By: Kathryn Dwyer, Culinary Arts Student
One of the major points that clearly becomes evident to new culinary arts students is that you are not in the kitchen to memorize recipes, you are there to learn techniques. The measure of a real chef is the ability to cook without a recipe, to know instinctively how ingredients can be combined and worked to create something wholesome and tasty. The risotto technique (not a recipe!) is something that the chef instructors hound into their students throughout the culinary program – the ratio of stock to rice, the manner and timing of adding the liquids and knowing the correct final consistency. Risotto is an important dish to master because while the ingredients are simple, the technique is not; it takes a skilled hand to bring out the elegance of risotto.
The excellent thing about learning techniques is that you can apply those skills to other recipes or ingredients. Risotto can be adapted in thousands of ways – at its essence it is short-grain rice, cooked slowly in stock while being stirred to create a creamy, starchy dish. Adding herbs, cheeses, different cooking liquids and various seasonings are all ways to enliven a risotto, but not often is the type of grain considered. The risotto technique can be applied to any starchy grain. Faro, bulgur wheat, Israeli couscous, even orzo pasta or lentils can all replace the rice in risotto. Each ingredient has their own characteristics you have to keep in mind, the ratio of liquids and cooking times will differ, but all can be cooked using the same risotto technique. Each grain has a unique flavor profile and texture, both lending a new take on a common dish.
Graduating from Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts with the confidence and practice to cook without a recipe is a great feeling. It is incredibly rewarding to know you’ve got the skills to both create with success something that people know and love, as well as the ability to take those skills and apply them in new creative ways.
This Bacon and Leek Barley Risotto with Poached Eggs is hearty, comforting and decadent without the addition of too many heavy ingredients. This recipe takes risotto and gives it both a new grain and a breakfast-for-dinner spin. Caramelizing the onions and leeks in the bacon fat creates a rich flavor base that is the perfect platform for the nutty barley and smoky bacon.
Bacon and Leek Barley Risotto with Poached Eggs
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
5 cups chicken stock – hot
6 oz bacon – large dice
1 medium onion – medium dice
1 large leek – medium dice
2 cloves garlic – minced
2 tsp fresh thyme – minced
1 cup pearled barley
½ cup white wine
½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
2 Tbs fresh parsley – chopped
- In a large, deep skillet cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels – reserve bacon and pour off all but two tablespoons of bacon grease from skillet.
- Cook onions and leeks in bacon fat over medium-low until very soft and lightly caramelized. Add thyme and garlic, cook 1 more minute.
- Add barley to onion mixture and cook, while stirring, for two minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine and cook until wine is absorbed.
- Add stock to barley in ½ cup increments, stirring often, only adding more stock once the previous addition is mostly absorbed. Continue stirring and adding liquid in stages until you have about ½ stock cup remaining – about 35 minutes cooking time or until barley is soft. Add the remaining stock as desired to create a creamy, saucy consistency.
- Stir in parmesan cheese and adjust salt and pepper. Stir in parsley (reserve some for garnish) and bacon.
- Poach eggs in barely simmering salty water. To serve, place poached eggs on each portion of risotto, top egg with salt and pepper (to taste) and a sprinkle of parsley. Serve immediately.