Poaching in simple syrup suits rhubarb

Written By By Judith Dunbar Hines For Sun-Times Media Posted: 05/01/2014, 02:23am
Array Judith Dunbar Hines' recipe for a Rhubarb Strawberry Compote. | Chandler West/For Sun-Times Media

Bright red, tart, poisonous, stringy, delicious. All those descriptions can be attached to rhubarb. But put rhubarb in any menu listing, from drinks to entrees to desserts, and I’ll order it eagerly.

I watch the garden for the first green leaves, wait forever for the stems to attain the optimum 1-inch width. The initial bundle always results in a pie. As the season progresses, there are sauces for meat and ice cream, then muffins and cake fillings. My files burst with ideas yet untried.

But what about those negative descriptors? I like to soften the tartness with brown sugar, and always cut off the toxic leaves, but avoiding the unique texture that happens when rhubarb is overcooked has eluded me until now.

Perusing a favorite cookbook, I spy a possible solution.

Rhubarb cooks very quickly, and overcooking results in the unpleasant stringy texture. Here it simply sits awhile in the hot syrup to cook. I decide this poaching method is worth a try.

This process takes a bit of standing and cooling time, so plan accordingly. I like the molasses flavor of the brown sugar and, in the end, I enhanced the tartness of rhubarb with a drizzle of a good quality balsamic syrup.

To all of those descriptions for rhubarb, add this one: Mmmmm!

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