Though technically a vegetable, rhubarb is
treated like a fruit in the kitchen. Its long stalks or ribs range in
color from cherry red to pale pink and it looks somewhat like celery
that's blushing. Rhubarb is inedible raw and must be cooked, usually
with a good dose of sugar to balance its tart flavor.
Field-grown rhubarb crops up in spring, with
the bulk of it appearing in April and May. Hothouse-grown rhubarb is
available year-round in many areas. Look for crisp, firm stalks without
blemishes or cuts. Field-grown rhubarb has a bright red color and a more
pronounced flavor than the pale pink hothouse-grown stalks. Any leaves
attached to the stalks should be fresh-looking, not wilted or limp.
Also, the thinnest and youngest rhubarb will be the most tender and
require the least sugar.
To store, refrigerate whole stalks in the
crisper in perforated plastic bags for up to 3 days. Cut stalks can be
stored in zipper-lock plastic bags up to 8 months. When preparing,
rhubarb leaves are mildly toxic (they contain oxalic acid) and should
always be discarded. If the stalks are fibrous, remove the strings with
a vegetable peeler. Stalks that are more than 1 1/2" wide should be cut
To reduce amounts of sugar used with
rhubarb, generally, the redder the stalk of rhubarb, the sweeter the
flavor, requiring less sugar to be used when cooking. The smallest,
thinnest stalks will also be the least tart and require the least sugar.