Nigel Slater’s Pearled Barley with Bacon, Peas, and Taleggio

Nigel Slater, the food editor of the Observer/Guardian, still rolls out good ideas for satisfying grub. Recently, I noticed a recipe of his that calls for boiling some barley, adding it to bacon still frying in its fat, tossing in some peas, and, at the end, mixing in cubes of Taleggio cheese. I decided to adapt the recipe — easy enough — for one. I decided to make it even more Spring-like. I made just enough for dinner with enough leftover for lunch.

For 1.5 or 2 servings

About a pound of fava beans removed from their large pods (a cup or so)

100g pearled barley

A couple of slugs of olive oil

2 strips of bacon, cut into lardons

Half a leek, sliced

Half a cup of fresh or frozen peas

2-3 oz Taleggio cheese, cubed

Put a pot of lightly salted water on to boil. Add the fava beans and blanch for a couple of minutes. If you have a spider scoop, fish them out of the water and let cool. Meanwhile, add the barley to the water you’ve just removed the favas from. When the water returns to a boil, reduce the heat to medium low and cook 15-20 mins until the barley is still firm but soft enough to chew.

While the barley is cooking, heat olive oil in a medium skillet and add the bacon lardons. Fry until almost crispy. While the bacon is frying, remove the outer skins on the favas and reserve to the side.  Add the sliced leeks and stir to combine in the bacon fat.

Drain the barley, shake off the excess water, and add it to the bacon and leeks. Add the shelled favas and the peas. Stir so that the bacon fat coats all the ingredients. Season according to your taste. When the peas and the barley are hot and well mixed with the bacon, scatter the cheese over, stir, and let it melt. Adjust the heat so that the cheese doesn’t burn. When the cheese has melted through the barley, turn off the heat.

If you’re eating alone, scrap half the contents of the pan into a bowl and leave the rest to cool. I ate it with a salad.

Vegetarians will omit the bacon. I imagine that olive oil on its own with a drizzle of walnut oil at the end might be very nice.

Food Alone: Chorizo, Sweet Corn, and Fingerling Potato Stir-Fry

Sometimes I’m too tired to cook. But I do it anyway. On the rare occasion when I succumb to lethargy, I feel it’s a defeat. Why should living alone entail a less full life? Why shouldn’t I expect of myself a dinner at table? A life eating on the couch watching TV is a half-life and like all carbon-based things I feel my life seeping out of me when I do it. Reading and listening to music at the table is an ongoing commitment to making my single life as rich as I can. When I feel too tired to prepare a meal, I lower my expectations, but I don’t abandon them. Half the effort an ordinary weekday meal requires comes in figuring out what I want to eat.

So, here is a simple idea. I am enjoying adding diced potatoes the dishes I have always thought would be weighed down by additional starch. A little potato adds umami, another dimension to a dish. This one is a no-brainer.

First…

Dice half a chorizo link and four fingerling potatoes.  Scrape the kernels off one ear of corn. Pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil or lard in a small skillet over a medium-low flame. Add a minced garlic clove or two and a minced shallot. Let them soften in the fat. Then add the chorizo. Spread the chorizo out so that the pieces are not crowded. Leave them be for two or three minutes. Stir and let them be for another couple of minutes. Add the potatoes, stir, and let them brown with the chorizo. Add the corn, mix it all together. Season with salt and pepper. Put in a bowl and have with a small salad.

An Abbreviated Version of David Chang’s Ramen Broth

from Momofuku, pp. 40-41.

An eight- or nine-hour ramen broth is as likely strike you as excessive and obsessive as it did me when I first read the recipe. But I do love a good ramen broth. This looked promising. Not only did I want to make a bowl of ramen that stood a chance of comparing favorably with broth in a ramen shop, I also recognized that it was a necessary component of David Chang’s absolutely scrumptious Shrimp & Grits recipe (to follow).  This recipe’s essential virtue is umami, which, to the degree that I can describe it, is Japanese for “pretty frickin’ delicious,” as distinct from “salty,” “sweet,” or “sour.” Chang builds the broth in layers of flavor: first the konbu, then the mushrooms, followed by the chicken and then the pork bones. The result is a deep, complex broth whose flavor turned out to be less fragile and more stable than I anticipated it would be. Following Change’s advice, I reduced the final broth by half to save space in my freezer. If you boil it down, you can reconstitute it with an equal amount of water.

