Chef Andy: Rhubarb – A Perennial Powerhouse
By Chef Andy Mueller
Owner, Galley 57
Still a few weeks to go for most gardens to spring to life, but one of the great treats from Mother Earth is already here. Often overlooked and definitely underappreciated, rhubarb can be a polarizing perennial that some find too tart to deal with.
Eaten raw, I concur, but mixed with sugar and a cozy dash of vanilla, rhubarb can become a wonderful sauce that picks up pancakes, perks up pies and makes you scream for it over ice cream.
My favorite way to serve it is the same way my mom made it when we were young, as rhubarb seemed to take over the beds on the side of the house, and she knew how to make it delicious. She simply cooked for a short time with sugar and vanilla, served it over biscuits, and topped it with fresh whipped cream.
It’s probably the easiest plant to grow, as it requires you to do absolutely nothing to it all year long. Next year it comes back and again, you do nothing. Gather, trim, repeat.
I was shocked the first time I realized that rhubarb is a vegetable, but even more shocked at not only how quick and easy it is to prepare, but how delicious it is as a spring and summer dessert. Make sure you cut off and discard the leafy greens as they are toxic and cannot be eaten. Use only the stalks and wash them thoroughly before use.
This recipe calls for it to be served at room temperature or slightly chilled so the whipped cream doesn’t melt right away, but it’s also fantastic served warm over biscuits and topped with vanilla ice cream. As the ice cream melts, it blends with the warm rhubarb and creates a decadent dessert fit for royalty.
The great part about this recipe is the fact that it takes longer to bake the biscuits than it does to prep and cook the sauce, so it’s perfect for a last-minute addition or if you have to call an audible because your soufflé went south.
Give this recipe a try, and I’ll bet it becomes part of your dessert repertoire in no time!
Rhubarb Sauce and Fresh Cream
For the sauce, in a medium sauce pot over medium heat, add:
- 6 cups diced rhubarb
- 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
Stir to combine, cook until you see a little steam rising up from the rhubarb liquids, then add a mixture of 1 heaping tablespoon cornstarch stirred into three tablespoons cold water. Stir in the cornstarch/water mixture and cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until rhubarb just starts to become soft. Don’t overcook the sauce, as the rhubarb will break down and become stringy. Turn off heat and let cool.
For the whipped cream, place a metal mixing bowl in the freezer for ten minutes and make sure your cream is extremely cold, as the two steps are key to a proper whipped cream.
Working quickly, add to the ice cold mixing bowl:
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- dash of nutmeg
Whip with a hand mixer until stiff peaks are formed. Chill immediately. If you want a fancier presentation, remove one cup of the sauce and puree it in a food processor, and decorate a plate with it or serve it on the side (see photo). To serve, cut a freshly baked biscuit or scone in half and top each half with a generous amount of rhubarb sauce and top with whipped cream.