There is one really special ingredient that arrives in February, and that is our own pink forced rhubarb. Apart from products that have been stored/preserved and ones that have been available since the beginning of winter, forced rhubarb is the first new crop of the year, entering the kitchen with a clean youthful freshness and acidity that is unlike anything else we are growing at this time.
It is a little different to the green stemmed outdoor rhubarb in more than just appearance. Firstly, because it contains no bitterness, this comes from the chlorophyll created by the plant when exposed to the sun to absorb its energy. Secondly, it is far more tender, because the greater speed in which it grows whilst searching for the light. The other big advantage for the kitchen is that it appears right at the time of year (February and March) when the variety of fresh produce we have available is at its lowest. It is for this last reason alone that we do not harvest the green stems over the summer and autumn, although they still have a decent flavour, instead we let the roots grow and regenerate so that the gardeners can dig them up, store in the shed, then plant and force the following year. I was asked by a curious rhubarb loving guest why none of the rhubarb growing in the summer was being used on the menu, so now you know!
There are a few different forms we serve the rhubarb in, all requiring different cooking techniques to bring the best out of it. For pieces of poached rhubarb, we peel it before we poach it, to make it as tender and effortless to eat as possible. To make sure that none of the flavour in the peel is lost, we cook the peel in a stock syrup (made from heating equal weights of sugar and water together until fully dissolved) and then use this flavoured stock syrup to poach the peeled rhubarb. When the pieces of rhubarb are removed, this double infused crystal like dark pink stock can form the base to a delicious cocktail, chilled dessert soup, or can be set into a jelly.
One of its best uses on the menu this month is the Rhubarb Soufflé served with a crumble top, clotted cream ice cream and a rhubarb sauce; its natural high acidity perfectly balances out the sweetness of the sugar needed to stabilise the whipped egg whites that cause the soufflé to rise. For the base, we bake unpeeled rhubarb stems with 20% weight in water and then purée with no added sugar, so that it does not over-sweeten the finished dessert. Some of this purée we thicken with cornflour to form our soufflé base (this is what we fold with the meringue to form the finished soufflé mix), and the rest we mix with the flavoursome poaching liquor, the latter adding extra flavour, sweetness and viscosity, so it can be poured as the accompanying sauce. Ginger and rhubarb work extremely well together, and we incorporate this flavour into the dessert by lining the moulds with a gingerbread crumb.
Its sharp acidity also lends itself nicely to being paired with fatty foods such as pork belly and mackerel. For savoury dishes the green rhubarb with its stronger taste will work just as well, and is much nicer than the forced when diced into a chutney. Forced rhubarb at this time of year is highly seasonal, very English, and absolutely delicious.
George and his team look forward to welcoming you to the restaurant very soon, to book please call 01342 810567.
In the Garden News
This month, Tom explains how dividing snowdrops is starting to pay dividends in the garden, plus he forces dahlia’s for early cuttings…
At the Manor News
We reveal the winner of our 2016 Photography Competition, plus find out more about our April events, including a fine evening of opera...