Rhubarb is one of the few ‘fruits’ available at this time of year in a seasonal British kitchen garden, so it’s best to make the most of it. Which flavours go best with rhubarb? I’ve been increasingly interested in trying out all kinds of different flavour combinations in the last few months, so here’s my list of favourites for this unusual vegetable that we eat as a fruit.
Classic flavour combinations with rhubarb include apples, cinnamon, ginger, orange, pears, strawberries, and vanilla, but why stop there with this unusual ingredient? There’s so much more to try…
The basics of cooking rhubarb
If you’re growing or buying rhubarb, the forced variety is mainly available in January, February and March. The more usual outdoor variety is mostly ready to harvest during the months of April, May and June, although it can vary slightly according to the type of plant you’re growing as some crop a little earlier or later than this. As I’m writing this, the first spear of outdoor rhubarb is poking its nose up through the soil in the rhubarb patch in my garden.
Prepare rhubarb by cutting off the leaves and the very tops of the stems. Then cut away and discard the tougher bottom part of each stem, and peel away any tough skin if necessary. Most recipes then call for the cleaned stems to be cut into bite-sized pieces. Never eat the leaves as they can be toxic due to their oxalic acid content, but they’re fine to be added to a compost heap.
The classic way to cook rhubarb is by gently poaching it in sweetened liquid for eight to 10 minutes, or you might like to roast it in a medium-hot oven for 15 to 20 minutes instead. If you’re cooking with forced rhubarb it’s usually milder in flavour and more tender than the unforced version, so it doesn’t need any skin peeling off and you may wish to slightly adapt recipes by using a little less sugar and reducing the cooking time.
Some of the most popular British rhubarb recipes include rhubarb crumbles and tarts, compotes, and stewed rhubarb with custard. It can also be used to make rhubarb fool, stewed, pureed and mixed into whipped cream or cold custard.
Why certain ingredients complement rhubarb
The tart, tangy flavour of rhubarb needs sweetness to work in a dessert, so sweet spices and fruits are classic accompaniments. If you don’t want to add too much refined sugar then try using honey, maple syrup, orange juice or chopped dried fruits.
It also pairs well with mild and nutty flavours, particularly almond and coconut, and with zingy ingredients such as ginger, lemon and orange (with some added sugar). Try it in sweetly perfumed or fragrant combinations too: elderflower, mango, rosewater or vanilla are all winners. You might like to try our recipe for rose and vanilla chia pudding with stewed rhubarb.
Rhubarb can be used in savoury dishes too to give them a tangy twist, to cut through oilier flavours or to offset sweeter meats. Try it with duck, lamb, mackerel, pork or salmon as a sauce or in a chutney, either on its own or combined with juniper, orange or rosemary.
The long list of flavours which go best with rhubarb
- Ginger (ground, root or stem)
- Pork or bacon
- Star anise
- Vanilla (and white chocolate)
Do you have any favourite flavour combinations for rhubarb dishes, or will you be trying something new from the list above? Let us know!