Still tart, after all these years

You can’t walk through a decent produce section these days without seeing bunches of crimson rhubarb stalks, the prettiest fruit in the aisle, begging to be taken home.  Here in New England rhubarb is the deepest red of its extended season because we’re getting hothouse rhubarb.  The field-ripened stalks are a paler color.  Color, by the way, has no bearing on the degree of rhubarb’s tartness; pink-green rhubarb can be just as sour as the more vividly red kind.

Pretty they may be, and yet there they sit.

Rhubarb scares people.  Love, hate, and nothing in between.  Just about everyone who learned Jody and I were playing with rhubarb had a first-time-I-was-tricked-into-crunching-into-raw-rhubarb story.  Mine involved a next-door neighbor’s backyard patch.  Of course once you get duped you can’t help but pass the experience on–it’s too good not to repeat.  Hence all that love-hate karma.

This week and next we’re  indulging our love of rhubarb, and giving rhubarb-haters a chance to release all of that unreconstructed antipathy they’ve been carrying around since childhood.  Change is possible.  Our teenage daughter Roxanne announced she did not like rhubarb (why she passed on the opportunity to say she hated it I don’t know), but she saw the light after tasting the Rhubarb Chicken.  She’s going to be a pushover for next week’s Rhubarb Fool.

Note: Trim any remaining leaves off the stalks–the leaves are toxic.

Rhubarb Chicken

Makes 4 main course servings

Rhubarb can vary from mouth-puckeringly sour to mildly sweet-tart, so the amount of sugar in this recipe is necessarily provisional.  The recipe leans toward the tart side (which we like).   Taste the sauce after it reduces,then add a bit more sugar if desired.

Brown rice and roasted carrots or sweet potatoes make a good accompaniment.

  • 1 pound rhubarb stalks
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Zest and juice of 1 orange
  • 8 bone-in organic chicken thighs with the skin
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 2 tablespoons grated ginger
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped flat-leaf parsley or cilantro for garnish

Wash the rhubarb and trim the ends.

Cut off a 2-inch piece of rhubarb and chop into a tiny dice–about ⅛-inch–for garnish.  Cover and refrigerate.  Cut the remaining rhubarb into 1-inch pieces.

Toss the large rhubarb pieces with the brown sugar, fennel and coriander seeds, bay leaves, orange zest and juice.   Give everything a good stir and allow the rhubarb to macerate while you prepare the chicken.

Season the chicken lightly on both sides with salt and pepper.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, add the chicken thighs to the pan, skin side down, and sear for 5 to 7 minutes.  Your aim is to get a good sear on the outside of the thighs, not cook them through.  Turn the thighs over and sear the other side for 2 minutes.  Transfer the seared chicken to a plate while you start the rhubarb.

The chicken will have released quite a bit of fat into the pan.  Pour off all but about 3 tablespoons.  Drain the rhubarb, saving the juices.  Return the pan to medium-high heat.  Add the rhubarb in a single layer and cook 3 minutes so it starts to soften and takes on a little color on one side.

Add the ginger and garlic and cook 2 minutes, giving everything a few stirs.  Add the reserved juices and and cook 2 more minutes so they reduce slightly.  They’ll reduce quickly since the pan is quite hot.

Return the chicken thighs to the pan, skin side up.  Add enough stock so it reaches 1/3 of the way up the chicken. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer, cover and cook until until a knife easily slips the meat off the bone, about fifty minutes.

Transfer the cooked chicken to a platter.  If the juices in the pan seem too thin for a sauce increase the heat and let them reduce for a minute or two.

Pour the the sauce around the thighs.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro or parsley and the reserved rhubarb dice and serve.

Jody notes:

Ken bought beautiful chicken thighs.  The butcher took great care to keep the “oysters” attached.  As far as I’m concerned chicken oysters are fair game for the cook.

I like the crunch and pop of the fennel and the coriander seeds; Ken, not so much. If you don’t like them, put them in cheese cloth so they can be removed once the chicken is done.

