Life’s about to get hectic.
December is right around the corner, and if your holiday plans and activities haven’t already started, they’re on the horizon, fast approaching. So, before you’re up to your elbows in holiday cooking, and perusing Pinterest for holiday-themed meals, why not try this comforting, earthy barley risotto?
As anyone who’s ever seen an episode of Chopped knows, good risotto is challenging (nigh impossible) to make in under 30 minutes.
It’s time consuming and quite finicky, and requires most of your focus and attention. Cooking barley “risotto-style” (i.e.: with fried onions, in a shallow, uncovered pan, slowly adding and incorporating the liquids) still requires some time and love. However, barley is a more robust grain. And, depending on what kind of home cook you are, you are probably more likely to have barley (and the subsequent ingredients) in your pantry than you are to have arborio rice.
Hint: This is a great side dish, even for a week night, because you can cook it alongside your main protein and vegetable. As long as you stir occasionally and keep an eye on it, you’re good. No need to really babysit this barley risotto.
Warming the stock first before adding it to the barley is an additional (albeit fairly easy) step in the process. But, if you’re pressed – or even if you just forget – it’s not imperative you warm up the stock ahead of time. Adding warm stock just ensures that everything cooks more evenly and gently, but you can by all means use room temperature stock, as long as you make sure not to add too much at a time. The first few times I made this dish, I was imitating a similar dish that my uncle had made at a family dinner. My approach to mimicking traditional risotto was far more casual than you’ll find in this recipe. And, guess what, those attempts still turned out great!
The barley doesn’t get as creamy as arborio rice does, but that’s okay. Barley has its own unique texture, and soaks up all the lovely risotto flavours just as well. These flavours are much nuttier than you’d find in a traditional risotto, starting with the barley itself. Then, if you use beer in the place of white wine, the barley takes on a really earthy flavour that’s only heightened by the addition of a bay leaf. Finally, using cheddar cheese in lieu of the typical finishing touch of butter and Parmesan enhances the barley’s creaminess and gives it a sharp flavour. This barley risotto overall pairs really well with chicken, fish, or meat. (In fact, one of the first meals that I ever successfully and repeatedly made was this exact barley risotto served alongside my basic meatballs. Try it out – it’s an unlikely but delicious combo!)
It keeps in the fridge for around 4 days, and tastes just as delicious when reheated the next day.
- 2½-3 c. low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 c. pearl barley, rinsed
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 c. light/blonde beer (this is slightly less than 1 can, so you may as well enjoy a small drink while cooking!)
- Salt & pepper to taste
- ¾ c. shredded cheddar cheese
- In a saucepan, warm the chicken stock over medium-low heat.
- Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
- Cook onions until softened and translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another few minutes.
- Add rinsed barley and toast for another 5 minutes or so, allowing the barley to take on that nutty flavour.
- Cover the barley with the white wine or beer and add the bay leaf. Simmer until the alcohol in the wine has cooked off and the barley has mostly absorbed it, about 5 minutes.
- One ladleful at a time, add the warm stock to the barley. Again, simmer until it's all absorbed before adding another ladle.
- Once the barley is cooked and reaches the texture you want (I like mine al dente), season with salt and pepper and toss with the shredded cheese.