Halgrimson: Pilaf doesn’t have to be made of riceThere was a time when I always associated pilaf with rice and the cooking of India.
By: Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, INFORUM
There was a time when I always associated pilaf with rice and the cooking of India. That’s not the case anymore. Bulgur, couscous, oatmeal, quinoa and wild rice are all used in pilafs. But my favorite is a barley pilaf.
Rice pilaf comes from the Near East and starts with the rice browning in butter or oil before adding stock or water. It is seasoned with herbs or spices, dried fruits and poultry, seafood, meat or game, and with almost every vegetable known to womankind.
The same goes for barley pilaf.
Barley dates back more than 2 million years to the Stone Age. Most barley grown today in the Western world is used for fodder or, when malted, for beer and whiskey.
What we eat in our soup, stew, bread or pilaf is pearled barley that is milled into small, round grains. The barley cooking water can be combined with fresh lemon juice for a traditional curative for invalids. Barley flour is ground from pearl barley but must be combined with a gluten-containing flour when used in yeast breads.
I had my first barley pilaf a few years ago at Stuart and Cheryl Tracy’s Pirogue Grill in beautiful downtown Bismarck. It was served with Karabuda pork and was one of the best meals I have ever eaten.
The memory remains, and when Sam took me out for my birthday dinner earlier this month I had a pepper-crusted sirloin with the barley pilaf created by chef John Beck at John Alexander’s in Moorhead. It was wonderful.
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled, finely chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
3/4 cup pearl barley
2 cups chicken broth
1 bay leaf
Melt butter in heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrot and red bell pepper, sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook until onion is translucent.
Add barley and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add broth and bay leaf and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, stir once, and cover. Cook until barley is almost tender, about 25 minutes.
Remove pilaf from heat and stir. Cover and let stand 10 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in lemon peel and serve. Makes 4 servings.
I have adapted the following recipe, which comes from the Arikara/Hidatsa tribes at the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota. It is offered by Mary E. Fox, also known as Minah Two Crow.
Chicken With Barley Pilaf
1 4- to 5-pound roasting chicken
Salt and pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup sweet white wine
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken stock
For the marinade:
2 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup brandy
1 carrot, grated
1 onion, grated
2 bay leaves
2 to 3 sprigs thyme
2 to 3 sprigs marjoram or parsley
For the pilaf:
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
1 cup pearl barley
2 cups chicken stock, more if needed
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
1/4 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped marjoram or parsley
Wash chicken. Combine all the marinade ingredients in a large heavy-duty plastic bag set over a bowl. Add chicken and seal bag with as little air as possible, leaving it in the bowl. Marinate chicken in refrigerator for a day, turning it from time to time.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Remove chicken marinade, pat dry with paper towels, and sprinkle it inside and out with salt and pepper. Discard the marinade. Truss the chicken, put it back down in a roasting pan. Cut butter in pieces put them on the breast. Roast chicken, basting often, until it sizzles and starts to brown, about 15 minutes. Turn chicken on its side and continue roasting for another 15 minutes, basting often. Turn chicken onto its other side and roast for 15 more minutes. And finally, turn it onto its back to finish cooking, allowing 50 minutes to 1 hour total cooking time. To test, lift the bird with a two-pronged fork and pour juice from the cavity; it should run clear, not pink.
To cook barley, melt butter in a heavy pan, add onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in barley and cook 2 to 3 minutes until the grains look transparent. Add stock with salt and pepper and bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer until liquid is absorbed, 30 to 40 minutes. Taste, and if the barley is not tender, add more stock and continue cooking.
To toast almonds, spread them on a baking sheet and brown in the oven with the chicken for 2 to 3 minutes, watching carefully so they don’t burn. Let them cool. When barley is done, sprinkle prunes, apricots and almonds on top and leave, covered, to keep warm. The barley pilaf can be stored in the refrigerator up to 2 days and reheated on top of the stove just before serving.
When the chicken is done, transfer it to a platter and cover it with foil to keep warm. Discard fat from the pan, leaving behind the cooking juices. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add sweet white wine and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring to dissolve the juices. Add stock and simmer until gravy is slightly thickened and reduced by half. Strain it into a saucepan, reheat it, taste, and adjust the seasoning.
If necessary, reheat the barley pilaf. Add marjoram or parsley; stir to mix ingredients and taste for seasoning. Discard trussing strings from chicken and spoon barley pilaf around it. Moisten it with a little gravy and serve the rest separately.
Sources: The Food Lover’s Companion, by Sharon Tyler Herbst; www.epicurious.com; www.bellybytes.com/foodfacts/grain_info.html; www.ipmcenters.org/cropprofiles/docs/NDbarley.html; www.nativetech.org/recipes/recipe.php?recipeid=158
Readers can reach Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at email@example.com