ROAST CHICKEN & LEEK PEARL BARLEY RISOTTO

Roast Chicken and Leek Pearl Barley Risotto.

There is no greater feeling to me than the feeling of stirring. When people hear that a recipe requires you to be relatively stationary to the stove, they disregard it as too time consuming. Yes, your attention is fairly limited to anything other than the stirring dish at hand, but there is so much solace to be found in a recipe that demands your attention. Hear me out.

Too quick are we sometimes to throw away the spirit calming benefits of standing calmly and stirring in favour of something that takes next to three seconds to cook. Don’t get me wrong, I revel in the dishes that require nothing more than a chop and a fry but sometimes of an evening, I really look forward to the calm, grounding and mindfulness that stirring repetition can bring. Some people like to go home and go to the gym, or walk a dog or read a fashion magazine – I like to stir things.

If I were to speak in all honesty here, as somebody that does suffer with anxiety, I do practice mindfulness as regularly as I can in order to return my mind to a default setting and sometimes I find that dishes that require mindless reverberation place me in a similar mind-set. A risotto does exactly this. I am not comparing the cooking of a risotto to the practice of mindfulness, what I’m trying to say is that there are connections between the mentality one can get in during a seemingly laborious but truthfully relaxing task and the mentality one can get in during meditation.

As somebody with a very fertile imagination and a very active mind, while mindfulness is a practice I am now able to slip into with relative ease, I often found in the beginning stages that calming of the mind was difficult for somebody that fidgets a lot and just wants to keep his hands active. Therefore a recipe like the one here calls for a monotonous act of stirring whilst being tranquil enough for you to gather thoughts and calm your mind of an evening.

The brazen swapping of risotto rice for pearl barley here had no roots in health benefits. I opt for pearl barley in a risotto situation because I find that pearl barley holds its chew despite still soaking up the cooking liquid, whereas I find store bought risotto rice can often go a bit squidgy and have a slight ‘rice pudding’ texture. Also – I struggled with name this as I’m not sure if we even call it a risotto if it doesn’t actually contain risotto rice? I’ll give myself the liberty anyway. There’s no such thing as Food Police at this moment, so why not?

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Preheat the oven to 200C. Take a chicken thigh (skin on) and coat generously with some oil, sea salt and some lemon zest. Once the oven is hot, pop the chicken in for 45 minutes and begin your ‘risotto’. In your widest pan, soften some roughly chopped white onion in a little butter and olive oil, adding salt to release water. Now add some chopped leek that has been sliced into counters the thickness of a pound coin. Add some roughly chopped mushrooms to the pan and sweat them down before grating in a garlic clove.

Now, pour in a generous cup of white wine and stir and allow two or so minute intervals before stirring again and keep repeating until the barley has soaked up all of the wine. Make a big jug of chicken stock and begin pouring the stock into the pan in generous batches but not too much. Repeat the process as before, continuing to stir the barley so that it soaks up the chicken stock. Keep doing this for the remainder of the chicken’s 45 minute cooking time.

Once the chicken has roasted for 45 minutes, remove from the oven. Place the chicken to one side to cool. However, to the pan that should now contain some really sexy chicken juices, add a small splash of the chicken stock. Use your spoon to scrape any stuck burnt bits to the pan to create an oily liquor before pouring all of this into the risotto pan. Keep going with the remainder of your chicken stock, calmly but regularly stirring.
Once your sided chicken has cooled, start stripping the chicken from the bones. I use my fingers because I am filth, but I have asbestos hands so please use two forks if you feel this would burn your fingers off. Once you’re happy with the amount of chicken you have stripped from the carcass, throw the meat into the risotto pan. Follow this with a really generous grating of parmesan cheese.

Continue to stir and cook until the barley has absorbed all of the liquid to create a sticky texture. I was once told that the best way to tell that a risotto is done is when you can run your spoon down the centre of the pan and the risotto parts easily and very slowly falls back together. I then dollop generous amounts of the risotto into serving bowls with a fresh scattering of chopped chives.

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I also feel it’s worth pointing out here that this risotto can also give you a clear mind a day or two later. It keeps really well due to the barley’s liquid retaining properties so can easily be kept in the fridge (and the back of your mind!) for a day or two for when you will be stuck for something to eat of an evening. My reaction of choice is to add them to some halved sweet peppers for a lunch time snack, slathered in some freshly sliced cheese.

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I think drawing lines between cooking and mindfulness is not that alien of a transition. I know many people who seek comfort in cooking knowing that certain recipes and techniques can return their active mind to a default setting at the end of an evening and I hope that a recipe like this can offer a similar escape. Don’t let cooking to be a necessary evil when often times it can really give you a calming release, making the Kitchen a place to escape to and not from.

Food is sustenance and we all know the restoring properties that food consumption can give us, so I see no reason as to why its preparation could not give us equal calming mechanisms too. This recipe is tried and tested so all of the prior worrying has been done for you, so all you need to take from this recipe is the calm, soothing technique that requires to get it to the table and the delicious act of eating that takes the empty plate back to the kitchen.

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