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Key Ingredient: strawberries and rhubarb 

In this week's chef challenge, Dave Ford of the Bluebird puts a fruity twist on fish

Dave Ford's Strawberry-rhubarb sturgeon

Dave Ford's Strawberry-rhubarb sturgeon

Julia Thiel

The Chef: Dave Ford (the Bluebird)
The Challenger: Toni Roberts (Roof, State and Lake)
The Ingredient: Strawberries and rhubarb

Strawberries and rhubarb are traditionally paired together in pies, tarts, and other desserts; the sweet berries (and a healthy dose of sugar) help balance the tartness of the rhubarb. Dave Ford didn't even consider going that route for his challenge, though. "I don't do sweet," he said. "I'm not very good at making desserts. I went savory because that's who I am."

The first recorded rhubarb recipe—from a cookbook published in 1806-'07—is for a tart, but rhubarb was used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years before that. Its roots are a powerful laxative, and at one time the plant was believed to cure plague. Strawberries have been consumed for much longer, but various parts of the plant, including the leaves and roots, have also been used to aid in digestion and to treat sunburn, skin diseases, and gout.

Ford had several ideas for what to pair with the ingredients, including sweetbreads and soft-shell crabs, but settled on sturgeon, which he said has the richness of salmon but less of its fishy intensity. A trip to the farmers' market to pick up the rhubarb and strawberries helped determine the rest of the dish: he found some green garlic and spinach that he decided would go well with the other flavors.


Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon

He roasted the rhubarb and strawberries with green garlic, red onion, and olive oil, then pureed everything and added a little maple syrup—not to make it sweet, he said, but to balance out the rhubarb. Though he'd never tried roasting strawberries before, he also did some on their own, drizzling some extra-virgin olive oil on at the end. "The richness of that olive oil and the concentration really bumped up the flavor of the strawberry," he said.

After seasoning the sturgeon with salt and pepper, Ford seared it on one side, then flipped it, basted it in butter, and finished it in the oven so it would cook evenly and get a better crust. The spinach he wilted in the same pan as the fish, adding salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

In addition to the strawberry-rhubarb puree and the roasted strawberries, he fried some strips of julienned green garlic for texture. "Garlic is mostly a flavor enhancer," Ford said—so even when it's used with sweet things, it helps to bring out the sweetness.

Ford was happy enough with the dish that he plans to use it as a special, or possibly even put it on the regular menu. It's "straightforward, simple," he said. "You're touching on the sweet, the tart, the sour, the savory."

Who's Next:

Ian Rossman, sous chef at Frog N Snail, working with cattails. Ford said he used to eat them when he was growing up in Nebraska. "I always thought it was funny that it tasted like corn."

Strawberry-rhubarb sturgeon

Strawberry-rhubarb puree

5 stalks rhubarb
8 strawberries
1 small red onion
1 green garlic stalk
2 T maple syrup
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Pepper

Chop the rhubarb, onion, and green garlic and slice the strawberries. Toss in extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put on tray and roast for 35 minutes in a 350-degree oven. Place in a blender, process till smooth, then add the maple syrup and adjust seasoning.

Roasted strawberries

Slice strawberries, toss in extra-virgin olive oil, and roast for 30 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Fried green garlic

Thinly slice green garlic stalks. Coat in flour and fry in 325-degree oil until golden. Drain and salt.

Sturgeon and spinach

Season sturgeon with salt and pepper and sautee in oil over high heat. Finish by basting with butter. Remove fish from pan, drain excess fat, and add spinach to the same pan. Cook until slightly wilted, then season with salt, pepper, and fresh lemon juice.

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