I knew we had some chicken that needed to be used up, and a few different varieties of barley in the pantry. I had just picked up a bag of pine nuts (pignoli) and a big bag of Ocean Spray Craisins at BJs the other day, so the trick was to come up with a use for all those things. When someone mentions barley, my brain automatically goes to beef next, so I went online to see if there was much by way of chicken/barley recipes. The sad part about that is I'm half Armenian and just recently made Harissa, which is an Armenian chicken/barley dish!! I got the start of an idea from one page, so I pirated the cooking time, temp, and method from there and just sort of winged it as I went along.
Although I did catch myself before saying it out loud - avoiding a verbal smackdown - my first thought was what a great side dish this would be for Thanksgiving! That would constitute a crime against the state in this house, since no holiday table is complete without a vat of Pilaf!! For the rest of you though, you might consider it - without the chicken of course.
INGREDIENTS : (Serves 4)
3 c chicken broth
3/4 c medium pearled barley
2 stalks of celery - chopped
1 lg red onion - chopped
1 T jarred minced garlic w/red pepper
(or 3 cloves of garlic - minced)
1/2 bunch of parsley - chopped
1/2 c Dried Cranberries - chopped
2 t lemon juice
3-4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Bring the broth to a boil and pour in the barley with a sprinkle of salt. Let that boil, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick or clump, for 15-20" until the barley starts to soften.
In a large ovenproof pan, saute the celery and onion in a little oil until the celery softens and the onion just begins to brown, then add the garlic, parsley (reserving a little for garnish), lemon juice, and cranberries and continue for another minute or so.
See, it even looks Thanksgivingish
Prep your chicken by patting it dry, trimming any excess fat, etc., and then pounding any really thick pieces so everything cooks evenly. If I'm using a knife with a wide blade, rather than dragging out the meat mallet, I'll lay the blade over the chicken and just slam down on it with the palm of my hand. I'm just flattening/tenderizing it a little - not making a cutlet. Sometimes I'll cut the pieces in half if they're bigger than a serving size. Season the chicken on both sides with a little poultry seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
When the barley is ready, go ahead and pour it into your pan with the veggies - including any liquid left in the pot. Give it a good stir to mix everything, then place the chicken over the barley mixture. Top each piece with a thin sliver of butter and bake, covered, at 350 for an hour.
While everything else is in the oven, give the pot you cooked the barley in a quick rinse and pour in the pine nuts. Start on medium high, and as soon as you start to smell them cooking, turn it down to low and keep stirring or shaking the pot around -- like making homemade popcorn -- until the nuts are golden brown. Make sure to immediately pour them onto a paper towel or something so the residual heat from the pan doesn't continue cooking them. Burnt pine nuts are gross!
To plate, serve up a scoop of the barley, top with a piece of chicken and sprinkle with parsley and pine nuts.
NOTES: When I read that original recipe online and saw that it was to cook for an hour covered, it struck me that it wouldn't brown that way. Then I remembered some of my BakeSpace buddies talking about cooking whole chickens in a crock pot and having it brown, so I figured it must - at least somewhat. When I pulled off the lid, I was shocked to see Albino Chicken with Barley. My poor chickies needed a tan! I ended up just letting it cook for another 10" uncovered to get a little color.
Surprisingly, even with the poultry seasoning, garlic powder and butter, when I tried the chicken alone, it was actually kinda blah. It was great if you took a bite of everything together. So, the next time I make this, I'll either brown the chicken up front, or cut it into bite-sized pieces and get it started right with the onions and garlic in the beginning, then cook everything together. We started tossing around other ideas - maybe chicken or turkey meatballs with it, etc. The other thing is the pine nuts - as much as I love toasted pine nuts, thinking about them in terms of their relative size, color, etc. in relation to the barley, maybe next time I'll chop up some pistachios or something for more contrast.
Using the jarred minced garlic with red pepper, along with the cranberries in this recipe was the perfect harmony of sweet and heat! Regardless of what I try next time for the chicken, the barley mixture is definitely going to be one of our regular sides from now on!!