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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.
Today: The quick, easy move that will add flavor to your grain salads, pilafs, and porridges.
It's likely that you’re going to a party this weekend. Or a potluck. Or a picnic. Something that starts with the letter “p” and requires you to feed a number of people with something portable. Odds are good that you’re thinking about a grain salad.
Before you get to boiling your quinoa, though, remember the key step that will make that salad more interesting, more inherently flavorful, more likely to have strangers asking for a recipe or, maybe, your phone number: toasting.
If you've made risotto, you're already familiar with this technique; it's what adds flavor to each grain of rice, with a little help from alliums and fat, before the first ladleful of stock enters the equation.
Toasting grains imparts flavor thanks to the Maillard reaction, which happens when sugars and amino acids react at high temperatures -- it's what gives a caramelized flavor to everything from seared steaks to brioche to dulce de leche. And it is a friend to your grains.
To toast your grains, simply cook them over medium heat in a dry skillet for 3 to 5 minutes, shaking and stirring regularly, until they smell nutty. Don’t let them get too brown, though -- you’ll risk a bitter flavor for the sake of a good tan. Then boil them as you normally would.
The good people over at Franny's toast their grains in the oven, which takes more time but carries less risk of burning: Simply spread your grains onto a clean, rimmed baking sheet, and toast them at 350° F for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring halfway through.
If you're going stovetop, you can also add some fat or seasonings into the mix, à la risotto -- simply heat oil or butter in your pan first, then add your grains and make sure to coat them well. Add any seasonings your heart desires, like alliums (cook them down before you add your grains) or spices.
The difference in color is slight, but the grains on the right have been toasted for five minutes over medium heat.
Now all you need to do before the party is come up with a few new freekeh puns.
More: Throw together a light Freekeh Salad with Fennel and Mint.
Risotto photo by James Ransom. All other photos by Mark Weinberg.