Poached Rhubarb Recipe

These days, when I get to the Batignolles farmers market on Saturday mornings — as early as I can but not as early as I’d like — my first order of business is to dart upon whatever rhubarb is left at my favorite produce stall.

My strategy is not 100% proper, I’m afraid.

The pile of stalks is usually found a third of the way down the length of the stall, wedged in between, say, a basket of short cucumbers and a crate of tiny new potatoes, and by the time I get to the greenmarket (see above), there’s barely enough left for my needs.

So rather than wait until the line moves up enough that the rhubarb is within my reach, or worse yet, until it’s my turn to get one of the attendants’ attention, I squeeze in between two customers in the line, all smiles and apologies and “I’m just here for the rhubarb” assurances, and gather the stalks I want, picking the ones that are firm and blemish-free. Only then do I get in line, an armful of stalks bunched up in one of my trusty produce bags, reclining contentedly in the knowledge that we’ll be eating poached rhubarb all week long.

I have a particular soft spot for rhubarb, and there are very many things I like to do with it — including this rhubarb tart with lemon verbena and this butterless crumble — but for my everyday consumption, rhubarb compote is what I crave.

For years and years I’ve cooked it softly with a bit of sugar until the rhubarb chunks collapse into feathery strands, but this year I’ve adopted an entirely new approach I like even better: I now poach my rhubarb.

The idea is to prepare a syrup (just a fancy word for water that has sugar in it) infused with some fresh vanilla, bring it to a simmer, add small amounts of rhubarb to it, and cook it every so briefly — just one minute after the syrup returns to a simmer — so that the chunks are cooked through, but still retaining their shape.

You repeat this process using the same syrup with however much rhubarb you have to cook, and you get this lovely compote that requires a little more human intervention, but is considerably more presentable than its baby-food counterpart.

I like to eat a small bowl of it for breakfast or as a snack, with optional granola mixed in, and it is a well received, homey dessert, too, with sablés on the side and perhaps a little crème fraîche.

The bonus of this method is that you’ll likely have rhubarb syrup leftover once you’ve eaten all the rhubarb chunks, and you’ll get to use the soft pink liquid to sweeten plain yogurt, to cook rice or tapioca pudding, to imbibe your babas, or to make la-di-da cocktails with sparkling white wine.

What about you, what are your favorite ways to cook and eat rhubarb?

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Poached Rhubarb Recipe

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Serves 4 to 6.

Poached Rhubarb Recipe


  • 1 kilo (2.5 pounds) fresh rhubarb stalks
  • 125 grams (2/3 cup) unrefined cane sugar
  • a 10-cm (4-inch) segment of a plump vanilla bean, or 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract


  1. Trim both ends of the rhubarb stalks. Cut the stalks in 1-cm (1/3-inch) slices, unless they are pencil-thin, in which case you should cut them in 2.5-cm (1-inch) segments.
  2. Put the sugar and 500 ml (1/2 quart) fresh water in a medium saucepan. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a sharp knife, scrape the seeds from the inside of the bean with the dull side of the blade, and add them and the bean to the pan. Bring to a simmer, stirring regularly as the sugar dissolves.
  3. Add a quarter of the rhubarb to the simmering syrup -- resist the temptation to add more, the rhubarb won't cook evenly if the pan is crowded -- cover, and allow the mixture to return to simmering point. Once the syrup simmers, cook for just 1 minute, until the rhubarb pieces are soft (test with the tip of the knife, it should meet minimal resistance) but still holding their shape.
  4. Remove the rhubarb with a slotted spoon, leaving the syrup in the pan, and transfer to a serving dish or container.
  5. Repeat with the rest of the rhubarb, one small batch at a time. Add the syrup and the vanilla bean to the dish.
  6. Serve slightly warm, at room temperature, or cold, on its own -- you can offer extra sugar at the table for people who like their rhubarb sweeter -- or with a little cream and some sablés.


Poached rhubarb freezes well in its syrup.

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  • I am obsessed with rhubarb, too – what a cool, healthy(-ier) use for it!

  • Wow, that’s nice.
    I mean, I don’t think that here in Brasil we have anything similar to rhubarb, but this cooking method is suitable for many other vegetables, I guess.
    Seams like a perfect breakfast. :)

  • This summer, I don’t think I’ve eaten nearly enough rhubarb. This recipe, however, could change things…My go-to rhubarb recipe is a strawberry and rhubarb crumble with port, lightly salted pecans and whipped cream.

  • Areg

    Dear Clotilde

    It’s rhubarb season in Norway too, and I made my favorite rhubarb and strawberry compote today:

    I start by melting sugar in a saucepan and make brown caramel. I add water and make a syrup. Add vanilla and let it simmer while I cut the rhubarb and strawberries.

    I cut the rhubarb about the same way as you, and cut the strawberries in quarters.

    I boil the strawberries for a few minutes.
    Add rhubarb and simmer for about a minute.

    Then I add a thickener, usually potato flour mixed with cold water, and remove from the heat. (Maizena Corn Starch could be an alternative thickener.)

    This dessert can be served warm, room tempered or cold.

    Traditionally it is served with cream. I often enjoy it with whole milk or something I think could be translated as vanilla quark.

  • My friend just sent me rhubarb from the northeast (I live in San Diego) and I still have some in the freezer. I’ll have to try this recipe. I made strawberry-rhubarb-cherry pie with it and it was pretty wonderful… just has an old-fashioned taste that brings back childhood for me.

