Maine Rhubarb — No Longer Just For Pies
My back is killing me, which can only mean that gardening season is in full swing. We spent this past weekend digging, weeding, mulching, and planting, and my lower back is not happy. But these days are magical. The sun is unusually strong for this time of year, but there’s still a cool breeze in the air. It’s perfect late spring weather.
The garden looks so beautiful and full of promise. That’s what gardening is this time of year: promises. I make promises to keep up with all these plants, to tend them and water them and keep them weed-free and happy. But, come mid-July when the heat and mosquitoes are at their most intense, it’s nearly impossible to keep all those promises. It’s like promising to be a perfect parent. You look at your gorgeous child and swear you’ll do everything right. But there is no such thing as doing everything right when it comes to raising a child. Parenting is a process of making a million and one mistakes and, hopefully, learning from them. And while gardening and parenting are two very distinct pursuits there are definitely some similarities. There will be weeds. There will be failed crops. And, of course, I’ve planted way too many tomatoes and I know we don’t really need twelve types of lettuce greens and six varieties of squash. But when the season is just starting it’s hard to say no. Unless you’re talking to my lower back.
These late May evenings, when the sun sets a little later each night, and my body is worn from a long day in the garden, I find myself attracted to the grill. It’s like a Pavlovian response: longer days, warmer nights, cook dinner outside. Last night I brined some local pork chops to infuse them with more flavor before tossing them on the grill. I wanted something to go with them, something to cut the richness of those well-marbled chops.
I thought about chutney and various sauces or marinades, and I went out to the garden to look around for some inspiration. Nothing was calling out to me and then, at the last minute, I walked to a friend’s house down the street and saw her huge rhubarb patch. I’ve been using the pink-red stalks to make pies and tarts for the past few weeks, but it occurred to me that rhubarb might be a great sweet-sour foil for the rich pork. I cut off a few fat stalks, sprinkled them lightly with sugar, and let them sit in a bowl for an hour or so. I threw the pork chops on the grill and when they were almost ready, I gently placed the rhubarb on a grill rack alongside the meat, and watched the stalks soften and caramelize as the heat from the fire mixed with the sugar and fruit.
Long story short: grilled rhubarb is a revelation. I mean have you ever even heard of it? Anywhere? Did I actually create a truly original recipe? I didn’t think that was possible in this day and age with millions of cookbooks, food blogs, food TV shows, and food magazines. Please tell me if you’ve ever grilled rhubarb or eaten it in a restaurant, and I promise to get off my high horse. Please try grilling some of the rhubarb that is overgrown in your garden, and then tell me what a genius I am.
Grilled pork chops and grilled rhubarb. My new best friends.
Grilled Pork Chops with Grilled Rhubarb
Let the pork sit in the brine for at least one hour and up to 24 hours. Serve with the grilled rhubarb.
8 cups water?
2 teaspoons salt?
1 cinnamon stick, cut into pieces?4 allspice or cloves?
2 bay leaves?
4 center cut or rib cut pork chops, about 2 pounds, about 1 1/2 inches thick
Freshly ground black pepper and sea salt
Place the water in a large bowl. Add the salt, peppercorns, cinnamon stick, allspice and bay leaves, and stir to mix. Add the pork chops and cover and refrigerate for an hour and up to 24 hours.
Heat the grill to about 350 degrees. Remove the pork from the brine and discard the brine. Pat the meat dry. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper and very lightly with salt.
Place the chops on direct heat, cover and cook about 10 minutes per side, or until the internal temperature is around 140 degrees for rare or 150 for well done pork. Let sit 5 minutes before serving to let the juice settle.
Grill rhubarb stalks — thin or fat — and serve with grilled pork or other grilled meats or fish. Or serve the grilled stalks, cut into bite-size pieces, on top of yogurt or ice cream for a grilled dessert.
Cut fresh rhubarb into 2-inch sections. Place in a bowl or plastic bag and sprinkle on about 1/3 cup sugar. Let "marinate" for about an hour and up 12 hours. Place a grill rack or basket on a hot grill, about 350 degrees. Place the rhubarb on the rack or basket and let grill 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness and freshness of the stalk. Flip over and grill another 2 to 5 minutes, or until the rhubarb is softened but not falling apart. Sprinkle with another tablespoon of sugar and serve.