Never mind the crumble: Mark Hix's adventurous rhubarb recipes
Forced rhubarb is here to enliven tired winter palates. Try it with duck, haggis – even offal, says our man in the kitchen.
We struggle with the British fruit situation at this time of year – the options seem somewhat exhausted, meaning we often have to look further afield for fruity dessert inspiration. So it's a bit of a relief when the first British forced rhubarb appears in January: it's one more ingredient to slot into the pudding menu.
Rhubarb has many uses outside of desserts, though; its colour and sharpness is well suited to all sorts of savoury dishes, with or without sugar added. Officially, of course, the rhubarb is a vegetable, but over the years it seems to have found itself widely considered a fruit; it's most certainly joined the pudding party.
I've done a few recipes here where it can also play for the savoury team. Its acidity and texture – as long as it's not stewed to death – certainly works well with a variety of mains.
Haggis with bashed neeps and rhubarb
I know Burns Night has just passed but there is nothing to stop you serving haggis any time of the year – and we often continue celebrating a bit before and after the birthday anyway.
At the restaurant, we buy our haggis from Weatherall Foods. It is made in Dumfries by Stuart Houston, and beats a lot of the haggis I've tried over the years.
A good-quality haggis weighing about 600-800g
700-800g swede, peeled and cut into chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
A good knob of butter
½tsp tomato purée
A good splash of whiskey
250ml beef stock
A couple of sticks of rhubarb, cut into rough 1cm chunks
Place the haggis in a pan of water and simmer gently for about 30 minutes. While the haggis is cooking, 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 whiskey and stock, stirring to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 20-25 minutes, giving the occasional whisk, until the sauce has reduced by about two-thirds and thickened. Add the rhubarb and simmer for another minute or so until the rhubarb is cooked but has a bit of bite to it.
Meanwhile, cook the swede in lightly salted water until tender, then drain and coarsely mash with butter and season to taste.
To serve, spoon the neeps on to warmed serving plates, cut the haggis open and scoop a good, large spoonful out on to the neeps; then spoon the sauce over and around.
The rhubarb triangle
As you may or may not know, the majority of our rhubarb historically came from the rhubarb triangle in Yorkshire, which is an area between Bradford, Leeds and Wakefield.
As a nod to this famous rhubarb-growing area I thought a triangular tart would fit the bill. It's dead simple, this – as long as you can draw an equilateral triangle, that is…
You can serve this with ice-cream, clotted cream or whipped cream flavoured with vanilla, ginger or even a dash of Kingston Black cider brandy.
Approx 150g butter puff pastry, rolled to about ¼cm thick
500-550g medium-sized, deep red rhubarb
4tbsp caster sugar
For the syrup
Trimmings from the rhubarb
2tbsp caster sugar
Preheat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7. Cut four 13-14cm-sided equilateral triangles and put them on to a non-stick or heavy baking tray, spacing them out well.
Cut the rhubarb into 12-13cm lengths and lay them around the triangle about ½cm from the edges of the puff pastry and as close together as you can, cutting the rhubarbf down as you get towards the middle.
Sprinkle the caster sugar evenly over the rhubarb and bake the triangles for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is crisp. The rhubarb shouldn't be allowed to colour too much – if it starts to, turn the oven down.
Meanwhile, put the rhubarb trimmings in a pan along with the sugar and a tablespoon of water and simmer for 8-10 minutes, stirring every so often. Strain the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing it through with the back of a spoon into a clean pan.
You can leave the bits of rhubarb in the sieve to cool, and then stir into some whipped cream to serve with it too, if you like.
Boil the liquid until it has reduced by about half and has begun to thicken. Remove from the heat and leave the syrupy liquid to cool.
Serve with your choice of toppings and spoon the syrup around.
Duck breast with sweet and sour rhubarb
Duck has lots of classic fruity partners but rhubarb often isn't one of them. I'm not sure why – for me, it's a perfect marriage.
You can use a whole duck for this, or duck breasts, which are readily available in butchers and supermarkets.
4 duck breasts weighing about 160-200g each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2tbsp cider vinegar
2tbsp granulated sugar
A couple of good knobs of butter
Cut the rhubarb into batons, roughly 6-7cm x ½cm wide. Season the duck breasts, heat a heavy frying pan and cook the breast with the skin down for about 5 minutes on a medium heat, pouring off any fat as it's cooking, which you can save for roast potatoes. Turn the breasts over and cook for another 4-5 minutes, keeping them nice and pink.
Meanwhile, heat the vinegar in a wide pan with the sugar and a tablespoon of water and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Add the rhubarb and butter and simmer for 30 seconds with a lid on, then remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate.
Continue simmering the liquid until you have just a couple of tablespoons; then mix with the rhubarb and remove from the heat.
To serve, cut the duck breasts into 7 or 8 slices, vertically, and arrange on warmed serving plates. Spoon the rhubarb and syrup on top.
Chicken livers on toast with rhubarb
Offal and rhubarb? Why not? A bit of sweet and sour really cuts through the richness of the livers, rather like a citrus fruit. You could also serve this without the toast, and just have a few salad leaves with it.
250-300g fresh chicken livers, cleaned
A little rapeseed or vegetable oil for frying
2 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
A couple of sticks of rhubarb, finely diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 x 1cm slices of bread from a small bloomer-type loaf or ciabatta
Season the livers, heat a little oil in a large frying pan until it begins to smoke, and brown the livers quickly in one or two batches, depending on the size of your frying pan; then transfer to a plate.
Wipe out the pan with some kitchen roll, melt half of the butter and quickly cook the rhubarb and shallots for a couple of minutes without colouring. Add the sherry and whisk in the rest of the butter.
Meanwhile, toast the bread. Return the livers to the pan and re-heat for a minute. Re-season, if necessary, then spoon on to the hot toast.
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