Savory rhubarb, a sprightly affair

I first started thinking about rhubarb in terms of savory after doing some reading in my honkin’ huge food encyclopedia. My book reports that in Iran they serve rhubarb in stew and that in Afghanistan it gets added to spinach. In Poland they cook it with potatoes and aromatics. And so on. It got me to thinking. Clearly, I was underestimating my rhubarb.

So I started searching through my cookbooks and poking around on the web. There wasn’t much out there. I attempted some rhubarb smothered pork chops. They were edible, but not something I’d repeat.

I dug deeper. The pickings were few and far between and I began to get discouraged. But onward-ho I pushed. I had a persnickety hunch that we, the rhubarb sweeties, were missing out on something special.

And then I discovered lemon-rhubarb chicken. I was right! We were missing out!

The idea of this recipe is simple: make a rhubarb sauce, reduce it, and serve it over chicken.

(Actually, the original recipe was a bit more complex. It called for stuffing rhubarb into chicken breasts. I opted to simply stuff and roast a whole chicken. The final dish tasted marvelous, but there was one little problem: my rhubarb is mostly green, remember, and mushy green rhubarb and a chicken carcass—well, let me stop there. I knew, however, despite the dish’s less-than-desirable appearance and thanks to my cast-iron stomach, that I had landed on a keeper.)

The sauce is profound, like spring on a spoon—light, tangy, sweet, sprightly. It calls to mind nymphs and druads, carpets of moss and fairy dust.

I’ve changed the recipe up even more, simplifying and beautifying as I typed. The final dish is still not going to win any beauty contests—pale sauce with white chicken on white rice (unless, of course, you dress it up with sprigs of parsley and slices of lemon)—but your tongue will sing multitudes of praises. And if you serve it with brilliant green asparagus and some pickled beets, you’ll have a feast for the eyes as well as the tummy.

Lemon-Rhubarb Chicken
Adapted from the February 2007 issue of Bon Appetit via Epicurious

A note about storing ginger: I store fresh ginger by peeling it, roughly chopping it, packing it into a jar, and then topping the jar off with sherry. Stored in the refrigerator, it keeps indefinitely.

about 4-5 cups cooked chicken, chopped
5 tablespoons olive oil
6 tablespoons minced onion, divided
4 1/2 cups diced rhubarb, divided
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon zest
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sliced ginger (unpeeled is okay)
3/4 cup sugar
6 tablespoons brandy
4 cups chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon fennel seeds (or one whole star anise)
1 bay leaf
black pepper

Saute 2 tablespoons of the onion and 2 cups of the rhubarb in 2 tablespoons olive oil for five minutes, or until just beginning to soften. Stir in the lemon juice and zest. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the remaining onions and rhubarb and the ginger; saute for about ten minutes. Add the sugar and brandy, bring the mixture to a boil and boil hard for one minute. Add the chicken broth, fennel, bay leaf, some salt and pepper, and simmer over medium heat for about an hour, or until the broth has been reduced to about two cups. Strain the sauce, discarding the solids.

Return the strained sauce to the (wiped out) heavy-bottomed pan, add the reserved rhubarb and the cooked chicken. Heat through and taste to correct seasonings.

Serve over rice.

About one year ago: Bald-Headed Baby and Raspberry-Mint Tea


  • Crystal

    I also freeze my ginger. If I forget to take it out ahead of time, I can usually shave enough off.

    Also, I really like the sugared asparagus, but I don't follow the recipe too closely. I saute the asparagus in butter, add a sprinkle of salt and then drizzle it with maple syrup. Simply delicious. If there are any leftovers, they are great in a greens salad.


  • Jennifer Jo

    Margo, I don't notice a difference with savory recipes, and I haven't tried it with sweet. No, I haven't attempted the sugared asparagus; I love it too much with melted butter and lemon.

    Aimee, The lobster recipe looks good, but a little more complex than what I'm looking for. (Great video, by the way. VERY impressive.) I like the looks of Jamie's rhubarb and pork. See, I wasn't that far off to pair rhubarb with pork chops…

  • Aimée

    Indeed. Aren't you smart?
    It doesn't matter what the dish looks like, the flavors will keep me coming back for more.

    I paired rhubarb with lobster most successfully in a spring salad on UtHC. Check it out. Jamie O also has a few savory recipes.

  • Margo

    Does your ginger taste different with that method? I usually hack mine into chunks and freeze it, but that's not great for spur of the moment cooking ideas. It does keep its flavor perfectly, however.

    I am curious about savory rhubarb – so glad you did the research!

    Have you ever made that sugared asparagus in Simply in Season? It makes me shudder to think, but hey, maybe I'm missing out. Maybe?

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