Good Food Blog
Pearls of wisdomPosted at 11:45AM, 05 November 2008 by Jenni Muir - Food writer
At a book planning meeting last week, Claire, the designer, vocalised what I think is a common problem: 'Please,' she said to the chef, 'can you give us some things to do with pearl barley BESIDES SOUP?'
How many of us have packets of grains we bought in a fit of healthy enthusiasm, slowly ageing in the back of the cupboard? Throwing a couple of tablespoons into a pot of wintry soup or stew occasionally isn't going to get through them before the mites and mice decide you're throwing a buffet and they're going to gatecrash. Thank heavens grains do have a long storage life - in airtight boxes or jars - but the longer you keep them, the longer they will take to cook.
How many of us have packets of grains we bought in a fit of healthy enthusiasm, slowly ageing in the back of the cupboard?
Although it's very much associated with traditional British cooking, pearl barley confuses a lot of people because it varies substantially in the degree of pearling and therefore in the time it takes to cook. Whitish, highly polished barley (usually bought in Asian/Oriental stores) could take 20-30 minutes, while the mottled beige pearl barley that you pick up in most health food shops will take 45 minutes - maybe longer if it's near the best before date on the packet. But I'd argue the health food shop stuff is better: it has a more rugged flavour and retains some of the healthy bran.
Barley risotto , or orzotto, still seems to be one of the trendy ways to use it , and at heart is genuinely Italian, but I'm not convinced of the need to stand and stir it - apart from helping people feel as though they are cooking something familiar. It's not going to make the dish creamier as it would with risotto rice. Why not just bung all the liquid in? Or even stick it in the oven?
An appealing (and very easy) barley twist on a familiar dish is to make porridge or 'rice pudding' with it, for breakfast or dessert. Something I'd be tempted to try in the crockpot overnight so it's all ready in the morning.
I also like this German idea . Barley goes so well with fatty meats like lamb - why not sausage and mustard? And you can't beat it with mushrooms either, so this is one soup I definitely will try , especially as it's had such high user ratings on the site. What about you? Do you have any favourite ways to use pearl barley?