Pearl barley with wild garlic and brown shrimp

I love seafood risotto, but it’s so, well, Italian and no matter where the seafood comes from the rice is always going to have to travel. I wanted to create something more local, with British ingredients. Pearl barley was the perfect base and given the time of year, wild garlic seemed the ideal flavouring and brown shrimp a wonderfully complementary, sweet seafood. I first created this recipe over a year ago but the barley I had then was a bit  old and it all turned out a bit hard. I tried again this year with a new bag of barley, and while still a bit chewier than risotto, it gave a lovely sweet flavour and wholesome texture.

Serves 2

Ingredients

1 bunch wild garlic, stems finely chopped and leaves thinly sliced; ¼ lb (100 g) brown shrimp; 100­–150 g pearl barley; ¼ pint dry, farmhouse cider; 1 litre hot vegetable stock; ½ onion finely chopped; ¼ fennel bulb finely chopped; knob unsalted butter; 1 tsp virgin rapeseed oil; 1 tbsp fresh cream; salt and ground white pepper

Preparation

Heat the butter and oil in a large pan until just foaming. Add the onion, fennel and wild garlic stems. Cook until softened then push to the sides of the pan or remove.

Turn up the heat and add in the barley. Cook for a couple of minutes until just lightly ‘toasting’ and turn the heat back down to medium. Mix back in with the wild garlic, fennel and onion and add the cider. Simmer together, stirring until the cider has been absorbed then start to add in the stock, a ladle at a time as it is absorbed. Keep stirring. After about 20 minutes, check the barley. If it’s cooked it will be soft on the outside with a gentle bite still in the centre. If it’s not, keep adding stock, or water if you’ve run out of stock, until it’s ready. You will want a small amount of liquid still present to keep the barley loose.

When the barley’s ready, stir in the cream then add the shrimp and wild garlic leaves and mix in gently. Season to taste with salt and white pepper and serve.

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