The reputation of rhubarb has improved over the years, maybe because we are now doing more interesting things with it. I’m sure more than a few of you will have childhood memories of grey, sour concoctions crowned with dodgy crumble. There are countless uses for this tart plant, whether in desserts or savoury dishes. Team it with duck, pork or game for some unexpectedly exciting results. Rhubarb also works particularly well with Middle Eastern spices. Still not convinced? Chop up a few stalks and infuse it in gin with some sugar to form the base for superb cocktails.
Breast Of Duck With Sweet And Sour Rhubarb (above)
The duck’s fattiness is balanced by the acidity in the rhubarb. I’ve made this into a kind of sweet and sour sauce, not in the Chinese-takeaway sense, but a sharp, sweet concoction utilising the natural notes in the rhubarb alongside vinegar and honey. You can use the breasts off a whole duck and save the legs for another meal — but you can buy breasts separately from a good butcher or supermarket.
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
4 duck breasts, about 160–200g each
2tbsps cider vinegar
A couple of good knobs of butter
1 | Cut the rhubarb into batons, roughly 6-7cm and 5mm wide. Season the duck breasts, heat a heavy frying pan and cook the breast skin-side down for about 5mins on a medium heat, pouring off any fat (save for roast potatoes). Turn the breasts over and cook for 4–5mins, keeping them pink.
2 | Meanwhile, heat the vinegar with the honey and 1tbsp water. Stir until dissolved.
3 | Add the rhubarb and butter and simmer for 30secs with a lid on, then remove the rhubarb and transfer to a plate.
4 | Continue simmering the liquid until you have just a couple of tablespoons left; then mix with the rhubarb and remove from the heat.
5 | Slice the breasts and arrange on warmed plates. Spoon the rhubarb and syrup on top.
Saffron Burnt Cream
British-grown saffron is back. We used to grow saffron in Cornwall and Essex – hence the naming of the town Saffron Walden – but a couple of hundred years ago it fizzled out. Now, David Smale in Saffron Walden has revived the tradition and is once again producing a high-quality, home-grown version of the spice.
150g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 1cm chunks
60g caster sugar
For the burnt cream:
600ml thick Jersey cream
8 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
A good pinch of saffron
Complete stages 1–5 the day before you want to serve.
1 | Bring the cream to the boil and reduce by one-third.
2 | Mix the egg yolks with 1tbsp caster sugar, pour the cream onto the yolks, add the saffron and whisk well.
3 | Return the mixture to the pan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly and without allowing it to boil, until the mixture coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat.
4 | Meanwhile, put the rhubarb in a pan with the caster sugar and cook on a low heat for 3-4mins, carefully stirring until the rhubarb is just cooked. Remove the pieces of rhubarb and reduce any remaining liquid to a thick syrup and mix back with the rhubarb.
5 | Spoon the rhubarb into 4 individual heatproof gratin dishes like ramekins and leave to cool overnight in the fridge.
6 | An hour before serving, sprinkle an even layer of caster sugar over the cream and caramelise with a preheated crème brûlée iron or with a blow torch.
Taken from Esquire's March issue, on newsstands now.
Photography by Jason Lowe