A prolific and precocious springtime "fruit", rhubarb looks like stalks of pinkish green or even magenta celery. Its flavor, however, is much more tart, making it ideal company for sugar in sweet dishes like crisps, compotes, and pie - from which it gets its second name, "pie plant." But rhubarb also lends a puckery-tart fruitiness to savory dishes, and pairs very nicely with pork and poultry.
Types of Rhubarb
Photo © Molly Watson
There are two basic types of rhubarb found in markets and larger grocery stores: the older, traditional variety, with thicker, greener stalks, and the more intensely-colored, slender-stalked variety, sometimes called hothouse rhubarb. The deep red stalks certainly make for brighter, more attractive dishes, but the concentrated color indicates concentrated tartness, and the greener stalks have a nicely balanced, mellow flavor.
Rhubarb SeasonHothouse rhubarb is available most of the year, while field-grown stalks are available in early spring. The Pacific Northwest has a second harvest of rhubarb between June and July.
Photo © Rosanna Nafziger
Rhubarb's tart fruitiness makes it perfect in sweet and savory dishes.
How to Buy & Store RhubarbWhatever their color, the stalks should be heavy and crisp with taut, shiny skin. Watch out for rubbery, fibrous, dry stalks. Wash the stalks well and trim off the dry ends and leaves, and store in loose plastic in the crisper drawer.
How to Prepare Rhubarb
Rhubarb leaves contain both oxalic acid and a more potent, unidentified toxin, so trimming and discarding them is essential. While it's tempting to peel the fibrous skin as you chop the stalks, try to resist it--the skin holds lots of color and flavor.
For a simple snack, dip pieces of rhubarb in honey or sugar.
Cooking RhubarbTwo things happen to rhubarb when it's cooked: its juices thicken, and it falls apart into fraying shreds of translucent fibers. Heavily cooked rhubarb has the perfect jellied consistency for jams, chutneys, and compotes, but isn't so attractive when stir-fried or arranged on a tart. Quick heat yields tender but cohesive rhubarb pieces with rich flavor and a natural, glossy sheen.
Rhubarb NutritionRhubarb stalks are highly nutritious, containing loads of calcium, manganese, vitamin C, vitamin K, fiber, and a whole host of antioxidants.