Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Rhubarb Triangle 1: Hot and Sour Soup With Chicken and Rhubarb

50 Shades of Rhubarb

I live in West Yorkshire, in the heart (actually, it's really more of an apex) of The Rhubarb Triangle, so called because they grow arguably the world's best forced rhubarb here which comes into season in February, around the time I'm writing this blog entry. We are so proud of it in these parts that weeven have an entire festival dedicated to it. You see, although we might not have much to be proud of, what we are proud of will fuck up your kidneys and kill you if you eat the wrong bit (how fucking Northern is that?). OK, so rhubarb's not got the risk of fugu, but it's still fucking great to eat: long, deep pink stems with a unique tartness.

It's a traditional British thing to have your rhubarb in sweet dishes, like rhubarb crumble for example, but if you've read much of this blog you'll know that's not my style. Where's the spice, the chilli, the fucking profanity in that? No, I decided to get some rhubarb at the Festival and do my own sweary rhubarb triangle of three recipes, starting with this hot and sour soup. It's an Asian-based dish that I'm adding a bit of northern grit to*. Stick this one up your arse, Jamie! Fusion recipes? I shit 'em!

Hot and sour is one of the common soups you get from your average local Chinese takeaway in the UK, though usually in the UK the version we get is about as authentically Chinese as the late, great Christopher Lee yellowing up to play Fu Manchu (yes, this actually happened, for five films in the 60s). It's a great dish all the same, and you can put just about anything in it. So much so, in fact, that you do wonder if, sometimes, the less ethical establishments might gather the ingredients from the sweepings of the floor round where they prepare their food. Anyway, the point is that the throw-together nature of hot and sour soup, along with the sourness that gives it its name and the touch of sweetness it has, means that it really does suit the tart flavour of rhubarb really well.

Preparation: 10-15 minutes chopping plus1 hour to prepare the stock base
Cooking: 30 minutes

Stock base
2 litres water
3 or 4 chicken thighs with bone in
1 thumb-sized lump of root ginger,
1 stick of celery
half an onion, quartered
4 cloves of garlic (whole)
1 tsp whole black pepper corns

1 tbsp vegetable oil 
1 carrot cut into julienne strips
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
100g mushrooms, sliced
3 or 4 spring onions, sliced
2 stalks of rhubarb, leaves removed and thinly sliced
2 red chillies, finely chopped (including seeds)
4 tbsp vinegar
5 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp sesame oil
4 tbsp dry sherry
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp cornflour
2 eggs, lightly beaten

Vegies chopped
(clockwise from top left: ginger, mushrooms, spring onions, red chilli, rhubarb, carrot.
Oh, and that's my favourite knife at the top of the chopping board)

Put the water in a big pan and start heating it on the hob.

Meanwhile, remove the skin from the chicken thighs and throw this and the thighs they came from into the pan, along with the other stock ingredients.

Heat to a rolling boil, cover and simmer for 60 minutes.

Remove the skinless thighs and shred the meat off the bones and set it aside.

Strain the stock and return it to the big pan.

In a small pan heat the vegetable oil then add the garlic, ginger and carrot to cook for a couple of minutes before adding the mushroom and cooking gently for a further 2.

Add the sauteed ginger, carrot, garlic and mushrooms, as well as the spring onions, rhubarb and chillies to the stock and allow to mix for a couple of minutes.

If only pictures had smells

Add the rest of the ingredients, apart from the cornflour and egg, to the pan and allow it to simmer gently for 15-20 minutes.

Add a little water to the cornflour in a cup and mix into a thin paste. Pour into the soup, stirring constantly.

Stir the soup so it swirls and dribble the beaten egg into the pan to make thin strands of cooked egg as it meets the boiling broth.

Serve up and enjoy. This made enough to make at least 5 hearty lunches or is a good starter for 6 people.

*Despite being regarded as Northern as cloth caps and whippets, rhubarb actually originates in China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for literally thousands of year so, technically, this isn't actually a fusion recipe at all. It took the West a further couple of millenia to get to the stage of civilisation where we had developed custard in order that we could claim rhubarb as our own.

Where I mention "julienne strips" for the carrots, it's another wanky foody word for "matchstick sized pieces".

The vinegar used in this recipe would traditionally be rice vinegar if it was an authentic Chinese soup. I've never bought any rice vinegar in my life and wouldn't know what it looked or tasted like even if someone rectally assaulted me with a bottle of it. I'd usually use white wine or maybe cider vinegar instead. However, in the instance I wrote up for this blog I discovered, after buying the rest of the ingredients for the soup that I needed, that I'd ran out of wine vinegar and had to make do with some white pickling vinegar I had in the store cupboard. The soup still tasted fucking great so it's not that critical what form your acetic acid comes in. I'd probably draw the line at malt vinegar, mind and balsamic vinegar probably wouldn't work nor be worth the expense. The same thing goes for the sherry. In an authentic version it would be rice wine. As my local supermarket is in Yorkshire and not Canton, a dry sherry is (apparently, according to the cookbooks) a suitable alternative.

The word rhubarb is apparently spoken repeatedly by background actors on TV as a non-descript word to show them talking without actually saying anything, much the same way that politicians do when they're evading questions, the vacuous twats.

I couldn't do a recipe about rhubarb without mentioning the fantastic silent comedy short by Eric Sykes from 1980 called "Rhubarb Rhubarb" which I've embedded below. It's hilarious and (assuming you appreciate the ethos of this blog) you won't regret watching it, though it has got nothing to do with food.

Look out for further rhubarb-related japery in the next two recipes of my Rhubarb Triangle

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