  • Vicky

    I love poached rhubarb too! One of my favourite things to do with rhubarb, however, is to make rhubarb + clove jam. For 1 kg of sliced rhubarb I use 600 g of sugar, 2 tbl cloves, and 1.5 lemons. I squeeze the lemon over the sugar, cloves and rhubarb, let it macerate in the fridge for 2 days, pick out all of the cloves, and then cook it into jam. It is just SOOOO good!

    • Thanks for the suggestion! The addition of cloves sounds very intriguing.

  • I’ll eat rhubarb in any format, especially with orange zest and custard.

    I suppose if I had to choose I’d go for roasted since it concentrates the flavour and you get fantastic pink syrup that you can use in cocktails and on yoghurt.

  • bee

    Dear Clotilde

    When I realised the rubarb season was almost over (sadly it is already over here in Switzerland), I quickly cooked some rhubarb chunks in sirup and filled them into jars while still hot -I filled the jars as densely as I could and just poured the rest of the sirup on top to cover. Like this I have some rhubarb captured for when I will be missing it after the season is over.
    The only tricky thing is to get the cooking time right, as it does continue to cook a bit in the jars. My rhubarb is still in pieces and not purée in the jars, but tends to fall apart when I use it. But then, my chunks were smaller than the ones on your picture. I’d think that size should work better.

  • Poached rhubarb and yogurt is one of my comfort foods, and it’s odd that I don’t eat it more often. Rhubarb tends to go into hiding much of the year here in Northern California. I do love a tart strawberry-rhubarb for dessert or breakfast (my blog has that recipe). But rhubarb syrup poured off from the compote: a striking and dazzling drink when mixed with sparkling water.

  • I’ve got to confess I don’t use a lot of rhubarb in my own cooking – but it’s always a treat to eat. Not to mention terribly pretty.

  • Rhubarb is awesome and you should grow it if you got a garden. Grows strong and fast and fresh is always better.

    My tops are rhubarb tart, confiture and Rhubarb with apple compotte.

    Feel hungry now…..

  • James

    I like to stew the rhubarb with just a little water and some sugar, then strain the solids out and add a couple of sheets of leaf gelatine to the liquor for a semi-set rhubarb jelly. Two desserts for the price of one! (or in my case for the price of two tablespoonfuls of sugar, since I get my supplies of rhubarb from my grandfather’s kitchen garden).

  • Add a little bit of freshly squeezed orange juice (and zest) to the syrup you’re preparing. The compote is a great topping for vanilla ice cream.

  • I usually stick to the baby–food-compote for daily consumption. Alas, the season is over for this year – but next year I’m going to try this one.

    I recently had rhubarb as a savoury (actually, very tart) sauce. It was cooked with a little shallots, and served as a dip for little balls of ground pork, shrimps and ginger, cooked in the oven. It was really really good.

    • I’ve long wanted to use rhubarb in savory dishes, but I love it so for dessert that I can never seem to spare a single stalk. :)

  • That is such a nice comfort food, I really enjoy Rhubarb. When I grew up my dad always made Rhubarb soup, he would serve it warm, lightly seasoned with cinnamon and a spoon whipped cream, a beautuful dessert:)

  • I’m a rhubarb addict in every way so this ticks all the boxes…if only rhubarb was in season here :-(

  • Strawberry-rhubarb pie!
    Poached rhubarb sounds delish too.

  • Rachel

    I’ve never poached rhubarb before – I always go for the oven-baked baby food version, to which I add raspberries or blueberries (sometimes cherries if I happen to have a small amount frozen) in summer or blood orange zest in late winter/early spring.

    A few months ago, at the restaurant in the National Gallery, I had a salad of raw rhubarb and fennel which sounds a little frightening (I didn’t think rhubarb was edible in that state) but was actually lovely – in fact, I’ve been kicking myself ever since for not asking for the recipe, or at least trying to figure it out myself.

    • Mmm, raw rhubarb and fennel, I have to remember that, it must be really really good!

  • A different way of cooking then I am used to – something new to try. Thanks

  • amostcuriousthing

    I like to roast my rhubarb.
    Chop into chunkcs, put in a roasting tin a splash of orange juice, a bit of sugar and maybe some ginger too. Cover with foil and roast in a moderate oven for anywhere between 25 – 40 mins. It keeps it’s shapre in the way that paoching does, but it a bit less faffy.

  • my great aunt makes this too! she’s in her mid-eighties.

  • Hands down, my favorite way to eat rhubarb is in my mom’s homemade strawberry rhubarb pie. It’s simply divine :]

  • Mathieu Reynaud

    when i was an axchange student in Norway, my norwegian mother made a great rhubarb drink that was so delicious and refreshing…it was great. I seem to remeber the stalks were finely chopped or grated, and cooked in water and sugar. sadly I never see rhubarb down here in Texas. BTW – i LOVE your blog!!!

  • Nancy wood

    I cannot wait to try the poaching. This year I have been making a Martha Stewart recipe which has2/3 cup of sugar and two tablespoons water. Will now try yours. One secret this season – thin, firm, very deep pink stalks – here on Vancouver island the variety i have found is called strawberry rhubarb and the colour and taste is fabulous!

  • My favourite way to cook rhubarb as well! It’s much better when you stop it from turning to mush! Plus you cannot go wrong with leftover rhubarb syrup, especially in cocktails as you mentioned.

  • I keep trying to find rhubarb here that isn’t a million dollars so I can do cool things like this! Gotta stay on the lookout.

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