Rhubarb is a vegetable with an identity crisis. Due to its tart flavor, the crimson-stalked beauty is most often used like a fruit, hence its nickname, the “pie plant.” But during rhubarb’s brief spring window in the South, where it’s harvested in mountain regions from Virginia to Georgia, Southern chefs are finding its distinctive tang isn’t just for dessert. Last spring, executive chef Mike Davis of Terra in West Columbia, South Carolina, picked up rhubarb for tarts, knowing it would be the ultimate complement to the season’s first strawberries. “It doesn’t have a long shelf life, so I thought, What else can I do with it?” he says. “So I started messing around on the savory side of things.” After chopping and blanching it in simple syrup, he added it to a brown-butter spaetzle with strawberries and chard to serve alongside seared duck. So while you can’t go wrong with a strawberry-rhubarb pie, don’t be afraid to experiment. Look for firm celery-like stalks with deep, glossy coloring, making sure to discard the inedible leaves. “This year, I plan to add it to pastas and rice dishes as well,” Davis says. “The way the color seeps out and the flavor complements sweetness is unique.”
Two Fish Worth a Bite
This two-foot-long herring is a favorite in the South, where it’s commonly smoked. But when shad spawn in rivers in the spring, it’s their roe sacs that are most highly prized. Often described as tasting like the sea but with a texture akin to grits, shad roe can usually be found at the local fishmonger’s or gourmet grocery. Dredge the sacs in flour and panfry in butter or bacon fat until crispy and firm. Serve with a squeeze of lemon.
With its buttery white meat, pompano is considered one of the best-tasting fish in the sea. Strikingly silver, it shows up in the Southern surf when the water hits, oh, about 68 degrees (mole crabs are a preferred bait). For a simple prep, dip the fillets in butter and spices, and blacken in a cast-iron skillet on the grill.