Pearl Barley Kasha (Перловая каша)

Pearl Barley Kasha (Перловая каша)

Another chicken feed favorite (millet being the first one), barley is a tough grain. Chickens swallow small rocks to help their gizzards grind it but what are humans left to do? One way is to follow the chickens’ lead and grind barley (not in one’s stomach with swallowed rocks though) into a meal. The end result will be called barley grits or ячневая крупа in Russian. It makes another kind of tasty kasha, “yachnevaya,” (ячневая каша). It is easier to cook and can be prepared using a method similar to buckwheat kasha preparation. But here we are facing the challenge of making something good out of whole barley grains.

Even after the outer bran layers of barley are milled away taking a lot of nutrients with them, what is left behind, called pearl or pearled barley, still requires some effort to make it palatable. When it’s one of many ingredients in a soup the task is a lot easier, but when pearl barley is used as the main ingredient in a standalone dish called Pearl Barley Kasha, the stakes are much higher. Peter the Great, a famous Russian tsar was said to have loved pearl barley kasha, but he was known to be a pretty tough dude who stood 6’8”.  And for the rest of us?

Meeting the challenge will require some extra work but it is well worth a try. The key to making pearl barley kasha both soft and tasty is slowly cooking it in milk. As the milk condenses during cooking, it acquires a special flavor whereas the barley grains take up the milk as they expand. The process will take… SIX hours! But don’t be a chicken: keep on reading.  While the total amount of time it would take to make a good pearl barley kasha is quite long, the net amount of time necessary for direct face-to-face involvement in the cooking process is quite modest.

You’ll need a water bath also known as bain-marie (pronounce it any way you like) or double boiler for this process. All the work that will be required of you during those six hours is occasionally adding boiling water to the water bath as it evaporates.  Without water bath, cooking for six hours would be a nightmare, and even with constant stirring half if not more of your kasha will be baked onto the sides of your pot that you’ll be scrubbing the pots until Russia has a new tsar.  So what is a water bath? It’s simply two nested pots. The larger one on the outside has slowly boiling water in it, and the smaller inside will have your kasha. Chances are, the smaller pot if not overfilled will float in the water inside the larger pot, but it’s safer to choose such sizes that the smaller pot’s handles will suspend it on the rim of the larger one stopping it from touching the bottom. Finally, the smaller pot should have a well-fitting lid.

Once the equipment is set up, the rest is not particularly time consuming. If you use the exact amounts of ingredients listed in this recipe, you’ll get porridge or creamy oatmeal-like consistency of your kasha. If you prefer it to be on the dryer side, just use less milk. One of the advantages of using a water bath is that you won’t burn your food; just be sure to replenish the water in the outside larger pot with boiling water keeping most of the inner pot submerged. It is possible to achieve the same effect in a regular oven but the results will be less consistent, at least initially, and require some trial and error (and more cleaning). Enough said; here is the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ gallon milk (yes lots of milk but some of the water will evaporate during cooking)
  • Salt to taste
  • Butter or heavy cream to taste

Directions

  1. Remove any dirt from barley and wash it a few times
  2. Add 4 cups of cold water to the pearl barley and let it soak overnight for 10-12 hours
  3. Get your water bath ready – determine the right amount of water for the larger outer pot after the smaller one is placed inside. Bring the water to boil and then reduce the heat.
  4. Pour water off the soaked barley
  5. Add milk to the soaked pearl barley and bring it to boil stirring frequently and thoroughly trying to minimize the amount of kasha sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot.
  6. Simmer, uncovered, for a couple of minutes while stirring often as in the step above.
  7. Cover and place in the water bath
  8. Adjust the heat so the water in the outer pot barely boils. The more rapidly it boils the more frequently you’ll need to replenish it even though that will not cook your kasha any faster.
  9. Cook, covered, for 6 hours. No need to stir the kasha. Just keep checking the water level in the water bath and replenish it with boiling water as needed. Be sure you use boiling water for replenishment. The kasha will acquire cream or light-caramel color (see the picture).
  10. Remove kasha from the water bath, and let stand, covered for about 10 minutes
  11. Transfer the kasha to a clean container; don’t scrape it off the bottom or sides of the original pot – you’ll end up with unsightly results. Just use what comes out of the pot easily
  12. Add salt to taste
  13. Add heavy cream to taste before serving, or put a piece of butter on top of kasha in each plate prior to serving
  14. Serve. Stir in the melting butter before eating.

Pearl Barley Kasha (Перловая каша)
Recipe Type: Entree, Side Dish
Author: Russian Recipe Book
Prep time: 12 hours
Cook time: 6 hours
Total time: 18 hours
Serves: 5
Pearl barley kasha made by slowly cooking previously soaked pearl barley in milk using a water bath.
Ingredients
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • 4 cups water
  • ½ gallon milk (yes lots of milk but some of the water will evaporate during cooking)
  • Salt to taste
  • Butter or heavy cream to taste
Instructions
  1. Remove any dirt from barley and wash it a few times
  2. Add 4 cups of cold water to the pearl barley and let it soak overnight for 10-12 hours
  3. Get your water bath ready – determine the right amount of water for the larger outer pot after the smaller one is placed inside. Bring the water to boil and then reduce the heat.
  4. Pour water off the soaked barley
  5. Add milk to the soaked pearl barley and bring it to boil stirring frequently and thoroughly trying to minimize the amount of kasha sticking to the bottom and sides of the pot.
  6. Simmer, uncovered, for a couple of minutes while stirring often as in the step above.
  7. Cover and place in the water bath
  8. Adjust the heat so the water in the outer pot barely boils. The more rapidly it boils the more frequently you’ll need to replenish it even though that will not cook your kasha any faster.
  9. Cook, covered, for 6 hours. No need to stir the kasha. Just keep checking the water level in the water bath and replenish it with boiling water as needed. Be sure you use boiling water for replenishment. The kasha will acquire cream or light-caramel color (see the picture).
  10. Remove kasha from the water bath, and let stand, covered for about 10 minutes
  11. Transfer the kasha to a clean container; don’t scrape it off the bottom or sides of the original pot – you’ll end up with unsightly results. Just use what comes out of the pot easily
  12. Add salt to taste
  13. Add heavy cream to taste before serving, or put a piece of butter on top of kasha in each plate prior to serving
  14. Serve. Stir in the melting butter before eating.

Russian name: перловая каша

 

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