Ken always has the interests of the home cook in mind.  He’s like the recipe police.  Do we need this ingredient?  Can we skip that step?  He’s always trying to simplify–and to make sure that I stick with the recipe as written (or that we change the recipe, if we need to).  He busted me when I julienned and minced the ginger instead of grating it.  Of course he was right, but after 30 years with a knife in my hand, my hands seem to have a mind of their own.

The original recipe didn’t include the rhubarb dice garnish.  Again, my hands were in control.  I couldn’t help myself.   The thighs needed a little blush.   Bear in mind that the garnish is just a visual element.  Keep the dice small and use just a sprinkle, so that no one gets a mouthful of raw rhubarb, fun as this may sound. 

11 thoughts

  1. Hey Ken and Jody-
    Congrats on the launching of your blog——obviously, a LOT of work, but so appreciated. The food, the writing and photography—–all fabulous! Reading the weekly entries feels like a delicious meal at your table; great food, great company and conversation! Can’t wait to see what’s “on the menu” next week!

  2. Ken
    Did Jim and Sandy Mills have rhubarb in their garden (next to his archery target), or was it our other neighbor, who, memory tells me, was the Sheppard family. I do remember us filching raw rhubarb from that second garden, and being immensely disaapointed that it tasted so terribly, nothing like the autunn rhubarb pie we had been invited to sample earlier. That same family had a sassafras tree/shrub in their backyard on Mapleview Avenue, and the mother invited us to watch her boil branches and make home made root beer. Then there was Mr. Brady, who worked at a wholesale produce distributor and once brought me a cocoanut, the most exotic thing I had ever seen. He astonished me by sayign it was filled with sweet milk and then drilled it open so we could sample it before he hammered it open and we feasted on that brilliant white meat.
    Happy weekend,
    Brother Bob

    • Your first guess was right, next to the archery target. I’ve always been a sucker for exotic flavors, and what flavors are more exotic than new discoveries in childhood. The one I remember was the taste of guava jelly, dispensed in small oval jars in Florida fruit baskets. What kid in rural Michigan had ever heard of a guava? Jody and I are suckers for exotic flavors. Maybe we should do a posting about duriens. By the way I was in a Cambridge farmers’ market today and I saw a young woman with a lip stud purchase a single stalk of rhubarb from one of the vendors. The young man who took her money skeptically regarded her single stalk and said, “What are you going to with that?” “Eat it now,” she replied. “I’m going to walk back to my room, dip it in sugar and chew on it.”

  3. Ken and Jody,
    Thighs, tart, and blush….oh my! This is the place of good reading – congratulations on the launch of The Garum Factory! Glad to engage in the glories of condiments (and rhubarb!!). I would like to think that I am a decent cook, but in truth, it’s all about the condiments to me, so I always keep lots of them to make up for what I lack in culinary finesse. Very glad as well to have met you today, Ken, at Let’s Talk about Food, and look forward to your stopping by with family some day on your way to the Cape to check out our refrigerator, keeper of all manner of Garum kin. Fond regards to you both!

    • Hey Chris… so sorry i missed you at Let’s Talk About Food. It was a great event and particularly awesome considering the rain. Are you kidding… it’s all about the condiments: tapenade, harissa, preserved lemons, chutneys, mustards, etc… hope to see you soon. xox

  4. J&K – We made this dish over the weekend while my folks were in-town and LOVED it! We love quick braises and this one couldn’t be simpler. Terrific flavors and a lovely “savory” way to use rhubarb. Our only regret is that we didn’t have this recipe earlier in rhubarb season…gotta go find some more and make this again before its all gone. Cheers – S

  5. Brilliant and charming and simple. I can’t wait to make this. It’s so obviously delicious. As it is, I love good-quality bone-in skin-on chicken thighs, fat side crispy as hell, and the wonderful thing is, it’s really hard to overcook them. Even if you start with room-temp thighs.

    • Kind words, Lewis. I’d also suggest that once you’ve made the chicken (and posted a photograph of it to our Facebook page ;-) ) skip ahead to the Rhubarb Fool. Even if you don’t make the fool, make the compote–it’s unbelievable on Greek yogurt. I’m afraid we’re nearing the end of the season and I bought some rhubarb specifically to see if I could make it and freeze it.

  6. Pingback: Rhubarb Vinegar Chicken | The Garum Factory

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