When rhubarb is used in savory dishes, its fruity tang becomes an asset much like citrus or pomegranate, without any annoying seeds. Rhubarb works especially well when paired with fatty meat. It slashes through the richness like lemon juice or vinegar, but has the added benefit of falling apart and thickening the sauce.
A piquant rhubarb butter sauce, softened with a drizzle of honey to smooth out the edges, is also a great partner for milky cheeses, eggs and certain vegetables. Once, while exploring the adage of “what grows together goes together,” I paired that rhubarb butter sauce with its seasonal sister, asparagus. It was a hit: bracing, earthy and a change from the usual hollandaise.
In this recipe, I combine rhubarb with chicken. I first stew the stalks with onions, garlic and a little white wine, then use the mix as a bed for braising the bird. The fat rendered by the chicken skin enriches the sauce, while the meat absorbs all the tangy flavors. I use a whole cutup chicken here, but feel free to use an equal weight of your favorite parts instead. Thighs and drumsticks work particularly well.
The only disadvantage to a savory rhubarb sauce is that as it cooks down, it loses its pinkness, turning drab beige. You need plenty of green garnishes on hand to perk it up. Herb sprigs work nicely, as do the tops from the spring onions (or scallions) used in the sauce. Red scallions are pretty here if you run across them.
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You end up with a nuanced, spectacularly savory dish that just may revolutionize the way your dinner guests think about rhubarb.
SKILLET CHICKEN WITH RHUBARB
Makes 4 servings
1 (5½-pound) whole chicken, cut into eight pieces
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt, more as needed
1 teaspoon black pepper, more as needed
5 sprigs thyme, preferably lemon thyme
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch spring onions or scallions, white and light green stalks thinly sliced (slice and reserve greens for garnish)
2 stalks green garlic, thinly sliced, or 2 garlic cloves, minced
½ cup dry white wine
¾ pound fresh rhubarb, cut into ½-inch dice (3 cups)
1 tablespoon honey, or to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1. Pat chicken dry and season with 1 tablespoon salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Place in a bowl with the thyme sprigs and cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least one hour or overnight.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Remove thyme from bowl with chicken, reserving thyme. Add chicken pieces to skillet and sear, turning occasionally, until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer pieces to a platter.
3. Reduce heat to medium. Stir in onion (white and light green parts) and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add garlic and reserved thyme; cook one minute more. Stir in wine and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits in the bottom of pan. Add rhubarb, honey, ½ teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper.
4. Return chicken pieces to pot in a single layer. Cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes for breasts and 20 to 25 minutes for legs and thighs, transferring chicken pieces to a platter as they finish cooking.
5. Whisk butter into rhubarb sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Spoon sauce over chicken and garnish with sliced onion greens.