Naturally, the French cook has a way with this fleeting gift of spring. Typically, it is wrapped in buttery pastry, pureed and put under a meringue, atop ice cream, blended with cream, cooked in syrup. Here, I’m inspired by the French fascination with sugar syrup to turn rhubarb into a sweet, zesty sauce for chicken. Nothing could be easier, because all you do is poach the rhubarb in the syrup for a minute (well, 3 to 4 minutes), remove it from the heat and Voila! A gorgeous sauce.
If you have any leftover sauce you can use it on fish or pork, or even on…ice cream, lemon cake, yogurt…you’ll find lots of ideas. But try it first with the chicken. You and your guests are in for a lovely surprise.
GRILLED CHICKEN WITH SPICY RHUBARB
For the rhubarb:
3/4 cup (185ml) filtered water
1/2 cup (100g) vanilla sugar
3 birds’ eye peppers
½-inch (1.25cm) ginger, cut in thin coins
4 stalks rhubarb that weigh about 1-1/4 pounds (600g), peeled if necessary and cut into ¼-inch thick rounds
For the chicken:
6 ounces (180g) fresh ginger, peeled
30 fresh peppermint leaves
Six good-sized (5 to 6 ounce; 150-180g each) chicken thighs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Geranium blossoms – optional garnish
- For the chicken, cut the ginger into chunks and purée it in a food processor fit with a steel blade. The purée won’t be smooth, but this doesn’t matter. Place the purée in a good-sized piece of cheesecloth, or other fabric that is loosely woven, and twist it to extract as much juice as possible – you should get 2 to 3 teaspoons of ginger juice. Discard the ginger pulp.
- Mince the mint leaves, and mix them with the ginger juice.
- Gently peel back the skin on the pieces of chicken without detaching it and rub the ginger juice and mint mixture on the meat, making sure that you divide the mixture evenly among the pieces of chicken. Bring the skin back up and over the meat, as it was before, and pat it into place. Macerate the chicken for at least 2 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator, in an airtight container. Remember to remove the chicken from the refrigerator at least 2 hours before you plan to grill it.
- Light a medium-sized fire in a grill.
- When the coals are red and dusted with ash, divide them in two, placing half on each side of the barbecue. Set the grill over the coals and when it is hot, lay the chicken on top of it right over the coals just long enough to get grill marks on the chicken, which will take about 2 minutes. Move the chicken to the center of the grill, Season it generously with salt and pepper, cover and cook for 10 minutes. Turn it and repeat, including the seasoning. The chicken should be golden, and should have an interior temperature of 160F (71C) which will rise to about 165F (74C) as the chicken rests before serving. Remove the chicken from the grill and let it rest for at least 10 minutes.While the chicken is grilling, cook the rhubarb. Whisk together the water and the sugar in a large saucepan. Place it over medium-high heat. Add the birds’ eye peppers and the rounds of ginger and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. When the sugar is dissolved, fold in the rhubarb and cook, folding gently so the rhubarb and syrup are combined, until the rhubarb softens but doesn’t turn mushy. This will take 3 to 4 minutes. Be very careful to watch the rhubarb, as you don’t want it to overcook. Remove the rhubarb from the heat.
- To serve the chicken, first remove the birds-eye peppers from the rhubarb. Place a piece of chicken in the center of a warmed dinner plate, and gently spoon the rhubarb, with its juices, over and around the chicken. Garnish with geranium petals and flat-leaf parsley leaves, and serve immediately.
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
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