Sunday, March 11, 2018

More Borş: This Time a Risotto!

Okay, I may be needing an intervention over my current obsession with this fermented grain thing, but really, guys, it's pretty amazing stuff. And easy as pie—though, compared to what's involved in making pie, it's more like, I don't know, making a peanut butter sandwich. But that's not how the saying goes, so I hope you catch my drift.

I got a note recently from a reader who saw one of the previous posts about this fermented grain stock, and was moved to share this:
"I am Romanian—I actually came to the USA four years ago, but lived for 20 years in Austria—and my grandmother was doing her own borş and we used it for soups all the time! I still remember the taste, and the big jar that was always standing at our kitchen table. We do eat a lot of soups in Romania, which means I had lots of borş in my lifetime!" 
Stock made from Peace, No War corn is in upper left. So pink!

I've now made three kinds of stock, all from Ayers Creek Farm ground grains: one from yellow flint corn that went into a posole, and the second from Peace, No War purple corn that made a fabulous risotto chock full of sautéed Arch Cape chicory and onions. The third was a barley stock for a parched green wheat soup with carrots and kale and a bit of bacon. All the stocks were distinctive, rich and full-flavored, particularly the purple corn stock, which had an almost meaty quality. As a matter of fact, I used it instead of beef broth to make a beef stroganoff, and couldn't tell the difference in the finished dish.

And the Pepto-Bismol pink color of the stock made from his purple corn? Anthony Boutard (of Ayers Creek Farm) has this to say:
The color comes from the anthocyanins in the corn. It is my art project, selecting for an intense mix of these water soluble pigments. Some of the anthocyanins are pH indicators, including those in corn. You start with that dark blue at around pH 7 and, as the brine acidifies, reaches pH 3.7, it becomes that beautiful fuchsia color. Otherwise, there is no specific culinary reason for the effort on my part. 
As an aside, the plant genus Fuchsia is named in honor of the German botanist and doctor Leonhard Fuchs (1501-1566). His herbal was cited by successor herbal publications, including Gerard. Several species have him as their authority as indicated by L. Fuchs following the Latin binomial.
So if you're game to try it, check out the recipe. It takes four to five days to ferment on your counter (or, as mentioned above, on your table), but it's so worth it!

Chicory and Onion Risotto with Fermented Grain Stock
Inspired by the fabulous Linda Colwell

For the chicory:
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped in 1/2-inch dice
3 garlic cloves, chopped fine
12 oz. sturdy chicory (like Arch Cape, radicchio or treviso), roughly chopped

For the risotto:
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 c. arborio rice
1/2 c. dry white or rosé wine
4-5 c. fermented grain stock (I used fermented purple corn stock)
1 c. parmesan, grated fine

For the chicory, heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then add the chopped onion. Sauté until tender, then add the garlic and chicory and sauté until the chicory is wilted and tender but still has some crunch. Set aside.

For the risotto, heat the butter and olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot or deep skillet until it melts, then add the rice. Stirring to prevent sticking, cook until it is hot and well-coated with oil, 2-3 minutes, then add the wine. Stir until the wine is absorbed and then add a ladle of stock, stirring until it's absorbed into the rice. Keep adding ladles of stock, letting each one absorb, until the rice is cooked but still has a nice resistance, then stir in the chicory and cheese. Serve with more parmesan at the table, if desired.

* * *

Addendum from Anthony:

After making and using the grain brines for more than a year and a half, their utter simplicity is their virtue. I have not tired of them. A jar or two sit in the refrigerator at all times. It is not an obsession, no more than using water or milk in dishes is an obsession. Just a fine and versatile ingredient that deserves greater recognition. For the life of me, I can’t understand why the grain brines remain unexplored.

Saturday, I made a clam chowder using brine with onions, potatoes and celery, and a bit of cream. The chowder bridged the realm between New England and Manhattan styles in absolute perfection. The New England richness offset by the brightness of the tomato-based Manhattan version. In seafood chowders as a general matter, nothing else satisfies, having used the brine. Last night we had bay shrimp in a white sauce made from half milk, half brine, and served over rice.

Tomorrow, it will be a beef brisket braised in some brine. For the last two Thanksgivings, we have made gravies using the brine in the place of stock. Likewise, perfect for braising lamb shanks. Soups featuring mushrooms and fungi also fare much better when brine is used instead of meat stock.

I like meat stocks and a turkey stock is what drives me to cook the otherwise just satisfactory fowl. A good beef, pork or chicken stock is wonderful, but they are too often added to dishes in a perfunctory manner where they flatten or detract from the flavor of the primary ingredient. The brines have just the opposite effect, brightening and accentuating the primary ingredient. Not always desirable, but a good starting point.

What intrigues me is the fact that so many Eastern Europeans describe these brines so vividly and with such fond memories, yet they seem to have abandoned them to nostalgia, or buy the stuff as a processed food in specialty stores. I think they have shrouded them with such mystery because no one bothered to make them simple and as easy as Sea-Monkeys.

I have packaged a coarsely ground barley for Josh at Barbur World Foods. I have an index card attached with simple instructions, and non-metric, Sea Monkeys-worthy measurements:

Grain brines are a nourishing and flavorful ingredient prepared from coarsely ground meal soured by lactic acid fermentation. Use the brines in place of meat stocks or where a recipe calls for wine. For example, in making a risotto, fish chowder, mushroom soup, white sauces, or braising meats. Excellent for vegan dishes.

 Use a very clean 2-quart mason jar. Add one cup of barley and three tablespoons of kosher salt. Fill the jar to the top with warm water and screw on the lid. Shake and leave on the counter at room temperature. Loosen the lid slightly while it is fermenting.

Read more of Anthony's writings in his Farm Bulletins. It's time well-spent.

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