM

I hated rhubarb until a co-worker gave me some Rhubarb Delight. It was soooo awesome that I begged for the recipe and while the recipe is a bit puttsy, the end result is well worth the work. I am now a collector of rhubarb recipes.

 · Kathy · 

Jun 10, 2013 · 10:22 AM

Hey Kathy! Oh my goodness, what is Rhubarb Delight?! I’ll have to start searching around, I’m curious!


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