Posted 20th Feb 2016
This week marks the start of the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival (19th to 21st February), and to celebrate we caught up with Richard Bainbridge, winner of BBC Two's Great British Menu and chef-owner of Benedicts restaurant, to find out why forced English rhubarb features on his menu
The annual Wakefield Rhubarb Festival celebrates the city's place at the heart of the rhubarb triangle of Wakefield, Morley and Rothwell, an area of West Yorkshire that has been growing the best quality forced rhubarb for hundreds of years. The rhubarb is grown in dark forcing sheds, which have become popular features of the local landscape and have the benefit of bringing in an early crop. In fact, Yorkshire forced rhubarb is so good that it has even received protected name status and celebrity chefs refer to it as 'Champagne rhubarb'.
To find out more about the popular British vegetable, we spoke to Richard Bainbridge.
As the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival nears, we'd really like to know what your favourite rhubarb dish is and why?
I love rhubarb sorbet served with warm custard. The sharp unique taste reminds me of my childhood, bringing back memories of boiled sweets and long summers, and representing everything that's delicious about rhubarb.
We noticed that you have forced English rhubarb on the menu at Benedicts. Why did you choose to use this type of rhubarb?
I use forced English rhubarb as I just can’t wait for the season to start. It is the first thing I get excited about after Christmas as it is means that after a long, cold, dark winter, spring is just around the corner.
Do you think that being aware of where all our ingredients come from is important?
Knowing the providence of the ingredients is massive to us in the kitchen, as this is what drives us to do the best that we can with the produce. Using seasonal and local ingredients helps us to be better chefs.
What ingredients do you think pair surprisingly well with rhubarb?
My favourite things to use with rhubarb are blood oranges and custard. I just don't think you can beat these classic pairings. Using these ingredients with a fish dish such as plaice is beautiful.
Finally, we'd love to know your top tips for cooking with rhubarb?
My top tip is to keep things simple when cooking with rhubarb. Treat it with respect and love and it will repay you in leaps and bounds.
Feeling tempted? Then why not try one of Richard's own rhubarb recipes?
Forced English Rhubarb & Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
10 gelatine leaves
1l double cream
1 vanilla pod, seeds only
250g caster sugar
1kg forced English rhubarb
2 tablespoons grenadine
1. Place 6 leaves of gelatine in cold water and allow to soften.
2. Meanwhile, place the cream, vanilla seeds and 150g of the sugar into a heavy-based saucepan. Slowly bring to the boil then remove from the heat. Allow to infuse for 10-15 minutes.
3. Once infused, place the saucepan back onto the heat and bring back to a simmer. While simmering, squeeze your gelatine leaves dry and place into the cream mixture. Whisk until fully dissolved and then pass the mixture through a fine sieve.
4. Pour into moulds of your choice and place in the fridge to set for 4-6 hours.
5. Take the rhubarb and place into a bowl with the remaining sugar, grenadine and 200ml of water. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place over a pan of boiling water for 30 minutes.
6. Remove the bowl and strain your rhubarb juice through muslin or kitchen towel into a measuring jug. Measure your juice and for every 500ml of liquid, use 3½ gelatine leaves.
7. Prepare your gelatine leaves in cold water and then dry as before. Place the rhubarb juice back into a bowl over a pan of boiling water and add in the dry gelatine leaves, whisking until fully dissolved.
8. Once dissolved, gently pour the rhubarb juice over your set panna cottas and chill until ready to serve.
Tip: In Benedicts restaurant we serve this with small pieces of poached rhubarb and a blood orange sorbet.