I must apologize straight away to the purist, but I couldn’t resist the temptation of sharing with you my take on the classic spring dessert, the infamous rhubarb trifle.
April is an awful month for fresh fruits, and as a matter of fact, one of the only few we can find is actually a vegetable! As nature just starts to wake-up from the long winter break, we’re getting, yet again, flooded with rhubarb. I can see three reasons why the tart stalk is so widely available, but not the most popular guy on the shelves:
a) People hate rhubarb
b) People have no idea what to do and how to cook rhubarb
c) People never actually tried rhubarb
The later seems to be the most prominent case in Hong Kong as rhubarb is often mistakenly referred to as the stalk and leaves from the taro root, which is traditionally being fed to pigs in this region. If you’ve seen rhubarb and taro before, you’ll know the difference. But it’s good to note that, like tomato plants, rhubarb leaves contain a small amount of poison making them harmful if fed to some animals, whereas taro doesn’t.
With such a strong tart flavor, rhubarb wasn’t very popular in cooking until sugar became less of a luxury commodity – and as much as I love rhubarb, I can’t blame them. The vegetable root made its debut as a dessert ingredient not too long ago compared to other fruits. But you know what? If cooked properly, rhubarb can be stunning and surprising!
We received our first stalks of fresh rhubarb last week and I straight away poached some of the peeled sticks in a juice made of berries, vanilla and star anis.
The berries aren’t there primarily for the flavor, but more for the color, although their aromas are rounding pretty well the acidity of the rhubarb. The early spring rhubarb tends to be of a nice red on the outside, but rather white on the inside, thus the color brought in from the berries.
Actually, and only if you are equipped adequately, use the same recipe as below and poach your rhubarb sticks sous-vide (vacuum sealed) at 80°C for about 45 minutes. You’ll get an al dente rhubarb, infused with all these flavors, just perfect.
In a lucky strike, we’ve received some sample of Mexican vanilla beans for testing – which I did right away too in using it in the light custard cream and also in the poaching liquid of the rhubarb. Fair enough; the Mexican vanilla was pretty good. Someone told me there was even better one back in Mexico, but in the end, and in comparison with what I could try, I am still a fan of Tahitian Vanilla.
I prepared a classic vanilla custard cream flavored with Grand-Marnier and lightened it with whipped cream. Once done, I piped it on the plate in small balls and added a long piece of the freshly poached rhubarb stick. Finally I placed a few fresh slices of strawberries, the comrade-in-arms of the rhubarb. To complement the dessert, and to add a doughy touch to it, you could serve freshly baked shortbread on the side.
It is creative, yet it respects the nature of each ingredient, and again, following my principles on food; simple, clean and authentic, well… yes, it still is authentic, but without being all jammed in a glass!
Below are the recipes to do it at home and if you think it’s too fancy, you should definitely try Carl’s rhubarb and ginger cake – if not THE one, it has to be one of the best recipe of what you can do with rhubarb: awesome!
4 pcs fresh rhubarb stalk
110 gm white granulated sugar
220 ml water
6 pcs medium size strawberries
A handful of raspberries
5 or 6 pieces of star anis
One vanilla bean cut lengthwise
- Peel the rhubarb and cut it into long pieces
- Boil the water once with the sugar, vanilla, star anise and both kind of berries
- Let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to infuse the flavor
- Reheat your liquid to gentle simmer and plunge the rhubarb stems, making sure they are fully immersed in liquid
- Let it cook for 8 to 10 minutes and bring the pot out of heat
- Cover the pot and let it sit at room temperature until cold
500 ml fresh milk
75 gm white granulated sugar
One piece of vanilla bean cut lengthwise
3 pcs egg yolk
40 gm custard powder
15 ml Grand-Marnier
…and a generous amount of whipped cream!
- Boil once the milk, sugar and vanilla stick.
- Mix the egg yolks with the custard powder.
- Pour the hot milk mixture into the egg yolk and mix well.
- Cook again until 86°C until it thicken and until there are no more raw starch feeling. Add the Grand Marnier and allow cooling completely.
- Once cold, add a generous amount of whipped cream (ratio 1:1)