Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb…

I know, it’s Valentine’s Day. But it’s also the week of the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival, and frankly Yorkshire forced rhubarb is a great deal more exotic and interesting than scentless roses and overpriced chocolates.

Mine came from Daylesford Organic, the posh farmshop-in-the-Cotswolds run by Lady Carole Bamford. Well worth a day out for excellent produce, beautifully presented, and a rather good lunch to boot.

Rhubarb originates from the Russia/China border area. It has been used since ancient times for medicinal purposes, usually in a dried form as a laxative, and it was first grown in England in the 1760s for scientific purposes at Edinburgh's Botanical Gardens. It grows like a weed in everyone’s garden later in the year, but the early crop is forced, in darkness, and harvested by candlelight. The hub of this winter activity is in Yorkshire, and in Wakefield they have a festival in February to celebrate the arrival of the new crop. Forced rhubarb is delicate and fine in flavour, nothing like the coarse stalks that come later.

But you’re right, today is Valentine’s Day, so what could be more romantic than a pink vegetable that is harvested by candlelight? I liked the sound of some of the recipes for Rhubarb Confit, but my friend the Allotment Owner and Rhubarb Connoisseur has issued dire warnings about not interfering with the fragile flavour of early rhubarb, so I am doing it the simple way, with just a little orange juice and grated orange rind, because I want to serve it with wild duck.

(And now might be a good time to offer up a word of gratitude to the great god Tesco, who has so bountifully bestowed upon us the gift of unwaxed oranges, which is good news indeed for the grating public.)

Wild duck with rhubarb and orange compôte

The compôte
3 sticks forced rhubarb, chopped into ½″ lengths
4 tbsp caster sugar
½ zest of 1 large orange

Juice of 1 large orange

Put all ingredients into heavy bottomed saucepan, stir gently to amalgamate, and simmer very gently covered until rhubarb is tender. Remove lid and allow liquid to reduce for about five minutes. Leave aside with lid askew.

The duck

Olive oil
1 mallard
Salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 400ºC

Anoint the duck with olive oil. Pour a thin layer of oil into a heavy ovenproof pan and bring to smoking point. Sear duck on all sides. Season with salt and pepper and place pan, covered, in oven for ten minutes. After ten minutes, uncover and test for doneness. The duck may well need another five, even ten minutes. Allow to rest for at least five minutes.

Serve with rhubarb compôte, greens and mashed potato.

(If you are cooking for your True Love, your mashed potato should be faultless. Cook the potatoes until they are soft all the way through. Drain thoroughly and dry on low heat. Mash completely. Add hot milk and whip until your wrist aches. Adjust seasoning and add unsalted butter to taste. Whip again until you are exhausted. Only then will your True Love know how much you care. Your mash will be soft and velvety and voluptuous. Who needs chocolates?)


Susan in Italy said...

Holy cow! I'm so impressed having never heard of the delicacy of early, forced rhubarb. It sounds lovely and probably very smart that you didn't do too complicarted a preparation. Sounds like a gorgeous Valentine's dinner.

June said...

Hi Susan
It was lovely, and I had the rest of the rhubarb cold for breakfast with greek yoghourt. That was almost better!

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

That looks delicious, June, and I shall try it. We CAN get rhubarb here.

Jeanne said...

I did not grow up with rhubarb in South Africa (although my husband remembers it as a kid, so maybe it was just my mom that didn't cook it!). It's just the most unlikely thing to make into a sweet dish, but last weekend I suspended my disbelief and made a classic rhubarb crumble - revelation! I think a compote with yoghurt sounds like a little bit of heaven!

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