Some food, some drink.
RecipeBeta: Spicy Rhubarb Refrigerator Pickles.
Beta recipes are my own experiments that I've only tried once. Usually palatable, they often could be better with a little tweaking - So please do, and let me know what works!
Rhubarb's not just for desserts, oh no. If you want a quick and easy way to experience the more savory side of rhubarb, I can't think of a simpler way than to make refrigerator pickles. These crunchy, spiced rhubarb pickles are not only sweet and tangy, but also carry a spicy kick from two types of chiles and a dollop of horseradish.
My garden's in a real rut right now. Last year at this time, squash was already here, baby greens were plentiful, and I even had a few chiles at the ready for that bit of palate masochism. This year however, the high plains had a bit of a cold snap after plenty of seasonably warm weather that left my produce downright confused. What's more, this fringe of the "Great American Desert" that we call home has been living up to its name; and with a lack of water, I've had too run the hoses a little more than I'd like to just to sustain root and leaf. So, what does that leave me in the way of home-grown? Well, I've got some Swiss chard that I've playing with for salads and sautees, but other than that, we've still got plenty of Rhubarb. I've already done plenty of rhubarb applications that are sweet, so I was really wanting to do something that leaned a bit more towards savory. While I was refrigerator pickling last year, I took a chance with some excess pickling liquid and some rhubarb languishing in the ice box, and discovered for myself that rhubarb makes great pickles as well.
This year, instead of just being frugal with the excess, I wanted to do a pickle that was custom-made for the tart and fruity flavor of rhubarb, and I wanted plenty of heat. After three days in the refrigerator, this rhubarb pickle will be ready to hit your taste buds with two types of chiles and a bit of horseradish. And while heat is fine, spice makes it better; so I've also thrown in some black pepper, mustard, bay, garlic and clove so as to give you something to uncontrollably keep coming back to the jar.
Recipe: Jump to the detailed recipe. (or, keep reading for the gist of it) -
Bring the water, sugar, vinegar, salt, horseradish, ancho strips (save four), garlic, chile flake, black pepper, clove, mustard, and bay to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan over medium heat (takes about 15-20 minutes). While that's happening, pack the rhubarb chunks and the reserved strips of ancho into in CLEAN pint glass jars. When the pickling liquid reaches boiling, continue for 5 minutes more. Fill each jar with liquid, and make sure that the seasoning in the pickling liquid gets divvied (<- man, that's a weird-looking word) up evenly.
Let cool about 10 minutes before lidding up, and cool down further to room temperature before storing in the fridge. Wait 3 days before your dig into that jar (5 days might be better).
- Just like canning or brewing, "clean" should be your mantra here. I give my glassware and lids a good 10 minute soak in a sink full of hot water and a scoop of powdered non-chlorinated cleaner. Why use said cleaner in particular? In my experience, if you're putting stuff in jars, and you're trying to avoid off-putting flavors like chlorine, soap and perfume, it's best to clean with something that has none of those things to begin with.
- On the topic of containers, they actually make special lids for canning jars for use in the fridge and freezer, and they're wonderful.
- It goes without saying: if you prepare your own horseradish, now's the time to use it.
- Rhubarb is a tricky beast where texture is concerned. It sounds like a cop-out, but a refrigerator pickle is probably the best you can hope for here, as the heat and pressure involved with any water bath canning process will spoil that crunchy texture, and possibly render your rhubarb a mush. Likewise, thickness of cut is important if you want a mouth feel that isn't all a bunch of stringy. The outside of a rhubarb stalk can be noticeably chewy and downright impossible to put your incisors through, so shoot for something bite-size; between a half-inch up to two inches (if you got a big mouth like me). If you want an even thinner pickle with a decent texture, this quick technique may be in order.
- This is a pickle that gets better with age; but realistically, I'm not confident enough to tell you that these will keep more than a couple of weeks or so after the initial three-day wait. All the same, if something looks or smells off, it's better to dump that jar than to later be spending time in the loo doing abdominal crunches the hard way.
Although the ingredient list makes it appear like we're packing the fires of hell in a jar, the heat's really not that extreme, as the vinegar and sugar have kept the burn in check. I'll bet you'll have eaten at least three before you'll really start to notice the chile. There's also a little unexpected complexity to the flavor as well, as the hints of clove, mustard, and horseradish, mingle with the astringency of the rhubarb. Sure it's a little spicy; but this is the kind of subtle heat you'll want to chase with an ice-cold beer, or maybe even use to garnish the booze in your martini.
About now, you might be thinking, "Hey, wow. We've got a couple of jars full of pickled rhubarb; so what the hell do I do with them?" Easy. Eat them; that's what. Honestly, I think that just about anywhere you'd serve a standard pickle, these would make a swell substitution, whether it be plate-side or on a sandwich. And don't go tossing that pickling liquid either; you've got the start of a mighty fine salad dressing when whisked into some olive oil and a pinch of salt. Nothing about this recipe is complicated, and experimenting with flavors is a low-cost gamble; so if the seasonings I've got listed here don't really do it for ya, feel free to mix it up.