Rhubarb pies are great and all, but let’s expand our minds, shall we?

By Natalie B. Compton
April 29, 2019
Jennifer Causey

Rhubarb is a vegetable that signals the start of spring with its vibrant red hue. The ingredient often gets delegated to tarts and pies—which are of course delicious, but just the tip of the culinary iceberg. You can transform it into a spicy relish, a bright cocktail, even a salad. To get your rhubarb creativity going, we asked chefs to share their favorite ways to use rhubarb. But first thing’s first: a disclaimer. “Don't eat the leaves” warns chef Jackson Kalb from Jame Enoteca in El Segundo, California. “They won't kill you but they are poisonous, so you won't feel great after eating them.”

Read more: Rhubarb Is the Best Vegetable You Can Eat Right Now

Rhubarb Sorbet with Chocolate Chips

At Cafe Ana in Santa Barbara, chef Ryan Whyte-Buck is a big fan of making rhubarb sorbet with chocolate chips. “It's the perfect mix of sweet and tart with just the faintest hint of grassy flavor to complement a high quality dark chocolate,” Whyte-Buck says. “Rhubarb is super versatile, complementing many of spring's fresh offerings as well as items from the pantry. I like to steep my Rhubarb Sorbet base with a little pink peppercorn.” The spice of pink peppercorn will add more depth to your sorbet. He also incorporates a splash of Campari into his recipe to give the sorbet a velvety texture, and a sweet and bitter flavor complement to the rhubarb.

Rhubarb upside down cake

At Cúrate and Button & Co. Bagels in Asheville, North Carolina, chef Katie Button is all about rhubarb desserts. "I am a traditionalist when it comes to rhubarb cookery, meaning it better have strawberries in it,” she says. “I love to cook strawberry and rhubarb tarts, pies, crisps, bread, upside down cake, muffins, you name it.” Button suggests when looking for rhubarb, pick out stalks that are more red, versus the big greener ones. “The smaller they are the better because the smaller ones will cook up easier and faster and their flavor is a little sweeter.”

Rhubarb with coconut

Pastry mastermind Nick Muncy often pairs rhubarb with coconut. “I think it's a great combination, and the nutty creaminess of coconut milk pairs well with the crunchy sour rhubarb,” says Muncy, the pastry chef of Michael Mina in San Francisco. “I serve poached rhubarb on my menu right now on top of a coconut marshmallow with a little raw rhubarb and sweet herb sorbet. I also use the cooking syrup as a sauce mixed with some quality extra virgin olive oil.”

 

Rhubarb glaze

A versatile way to use rhubarb is to make it into a glaze for meats, fish, and vegetables. “Think a rhubarb BBQ sauce,” says Roland Abanico, chef de cuisine at Ayala in San Francisco.” I like to do this with rice wine vinegar or mirin, a Japanese condiment like sake but with lower alcohol percentage and higher sugar content. When cooked down with mirin and/or rice wine vinegar you can blend it and season with pretty much anything: maple syrup, dijon, fish sauce, and honey.”

Poached rhubarb

“You can't beat delicately poached rhubarb on top of a simple custard tart,” says chef Jen Yee of Restaurant Eugene in Atlanta. When making your poached rhubarb, note that the vegetable cooks fast. Yee has tips for making this dish perfect. “Rhubarb cooks and breaks down very quickly, so I like to pour my hot poaching liquid over the raw stalks, rather than simmer them together. Allow the rhubarb to sit and cool to room temp on its own. If it still has a bite to it, that's great! If you want them completely tender, strain the liquid and reheat it to repeat the process.”

Confit duck leg with rhubarb

Rhubarb is a perfect complement to duck at Spartina restaurant in Los Angeles. "By far, I like to use rhubarb in savory dishes as opposed to sweets like pies and tarts,” says chef and owner Stephen Kalt. His number one tip for working with rhubarb is not to overcook it, and taste it raw first. “If you really want to understand rhubarb, chew a small piece when it is raw, then when it cooks maybe 30 seconds, then a minute,” Kalt says. "You will get the way the flavor and texture change.”

Rhubarb and sparkling rosé loaf cake

Tawni Benick, executive chef at Maman NYC, turns to pink wine to complement pink rhubarb. “My current favorite is a rhubarb and sparkling rosé loaf cake,” Benick says. “[It’s] dense like a traditional pound cake but with a little fizz and rhubarbs distinct tartness, coated in pink white chocolate.”

Try our: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pretzel Pie

Rhubarb pickle juice

For Henry Lu, executive chef at Loosie’s Kitchen in Brooklyn, rhubarb comes in handy to use as a base for cold pickling. “I’ll slice onion rings with whole peppercorns and rhubarb juice,” says Lu. “Having a great juicer helps a lot. Cut thin small pieces so the fibers don’t get caught in the juicer.”  

Cobia with fennel rhubarb salsa

Rhubarb works with seafood, too. “Rhubarb goes well with seafood and I like to play with it in marinades and salsas,” says Jay Spickelmier, executive chef at Hotel Talisa in Vail, Colorado. Spickelmier grills cobia, a sustainable farm-raised fish in the jack fish family, to serve with a fennel rhubarb salsa. “When selecting rhubarb, look for firm bright red stocks. You can peel back the fibrous strands from the outside to make it softer on the pallet.

Watch: How to Make Strawberry-Rhubarb Muffins

Rhubarb and strawberry conserve

What Hamish Brown, executive chef of INKO NITO in Los Angeles, loves most about rhubarb is that it works well in both sweet and savory dishes. “I make an amazing wild strawberry and rhubarb conserve with ginger and arima sansho (a Japanese chili spice), that is perfect on granola for breakfast or served warm on vanilla ice cream,” he says. Brown warns that cooking with rhubarb needs to be done with caution. “Rhubarb needs to be handled carefully as it can break down easily under too much heat and turn to mush.”

 

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