Over the past few years I've written innumerable articles about rhubarb, focusing on everything from grower shortages to the menace of chefs like me writing about it and then it all selling out.
There always seems to be some problem hiding among those pink shoots.
Well, this year, guess what ? The mild weather has befuddled the indoor crops at the rhubarb triangle in Wakefield, Yorkshire, so they have been slow to grow. And now, the rest of the UK has been denied its rhubarb.
So, this year, let's use the tender pink stems sparingly and not just throw them into a boring, old crumble.
Grilled ox liver with rhubarb
In my youth, ox liver would be braised unto death – or at least, until it started to turn a sickly shade of green.
Slice and grill it like calf's liver (removing any sinew) – and then it tastes brilliant.
Ideally you want a small-ish liver from a younger animal.
4 or 8 slices from an ox liver, cut about ½cm-thick
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little vegetable oil for brushing
1-2 sticks of rhubarb, trimmed
120ml cider vinegar
100ml caster sugar
For the sauce
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
1tsp plain flour
½tsp tomato purée
100ml red wine
250ml beef stock
First make the sauce: melt the butter in a thick-bottomed pan and gently cook the shallots for 2-3 minutes, until lightly coloured.
Add the flour and tomato purée and stir well over a low heat for a minute. Gradually add the red wine, stirring to avoid lumps, and then gradually add the beef stock.
Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for about 20-25 minutes, giving the occasional whisk, until the sauce has reduced by about two-thirds and thickened. Remove from the heat and cover with a lid.
Cut the rhubarb into 4-5cm lengths, then cut them into ½cm-wide sticks and put them into a bowl.
Bring the vinegar to the boil, stir in the sugar until melted and bring back to the boil.
Pour over the rhubarb, cover with clingfilm and leave for about an hour or until required.
To serve, heat a ribbed griddle pan on the stove, season the slices of liver on both sides, brush the griddle pan with oil and cook the liver for 1-2 minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink.
Finally, spoon a little of the hot sauce on to warmed serving plates, place the liver on top, then drain and scatter the rhubarb over.
Rhubarb and ginger fizz
Serves 2- 4
This is perfect for those on the wagon right now.
200-250g rhubarb, roughly chopped
60g root ginger, scraped and coarsely grated
Good-quality lemonade to finish
To serve, half fill some tall glasses with ice, add as much of the syrup as you wish and top up with lemonade or sparkling wine.
Mackerel on toast with rhubarb
I don't normally buy mackerel at this time of year, but there have been some good catches already down in the West Country.
As with gooseberry, the tartness of rhubarb goes well with the oiliness of the mackerel.
2-4 fillets from medium to large mackerel, boned
150-200ml rapeseed oil
A few sprigs of thyme
2tsp coarsely ground black pepper
2tsp sea salt
Rhubarb (follow the ox liver recipe)
4 slices of baguette, cut on the angle
Meanwhile, put the rapeseed oil in a saucepan with the thyme, pepper and salt, bring to a simmer and continue simmering for a couple of minutes. Then remove from the heat, drop in the mackerel, cover and leave to cool in the oil.
To serve, put a ribbed griddle pan on the stove, brush the slices of baguette with some of the oil that the mackerel was cooked in, and cook for a minute or so on each side, until crisp. Arrange the mackerel on top and scatter the rhubarb over.
Old classics such as blancmange are back. In the 1970s, when they were last in vogue, they would be flavoured with artificial fruit – not today though, thank goodness. Now it is all about fresh flavours.
400g rhubarb, trimmed and roughly chopped
100g caster sugar
1 large gelatine leaf (3g)
Meanwhile, soak the gelatine in cold water for a few minutes, until soft, then squeeze out the water and stir into the rhubarb syrup.
Pour the syrup into 4 individual jelly moulds or 1 large one.
Blend the remaining rhubarb in the sieve into a purée in a liquidiser and put to one side.
For the Blancmange
3 leaves of gelatine (9g)
200ml full-fat milk
150ml double cream
The rhubarb purée
90g caster sugar
Bring the milk, cream and sugar to the boil and at the same time soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft. Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves.
Remove the milk from the heat and stir in the gelatine until dissolved. Leave the mixture to cool (standing the pan in a bowl of ice will help). When cool, but not set, stir in the rhubarb purée and pour in to the moulds on top of the jelly.
Return to the fridge for 2-4 hours, or until set. To turn out, dip the moulds briefly in boiling water, then push the edges with your fingers to let the air escape. Turn out carefully.Reuse content