You already know that I adore (absolutely adore) risotto. It’s definitely one of my signature dishes and something that I love to experiment with creating … and you’ve seen in it already in some of last year’s creations: Lemon Tuscan Kale Risotto and Rum-Kabocha (Pumpkin) Risotto.
So when I set out to create my Crispy Duck with Persimmon-Mandarin Sauce, I also set out to create a perfect and complimentary side to go with it … something that would stand up to a fusion dish and not scream “I’m Italian, why am I sitting on a plate with an Asian?”
I decided to build off the ‘game’ aspect of the duck, its inherent richness and stronger flavours, and do something that was both rustic and had an earthy quality to it. What I concocted was simple in its execution and technique and which proved to capable of not only supporting the duck … but it damn near stole the show.
The only downside to barley is that while it is very healthy (and unrefined ‘pot’ barley even more so), it is unfortunately not gluten-free … which is why those with gluten-sensitivities have to avoid most beers whose “malts” are barley. For those in that boat, substitute Arborio rice and make a ‘normal’ risotto.
The cooking tips that let this happen? As always, if you’re not making your own, find an exceptional stock. In this case, you could definitely prepare this dish with vegetable stock (and omit the pancetta) and you’d have an awesome vegetarian side. However, my own chicken stock with the smokiness of the pancetta tied in beautifully with the duck … and its crispy skin. Second, I chose to use some “mini” sweet peppers that while not ‘hot’ or spicy, added a bit of piment, some earthy pepper flavour without a bunch of sweetness of a typical bell. The other thing that would work equally well to bring in some ‘earthiness’ would be a handful of sliced shiitake mushrooms. And finally, my last choice of ingredients that pulled it together was actually a handful of shredded kale … just enough to bring in some colour and the earth, but not enough to overwhelm. Indeed, everyone was surprised that it was kale at all: they loved it that much! What was particularly nice about this dish was that the barley produced a beautiful creaminess as well and maintained an incredible toothfeel to it — this is not a grain that’s easily going to get mushy on you. And while it is not gluten-free, this is a dish I’ll certainly be coming back to many more times.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Pearl Barley Risotto
- 1 cup of pearl barley
- 4 cups (1 litre) of stock (chicken or vegetable), warmed to a simmer
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1/4 cup peppers
- 2 ounces (60 grams) pancetta, finely chopped
→ Vegetarians: substitute shiitake mushrooms, slicedf
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup kale leaves, chiffonade
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
→ or, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place stock in a medium pot and bring to a simmer. Meanwhile, prepare your ingredients by chopping the pancetta and rosemary and dicing the peppers and shallots and grating the Parmesan.
- Heat a stainless steel pan over medium heat and add the olive oil, then the shallots and pepper and sauté for 2 minutes.
Add the pancetta and continuing stirring for another 2 minutes until pancetta is slightly browned and crisp.
Add the barley and stir for another minute.
Then deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup of white wine and cook for another minute till pan is deglazed and the wine has reduced.
- Add 2 cups of stock and reduce temperature to medium-low. Stir every 3-5 minutes once the stock reduces … and add another ladle each time. After about 10 minutes, add the kale, and stir in more stock.
Continue with above technique, stirring and adding stock regularly. If you run out of stock, continue with hot water.
→ In total, it will take about 6-8 cups of liquid … which means an additional 2-4 cups of water after you’ve used up the stock.
- After 20 minutes of this, the barley should be almost ready and tender to the tooth, but still just a bit crunchy. At this point, stir in a 1/2 cup of cream and cook for 2 more minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to your taste but not too much salt as you’ll be adding the cheese next.
- Next, sprinkle with the Parmigiano reggiano
… and either stir it in and serve immediately or cover and reduce to a low simmer while you wait to plate your duck or whatever you’re serving. The barley risotto will keep at this stage for 10 minutes or so … however, you may add another tablespoon of cream before serving if it has become too thick. Enjoy.