Day 26: Vanilla-pickled Rhubarb

15 Feb

Rhubarb is sort of like prune – it’s a very old-fashioned flavor, since it’s sort of what most folks’ grandparents had in desserts or pastries when they were kids. The first two grocery stores on my hunt for rhubarb basically laughed at me when I asked if they had rhubarb. One manager looked at me with one eyebrow cocked and said “You know, it’s not very popular.” Um beg to differ. It’s extremely popular – with me! In case you haven’t cooked rhubarb before, it looks like big, red-skinned celery. It’s sort of a vegetable-fruit in that way. And it’s delicious with strawberries and/or ginger. Sometimes it comes with leaves attached – they shouldn’t be eaten at all, since they contain oxalates, which are mildly toxic when eaten in large quantities. Just so you’re aware, DO NOT eat the stems raw, as they also contain the same substance when uncooked. Not that you’d want to, since rhubarb is pretty tart and stringy when it’s raw. But some folks grew up eating it raw and dipping it in sugar.

Although it was fairly popular in the UK during the war since it’s a prolific grower (it’s like the bunny of the produce world), it’s actually become quite trendy in the US recently. My Granny used to make rhubarb crumble for me when I came to stay with her as a child and I’ve loved it ever since. Pickled rhubarb is a great addition to savory salads, but you could also add it to a panna cotta, custard or other layered dessert. Since rhubarb can get fairly mushy when cooked, it’s a good candidate for pickling. I like to use Sherry vinegar and vanilla when I pickle rhubarb, so it has a tart-sweet balance. StarChefs.com has a bunch of great rhubarb recipes – my favorite is actually a tequila-rhubarb cocktail called the Rhuby Red.

Vanilla-pickled Rhubarb

INGREDIENTS
2 stalks rhubarb
1 cup Sherry vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

METHOD
Peel the tough stringy parts of the rhubarb. Trim the ends and then cut into 2-inch long pieces. Cut each piece into 3 or 4, depending how big they are. Clean them very thoroughly, then put them in a sterilized mason jar. Bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to the boil in a pot. In case you’re the type who likes to smell things when they’re cooking, this will NOT be pleasant to put near your face, as hot vinegar is a big like breathing around lots of undiluted bleach – not fun. Pour the vinegar mixture over the rhubarb and add the vanilla. Seal with plastic wrap. Allow to cool to room temperature. The rhubarb is now pickled. This is great in a spinach salad with some sliced strawberries and goat cheese. Try it in a savory Asian dish, or chop it finely and eat it with very sweet vanilla pudding with berries, to add a crunch and savory balance to desserts.

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2 Responses to “Day 26: Vanilla-pickled Rhubarb”

  1. Chef Ed February 16, 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    I feel as though you could use a more neutral vinegar and get a result that shows off the Rhubarb and the vanilla more. Maybe a white wine, white distilled or apple cider? Also, you should encourage folks to reuse the pickling liquid in dressings and whatnot. Definitely in WWII and if you enjoy flavor, definitely today!

    • francoiseeats February 16, 2012 at 5:13 pm #

      You could certainly try it with a neutral vinegar. I like the way the caramel notes in the Sherry play off the vanilla in this pickle. You could even use some Sherry vinegar and some neutral if you want a milder flavor. In winter any leftovers would be for dressings of winter greens and whatnot, since lettuce is not in season yet, but great idea!

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