cooking millet & other grains.
Do you know Christopher Kimball (pictured above)? Well, not personally, I mean, but do you know who he is? Because I sure like him, and I’d like for you to like him too.
There’s this great cooking magazine called Cooks Illustrated and, yup, you guessed it: Christopher Kimball is the founder, editor and publisher of said magazine. In a nutshell, this magazine features America’s Test Kitchen, a powerhouse of chefs who test, taste, dissect and re-test common recipes in order to find THE. BEST. WAY. to make the recipe in question. It’s worth a peek.
But back to Kimball, I’ve always admired how frank he is, and his writings are deceptively simple. Though he writes about food, I’d file him alongside some of the greatest storytellers and novelists (I’ll refrain from naming names, else this turn into a literary discussion).
In honor of millet month, I thought The Lab should give Kimball an opportunity to share with us the basics of cooking grains. As written by Christopher Kimball:
. . .
The problem with cooking grains is that they often turn out mushy and tasteless.
Cooking grains is also difficult because the type of grind (coarse, medium or fine) can dramatically affect the outcome — coarse-grain bulghur is cooked very differently than the finer grinds.
I set out to find a preparation method that was both universal and which turned out distinct, flavorful grains every time.
I started off cooking grains like rice. One cup of grain was placed in a pot with 2 cups of boiling water and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt, reduced to a low simmer, covered and cooked for 10 to 20 minutes.
I found that the grains did not cook up light and separate; I often ended up with a sticky mass. I tried an old Chinese method of cooking rice, which is to boil it. I used 1 cup of grain in 6 cups of boiling water, reduced the water to a steady simmer, and cooked uncovered for 10 to 12 minutes. I poured the grain and water into a fine colander and let it sit for 10 minutes, finishing by fluffing with a fork.
The results were excellent; light, distinct grains with no starchy exterior. (Never stir grains while they are cooking. This will rupture the cells and create a starchy, sticky dish.)
My guess is that the extra water helps to dilute the starch that is leeched out of the grains while cooking, yielding a less sticky end product. This method does not work for kasha nor medium and fine bulghur, which are both prepared by different methods.
I also found that if the grains were dry roasted or sautéed prior to cooking, the flavor was enhanced considerably. To dry roast, simply add the grain to an ungreased pan and place over medium heat. Shake or stir the pan continuously for 3 to 6 minutes. Remove the pan from heat before the grains turn too dark and start to burn.
When cooking grains, you may substitute chicken, beef or vegetable stock for half or all of the water called for in the recipe. As a rule, I suggest replacing no more than half of the water with stock so that the delicate flavor of the grains is allowed to shine through. I also suggest that you use a low-sodium stock if you buy it canned — the full-strength commercial stocks are extremely salty.
For those of you not familiar with the basic grains, here is a quick primer [ed note: we went ahead and removed the glutenous grains from this list; figured the info would be a moot point]:
Millet: Millet is not strong-flavored and is a small, yellow grain which often retains some crunch even after cooking. It cooks up into very small but separate kernels which maintain their texture after cooking. Usually sold whole.
Quinoa (pronounced “keen wha”): The grains are relatively small and look like tiny, light-colored pearls and are crunchy when cooked. Be sure to rinse quinoa before cooking as the kernels contain an outer coating of saponin, a natural insect repellent, which leaves a bitter aftertaste. Usually sold whole.
Cooking time for dry-roasting grains
Grains were dry roasted in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat.
Quinoa: 4 minutes
Millet: 3 minutes
Master Recipe for Grains
Makes 3 cups
This recipe works fine for quinoa and millet. You may substitute up to half of the water with chicken or vegetable stock. See chart below for cooking times.
1 cup quinoa or millet
6 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Rinse grain in a colander. Bring the water and salt to a simmer. Add grain and reduce heat to a steady simmer. Cook for the times shown in the chart below. Pour into a sieve or fine colander and let drain for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.
Cooking times for basic grains
The cooking times below are to be used with the Master Recipe for Grains above.
Quinoa: 10 minutes
Millet: 12 minutes
Christopher Kimball is the founder and editor of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, based in Brookline. He is the author of “The Cook’s Bible,” (Little Brown; New York, NY; 1996).