Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb: it's not just for crumbles

See beyond tarts and crumbles and use rhubarb in a savoury way

 

It is hard to imagine that at one point in the Middle Ages, rhubarb was more expensive than cinnamon, saffron and opium. The primary reason for this is that rhubarb was grown in Asia and was imported into Europe along the Silk Road.

The value of rhubarb can be also seen in the Castilian (modern Spain) ambassador Ruy Gonzáles de Clavijo’s report for his embassy in Timur in 1403–05: “The best of all merchandise coming to Samarkand (modern Uzbekistan) was from China: especially silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls, and rhubarb”.

Until the advent of modern sugar manufacturing, rhubarb was used for medicinal purposes. It seems the root helped the digestive system, particularly as a laxative. The Chinese have written records of the use of the root for these purposes dating back thousands of years. Do people still use rhubarb for medicinal purposes? I’d love to know if there are still people using the root to combat the ills that come with modern living.

Cooking with rhubarb really only takes off in the 18th and 19th centuries. Sweet pies combined with sugar and spices seem to pop up everywhere from Europe to America. Rhubarb works well with strawberries, though it is said that pie purists do not take well to this combination. 

As well as a filling for pies, rhubarb makes a nice jam. It can also be made into wine. This is one thing I’ve wanted to try for a while.

Rhubarb also works in a savoury way. At the moment in Aniar, we have a dish of poached rhubarb and raw langoustines finished with some pepper dulse. Of all the things we’ve ever made in Aniar, the simplicity of this dish makes it one of my favourites. 

Peel and gently poach the rhubarb. Thinly slice it. Chop up your langoustines and dress with the pepper dulse, a nice oil and some good vinegar. Season with sea salt. Place a layer of langoustines on the bottom of a plate and slices of rhubarb on top. Finish with a little more oil and salt. The sweet rawness of the Irish prawns marries wonderfully with the tart and oxalic rhubarb. 

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