General Description: Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a perennial spring plant with thick, red, fleshy stalks topped by inedible wide leaves. Rhubarb comes originally from Asia and although it is often used as a fruit, it is a vegetable. Rhubarb was used as a medicinal tonic until the 19th century. Note that only the stalks are edible; the leaves are toxic if eaten in quantity because of large amounts of oxalic acid. The leaves are normally cut off before sale.
There are two basic types of rhubarb: hothouse (or strawberry rhubarb) and field-grown (or cherry rhubarb). Hothouse rhubarb tends to have smoother flesh, more delicate texture, and less acidity than field-grown. Field-grown rhubarb has deeper color, more juice, and bolder acidity. Green rhubarb is also available. Rhubarb is versatile; it can be used in savory dishes and desserts.
Season: Rhubarb is in season in spring and summer. Hothouse rhubarb is available mid-January through mid-April.
Purchase: Choose rhubarb with stalks of the brightest color that are firm and crisp.
Avoid: Check both ends of the stalks for pithiness or decay. Avoid rhubarb with bruises or blemishes.
Storage: Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to 1 week.
Note: Rhubarb should be cooked only in nonaluminum pots because it will react with the metal.
- For stringier field-grown rhubarb, pare the stalks or pull off the strings. Hothouse rhubarb generally does not need peeling.
- Cut off any greens and discard them.
- Cut rhubarb into slices, on the diagonal if desired, against the grain of the stalk.
Serving Suggestions: Make strudel with phyllo dough and a filling of sweet apples and rhubarb. Sauté rhubarb with Chinese five-spice powder and serve with salmon fillets. Make rhubarb crumb bars with pastry on the bottom, rhubarb in the middle, and a topping of oatmeal-walnut streusel.
Flavor Affinities: Blackberries, brown sugar, duck, ginger, goose, honey, maple syrup, oily fish, orange, raspberries, strawberries.
from Quirk Books: www.quirkbooks.com