In an era when people chatted over the fence rather than the Internet, back yards had rhubarb patches. They may not exist in many home gardens any more, but there is a big commercial industry to supply the demand for rhubarb, from early winter through early summer, with a peak from April to June.

Although rhubarb has traditionally appeared in desserts, it is now turning up in soups, stews and other savory dishes. Chefs use its tart, piquant flavor to add a bright note to many dishes as well as sauces.

Rhubarb has been around for about 4,000 years, but used as a food only for the last few hundred. Native to Northern Asia, rhubarb was used for centuries for medicinal purposes. The first recipe using rhubarb has been traced to the 1783 "The London Art of Cookery," which suggests slicing the stalks and cooking them as you would gooseberries.

The word rhubarb has even found a place in sports writing and, therefore, colloquial English, to describe an acidic, bitter dispute. It was originally a theater term: actors in mob scenes would say "rhubarb" over and over to simulate the angry, confused sounds of a mob.

When shopping for rhubarb, look for firm, crisp, unblemished stalks with a lot of pink or red color. Field-grown rhubarb, which has more pronounced flavor than the hothouse variety, is cherry red, while the latter type is pink. The leaves should be fresh looking and blemish-free, but, because they contain toxic oxalic acid, they should be discarded when the stalks are prepared for cooking.

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Rhubarb is highly perishable. If you're not using it right away, wrap the rhubarb in plastic and refrigerate - but not for more than a few days.

Salmon with Rhubarb Sauce

Makes 4 servings.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 small carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 rhubarb stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/3 cup white wine or white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup clam juice
  • 12 oz. salmon fillet, in one piece
  • 1 lb. fresh spinach, stemmed and washed

Directions

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  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Wrap salmon in foil and bake until cooked through, about 30 to 40 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon butter over medium-high heat until hot but still golden. Saute carrot, onion, rhubarb and shallot until onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add wine or vinegar and boil until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Add clam juice and simmer 15 minutes, until vegetables are very soft.
  4. In a large pot, place spinach, with any water clinging to leaves. Cover and cook over medium heat until spinach is wilted and just tender, about 5 minutes. Uncover and set aside.
  5. Transfer vegetable mixture to a blender and puree. Gradually blend remaining butter into sauce. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Gently squeeze most of water from spinach. Arrange a bed of it on each of four plates. Add one-fourth of salmon to each plate. Spoon one-fourth of sauce over each serving of fish. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Info Per Serving:
241 calories
13 g. total fat (4 g. saturated fat)
9 g. carbohydrate
21 g. protein
4 g. dietary fiber
418 mg. sodium.


AICR