In June, in the height of rhubarb season, this recipe appeared in the "A Good Appetite" column in the NY Times. I didn't get around to making it right away, but kept it in mind as I laid away some rhubarb in the freezer for its eventual use in this dish. Rhubarb season is too short, I think, and I love it so much in crumble, pie, and compote that I would hardly dare to use it in a savory dish.
Nevertheless, I decided to try to something different, and this looked like just the dish. Melissa Clark was inspired to substitute rhubarb, with its natural astringency, for vinegar in a curry sauce. She used duck legs, but I had chicken pieces. I also changed the proportions slightly, and forgot the onions in the main dish, so my adaptations are below. The end result was a beautiful, heady dish. The smaller pieces of rhubarb melted gloriously into the sauce, while the larger pieces managed to retain their shape.
I also decided to serve it with some gently spiced lentils, using the same flavors as in the main recipe. I could almost have eaten them straight, forgetting about the main dish. That's the hallmark of the best side dishes (does anyone else choose what to order in a restaurant based on the side dishes?).
While I'm not sure that rhubarb crumble could ever be knocked off its pedestal as the zenith of rhubarb recipes, next time I make some I will save some stalks for this dish. I was amazed at the chameleon-like flavor of rhubarb, how it can be so different with sugar and with spice (but always definitely nice).
Curried chicken with Rhubarb by Melissa Clark
2 pounds whole chicken legs (2 or 3) or chicken pieces
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, chopped
1 4-inch-long piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 Tbsp. garam masala
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper, or more to taste
1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/3 C. unsweetened coconut milk
1/2 pound rhubarb, sliced 1/2 -inch thick (2 cups)
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
Chopped fresh cilantro or chives, for garnish.
Heat oil in a large skillet or sauté pan over high heat. Add as many pieces of chicken as fit easily. Brown on one side, about 7 minutes. Turn and brown other side. Transfer to a bowl. Repeat if necessary.
While chicken browns, combine 1 C. onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala, vinegar, cayenne, turmeric, black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup water in a blender, and process until smooth.
When chicken is done, spoon out all but about 2 tablespoons of fat from skillet (if necessary). Add ginger-garlic paste and cook until most of the liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes.
Add coconut milk and 2 cups water, and bring to a simmer. Add rhubarb, brown sugar, chicken and any juices that may have accumulated in bowl. Bring to a boil. Cover and turn heat to low, and simmer gently for 1 hour, turning chicken pieces halfway through. Uncover pan, turn chicken again, and let simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
Spoon any accumulated fat off sauce and serve right away or, better, chill overnight and degrease sauce before reheating all on a low flame. Serve garnished with cilantro or chives.
Yield: 4 servings.
Lightly spiced lentils (by moi!)
1/2 Tbs. oil
1/2 C. finely chopped onion
1 tsp. minced ginger
1 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. cider vinegar
1 C. brown lentils
2 C. water
salt to taste
Saute onion and ginger in oil until soft. Add spices and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until fragrant. Add lentils, water, and vinegar and simmer over low heat for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft but still retain their shape.