Savory Rhubarb a Success!

The growing season is still in its early stages here in the midwest so, with limited options at the farmer’s market, I became intrigued when I stumbled across some nice-looking and inexpensive rhubarb from Mick Klug’s Farm last week (3 stalks for $1). Rhubarb is not an ingredient I often buy as I’m not much of a baker, but I decided to give it a try and see if I could find a way to use it in a savory dish.Having been extremely busy testing other peoples’ recipes this past week, I let the rhubarb sit in the refrigerator but didn’t forget about it. This gave me time to think about how I wanted to use this extremely tart ingredient.

Most dishes associated with rhubarb call for macerating the bright red celery-like stalks in sugar, making an otherwise healthy vegetable extremely high in calories (one raw stalk of rhubarb contains 11 calories, 2 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram sugar, 1 gram fiber, and no fat). The uses for rhubarb that immediately spring to mind are all sweet and include pies, cobblers, compotes and jams.

To create a savory dish with rhubarb I turned to my two favorite resources: Food Lover’s Companion (FLC) and Culinary Artistry. The first thing I discovered is that rhubarb is often referred to as both a fruit and vegetable. Luckily, the trusty FLC clarified this mystery by affirming that rhubarb is indeed botanically a vegetable, although it concedes that it is often consumed as a fruit. The guide also explains that the leaves are poisonous and should be removed before consuming.

With my research complete (and finally having the time), I finally tried my hand at savory rhubarb this evening and am pleased to report the meal was a success! I created a sauce out of the six now rather sad looking stalks along with ginger, shallots, water and sugar (yes, I caved and used a sweetener). I served the sauce with sautéed duck breast cooked with dry sherry, mushrooms (also from the farmer’s market) sautéed in duck fat, and basmati rice. The combination worked extremely well – the tartness of the rhubarb was calmed by the rice and absorbed by the duck breasts. The duck also benefited from the additional flavor of the sherry and the earthiness of the mushrooms which enhanced its slight gamey quality. I also enjoyed the combination of rhubarb and ginger, apparently a combination often found in British cooking (FLC). Admittedly, the presentation could use a little work but the flavor makes up for the lack for aesthetics.

Here’s my recipe for Sautéed Duck Breast with Sherry, Mushrooms & Rhubarb Concasse:

Rhubarb Concasse
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 tablespoons grated ginger
6 stalks rhubarb, diced
2 ounces water
½ teaspoon lemon juice
3-4 tablespoons sugar (I used 3 and then added a small packet of stevia)

Heat the olive oil in a pot over low heat. Add the shallots and ginger and sweat until soft, about five minutes. Mix in the rhubarb and water. Cook, stirring often, until the rhubarb completely breaks down into a smooth paste, about 15 minutes. Stir in lemon juice and sugar to taste. Set aside.

Duck Breast with Sherry & Mushrooms
½ cup basmati rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 duck breasts, trimmed
Salt
Pepper
2 cups mushrooms, ends trimmed and cut into ¼-inch thick pieces
2 tablespoons dry sherry

Cook the rice according to package instructions. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan over high heat. Season the duck breasts with salt and pepper then add them to the pan skin-side down when the oil just begins to smoke. Cook until the skin becomes golden brown and crisp, then turn the duck breasts over and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking until the duck breasts are cooked to medium-rare. Remove the duck breasts from the pan and set on a plate (keep the fat in the pan).

Return the pan to the burner and increase the heat to high. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through, about two minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and set aside (they will have absorbed most of the fat). Again place the pan on the burner and pour in the dry sherry. Add the duck breasts back to the pan, reduce the heat to low and cover with a lid. Cook for two minutes (the duck should now be cooked to medium).

To serve, arrange the rice on the bottom of two plates. Top each with ¼ cup rhubarb concasse, a duck breast and half the mushrooms.

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