Love it or hate it – barley is back

The grain is going through a renaissance and here it is used as a stew and as a substitute for pasta. Photographs: Harry Weir

 

VANESSA’S WAY: PEARL BARLEY STEW WITH ALSACE BACON

When I was a child, I would recoil in horror if someone added barley to a soup or Irish stew, but that was an era when pressure cookers turned barley into rice puffs.

While arguably still not very photogenic, barley has now become uber trendy and a welcome fixture in any chef’s arsenal of seasonal menus. While pressure cookers are back, thankfully the overcooking days are over as barley glides into modernist recipes for risottos, paellas and pilafs.

Its large grains lend themselves to creative salads, alongside julienned carrots, pine nuts, feta and lots of chopped herbs. However at this time of year, I’m looking for a warming stew, starting with a classic French mirepoix of onions, carrot and celery. As an alternative to bacon, it would make a great meat-free Monday supper with chestnuts.

GARY’S WAY: SMOKED BARLEY AND DUCK CONFIT ‘ORZOTTO’ WITH SCALLION AND ROCKET

“Make sure you use plenty of barley, Mammy.” That’s the usual line I come out with while I am en route to Ramelton to visit my crew. Without fail, Mammy or Daddy will put on a pot of vegetable and barley broth when they know I’m coming.

That has always been the way. Whether I was flying in from Boston, coming home from Dublin, or heading up for a couple of days off from Viewmount House, the soup would be put on.

It’s a lovely thing really. I’ve often mentioned that when I was growing up, certain days meant certain dinners, and none made me scamper up the road from the bus stop faster than barley and vegetable soup day.

The key thing with barley is to give it three good rinses under cold water. That will stop the cooking liquor getting overly cloudy and it will help keep it fluffy. Apart from the broth, this recipe is another favourite of mine using barley.

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