My last mushroom endeavor did NOT end well... gray soup failure in fact. Mushroom redemption was needed. Desperate fungi salvation. I think the proof is in the pudding this time (see below). Ain't nothing gray about this dinner.
I'm working on going through my grain stash in the pantry. Somehow barley never quite made it into soup this year, so I decided to pull a twist on risotto. Meaty, earthy mushrooms were the perfect foil for the nutty bite of barley.
So mushrooms need to be handled with special care. They're basically tiny sponges, so you don't want to rinse them like typical vegetables. If you do, they'll soak up all the water and get rubbery in the pan. Try wiping gently with a damp paper towel.
Pop off the stems while you're prepping. They're a bit woody when you cook them.
So mushrooms are kinda needy. Not only do you have to wipe them ever so gently, you have to give them special attention in the pan. GIVE THEM SPACE. Bitches can't be crowdin'. You'll have to do them in two batches to get them to brown without rubberization. I promise it will be worth it.
Even though its not arborio rice, you're going to treat this exactly like risotto. Keep the chicken stock simmering on the back burner and slowly add to the barley, stirring frequently. Add more once the stock has been absorbed.
The tender care of mushrooms and your attention stirring the barley pays off in a lusciously creamy mushroom "risotto" decadence.
Mushroom Barley Risotto
10oz cremini mushrooms
6oz portabello mushrooms
5oz shittake mushrooms
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups pearl barley
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons half and half
Start by slicing mushrooms in even slices, about 1/4 inch each. In a large pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat and add half the mushrooms. Saute for 5-6 minutes, just until the mushrooms start to release their liquid and brown. Cook second half of mushrooms in the same way. Set aside.
In a small pot, bring chicken stock to a simmer.
In a large dutch oven, heat remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Add barley and cook until shiny and coated with olive oil, about 1-2 minutes. Add thyme, bay, salt, pepper and white wine. Once wine has evaporated, reduce heat to low and start adding chicken stock one ladle at time. Stir frequently and only add stock once the barley has absorbed it all. Continue like this until barley become tender, about 30-40 minutes.
Stir mushrooms into the barley and then add half and half and parmesan. Stir well and serve immediately, garnished with a bit of fresh thyme.