However, I’m going to provide here an adulterated version that no doubt you will still find excessive in the amount of time it takes. If you want the complete recipe, buy the book. It’s worth it. Here, you get a second-rate broth that is not such a big production as the full version. Smaller amount and a bit less work may lead you to make it more often. David Chang would probably spit on my efforts, but that’s ok. We need purists like him against which we measure what we do.

So, I’ll begin by cutting the quantities in half:

1 piece of konbu (the thick square seaweed that is the basis of the Japanese broth, dashi)

3 quarts water

1 cup dried shiitakes, rinsed

2 pounds chicken (bone-in breast, leg and thigh, back or rib cage with meat still attached)

3 pounds meaty pork bones

Shadowcook: If you can’t find organic pork bones, try using smoked ham hocks and skip the smoked bacon. It would be a good idea to have a butcher cut the hocks in two or three pieces, depending on their size, since you’ll be roasting them.

1/2 pound smoked bacon

Shadowcook: Towards the end of making the full version, as I tasted the broth and adjusted the seasoning, I thought the smoky flavor dominated the other subtler ingredients. I still do, although the smokiness calmed down by the time I got to straining the broth. So, be aware of how strong the smoky flavor of the bacon is.

3 or 4 scallions

half a medium onion

1 large carrot, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon dark soy sauce

1 tablespoon mirin (Japanese sweet rice wine)

kosher salt

1. Rinse the konbu under running water, then combine it with the water in a stockpot. Bring the water to a simmer over high heat and turn off the heat. Let steep for 10 minutes.

2. Remove the konbu from the pot and add the shiitakes. Turn the heat back up to high and bring the water to a boil, then turn the heat down so the liquid simmers gently. Simmer for 30 minutes, until the mushrooms are plumped and rehydrated and have lent the broth their color and aroma.

3. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the pork bones or ham hocks on a baking sheet or in a roasting pan and roast for an hour. Turn them over after 30 minutes.

4. Right after putting the pork bones in the oven, remove the mushrooms from the pot with a spider or slotted spoon. Add the chicken pieces to the pot. Keep the liquid at a gentle simmer. Skim and discard any froth, foam, or fat that rises to the surface of the broth. Replenish the water as necessary to keep the chicken covered. After about 1 hour, test the chicken: the meat should pull away from the bones easily. If it doesn’t, simmer until it does. Then remove it from the pot.

5. Remove the chicken from the pot and add the pork bones or hocks to the broth, along with the bacon (if you’re using pork bones). Adjust the heat as necessary to keep the broth at a steady simmer; skim the scum and replenish the water as needed. After 45 minutes, scoop out the bacon and discard it. Then gently simmer the pork bones for 6 to 7 hours. Stop adding water to replenish the pot after hour 5 or so.

Shadowcook: Does it need that long? I’m skeptical. But I went whole hog anyway. When I made the abbreviated version, however, I stopped after four hours. The broth was fine. Follow your tastes buds and please yourself.

6. Add the scallions, onion, and carrots to the pot and simmer for the final 45 minutes.

7. Remove the bones and vegetables. Strain the broth through a sieve lined with cheesecloth. At this point, either use the broth or reduce it by half to freeze. Reconstitute with equal amounts of water.

Shadowcook: At this point, Chang instructs you to finish the sauce with a bit of taré, a concentrate of salt, soy sauce, mirin and the gook that accumulates around roasted chicken backs. Sorry, I own up to not having made this sauce, which is its own recipe. Finding chicken backs — much less organic ones — is tough even in our Asian markets. So, to finish the broth, I seasoned it with the tablespoons of dark soy sauce and mirin and adjusted the salt. I was happy.

Chang concludes this recipe with a sentiment in which I heartily concur: Underseasoned broth is a crime.