Recipe of the Month: Warm Brandy and Vanilla–Infused Rhubarb Crumble

Recipe of the Month: Warm Brandy and Vanilla–Infused Rhubarb Crumble

“I love rhubarb,” says Chef Mark Johnston of the Park Hotel Kenmare (, located on Ireland’s southwest coast. “It grows everywhere in Ireland. I grew up with my grandmother’s rhubarb crumble, which she served with clotted cream.” The prolific sour stalks are traditionally sweetened with loads of sugar for desserts, but Johnston adds his own culinary twist by infusing it with flavors like ginger, brandy and vanilla pod. “I like contrasting flavors in a dish,” he says. Johnston also uses flavor-infused rhubarb in entrees like Asian Glazed Skeaghanore Duck Breast with Ginger-Infused Rhubarb.

10 fresh 12-inch rhubarb stalks,
cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup sugar, divided
4 tablespoons brandy
1 vanilla pod
½ cup white flour
4 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ cup rolled oats

For Rhubarb Mixture: Put rhubarb, ½ cup sugar and brandy in a large pot. Open the vanilla pod and scrape out the seeds; add pod and seeds to the pot. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then turn down to simmer for 6–8 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove from heat when just soft to the touch (it cooks more later). Taste rhubarb and add more sugar if desired. Remove vanilla pod.

For Crumble Mix: Rub the butter into the flour with your fingers (or use a pastry blender) until the mixture resembles the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. Add ½ cup sugar, cinnamon and rolled oats; mix lightly.
Put rhubarb mixture into a square baking dish or divide into six individual baking dishes. Sprinkle crumble mixture on top.

To Finish: Bake at 350°F until topping is golden brown; 35–40 minutes for baking dish or 20–25 minutes for individual dishes.
Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream.

Wine recommendation:
Pair the Rhubarb Crumble with 1990 Kalin Cellars Cuvée d’Or, a late-harvest blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc that balances sweetness and acidity with honeyed tropical fruit and flowers. Follow the crumble with Cooley Distillery’s Connemara 12 Year Old Peated Single Malt Irish Whiskey, a limited release that balances light peaty smokiness with vanilla sweetness. Park Hotel Kenmare’s barman John Moriarty says to drink it neat in a snifter, no water, no ice.

Asian Glazed Skeaghanore Duck Breast With Ginger-Infused Rhubarb

Rhubarb grows prolifically in Ireland, yet it takes creativity to turn these sour stalks into a gourmet dish. Mark Johnston, head chef at the Park Hotel Kenmare, takes up the challenge, infusing the rhubarb that grows in the award-winning hotel’s gardens with ginger. This duck recipe is his signature dish, and incorporates free-range duck from a farm in West Cork and spinach from Billy Clifford’s organic garden in Kenmare.

For the Main Dish:
4 Skeaghanore duck breasts, 6 ounces each with skin
4 fresh 12-inch rhubarb stalks, cut into 2-inch pieces
2 cups sugar
¼ cup pickled ginger slices from a jar
7 ounces water
1 vanilla pod, opened and scraped
Vegetable cooking oil
4 tablespoons butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 shallots, finely chopped
10-12 ounces fresh baby spinach, washed
Salt and black pepper

For the Garnish:
1 orange
1 cup water
1 cup sugar

For the Asian Glaze:
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon ketchup
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 star anise pods
4 whole cloves

To Make the Candied Orange: Use a zester to create long, thin strips of peel from the orange. Place sugar, water and orange strips in a small pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes until the white of the orange peel is transparent. Cool in syrup until ready to garnish duck.

To Make the Asian Glaze: Into a hot saucepan, add honey first, then rest of glaze ingredients, and bring to a boil before removing from heat. Remove star anise and cloves.

To Make the Rhubarb: Place cut rhubarb in a baking dish in a single layer. In a separate saucepan, bring sugar, ginger, water, vanilla pod and vanilla seeds to a boil. Pour all over rhubarb and cover the dish with foil. Bake in 250-degree oven for 15 minutes until rhubarb stalks are soft and tender. Don’t overcook or rhubarb collapses. Remove from oven and discard the vanilla pod.

Select 16, intact pieces for presentation and set aside. Put the rest of the cooked rhubarb into a blender with a small amount of the syrup and ginger from the baking dish. Puree to produce a smooth coulis.

To Make the Duck: On a cutting board, trim excess fat and sinew from duck breasts. Lightly score the skin with a sharp knife to let some duck fat escape while cooking. Don’t cut through the skin into the flesh, as this will dry out the duck.

In a frying pan over high heat, add a drizzle of vegetable oil. Sear the duck breasts skin-side down until crispy, then turn over to sear the other side. Remove duck, place in a baking dish skin-side up and spoon the Asian glaze over top. Roast in 350-degree oven for 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let duck rest for four minutes before carving into four or five diagonal slices.

To Make the Spinach: Heat a sauté pan on the stove, add a little oil, plus butter, garlic and shallot. Cook for 2-3 minutes until shallots are transparent. Do not brown them. Add spinach and gently toss until lightly wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Pat spinach with a paper towel so it doesn’t run on the plate.

To Assemble: Arrange a base of spinach on the plate, layer with reserved cooked rhubarb stalks on top, place the duck breast slices over rhubarb, and top with candied orange peel curls. Garnish the plate with warmed rhubarb coulis. Serves 4.

Wine Recommendations:  

Spanish Rioja, El Coto Crianza 2006, is a balanced, velvety wine that makes an excellent accompaniment to the duck entrée. Produced by one of the leading bodegas in Spain, it has the aromatic intensity of fruit and licorice typical of the Tempranillo grape. Alternatively, you might go with a New Zealand Pinot Noir, like Highfield Marlborough 2001, smoothly marrying ripe fruit with oaky tannins.

Published on April 1, 2011