Putting on the Ritz

Most of us are familiar with rhubarb compote. The saucy, sometimes stringy, and somewhat mushy concoction is pleasantly sweet-tart, occasionally spiked with a spice (vanilla is common, but star anise is a startling match), and rather ubiquitous from late spring to early autumn. I love rhubarb in all its guises, but I can see how some people get turned off by the pink mess that is cooked rhubarb.

If you have an aversion to anything baby food-like, you have to try poached rhubarb. It might just change your opinion of the stalwart vegetable. Poaching rhubarb in a light syrup tenderises the flesh, but allows the stalks to keep their integrity. The results is nothing short of marvellous for those of us who like to sink our teeth into our food. It's the trick pastry chefs rely on to elevate a humble food to a higher plane. Need something fancy to impress? Poached stalks of rhubarb can be used in just about any dessert calling for stewed rhubarb -with the exception of rhubarb fools. They would be lovely in a rhubarb shortcake, or any other fruity pudding.

Although I am usually a staunch opponent to peeling those lovely magenta stems, this is the one time I will concede to the necessity of removing that colourful cloak: rhubarb peel can be rather fibrous, especially that of stout stalks or late season spears. Unfortunately, the gentle cooking that is poaching does not soften the peel. Left unpeeled, the stalks would best serve as dental floss instead of pudding. To compensate for the loss of colour provided by the peel, the shavings are added to the poaching syrup, to which it imparts a lovely hue. The cooked rhubarb will not be intensely coloured, however, depending on how brightly hued it was to begin with, it will be a far cry from the washed up shade of green it would otherwise be.

Poached Rhubarb 

1 kg/ ±2 lbs rhubarb, trimmed of leaves
1 L/ 4 cups water
2 cups sugar
3 star anise, optional

Peel the rhubarb by nicking one end with a knife and pulling the skin away along the whole length of the stalk. Trim the stalks to the desired length, set aside.
In a large saucepan, bring the water, sugar, rhubarb peelings and star anise up to a boil.
Gently simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.
Strain the syrup, and return to the saucepan. Bring up to a boil.
Add the rhubarb, turn down heat so that the syrup is brought to a slow simmer.
Top with a small plate to keep the stalks submerged.
Simmer for 5 minutes, then remove pot from the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes.
Serve warm, or chill until ready to use.
Will keep in the refrigerator for about a week, as long as the rhubarb is kept in the syrup.

Bon app'!


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