I adore barley. It has a yummy comforting stodginess that I always crave in these cold winter months. But it’s underrated and mostly used to simply bulk out soups. It’s not a particularly fashionable staple and I suppose it’s a kind of old fashioned poor man’s food. I remember having it in soups and stews at my grandparents’ house as child with big suety dumplings – heaven! Something people probably don’t associate with barley is how good it is for you – it can actually lower cholesterol and is a great source of fibre at the same time as giving you that glutinous pasta feeling – the perfect comfort food!
So here’s my chance to put barley on the map. I am sort of using it as a bulker in this recipe, but it’s going to steal the show on a newish twist to the ancient highland recipe of Cockaleekie soup. Instead of just using chicken stock, I’m going to change it up to a casserole with whole jerk chicken thighs. If you’re not a fan of really hot and spicy food, you could marinate your chicken in a milder spice mix or just some pepper and paprika, but for me, I love a bit of Dunn’s River jerk seasoning (careful though as it can pack a real punch!) I’d advise coating chicken thighs the night before in the seasoning so the flavours can really penetrate. I’ve suggested this as a weekend warmer as I for one wouldn’t have the time or the desire to carry out the preparation required for this as a mid-week meal but of course that’s up to you.
Take your seasoned chicken thighs (skin on is best but feel free to remove skin if you’d rather. You could also use thigh fillets if you’re not keen on bones, but they add even more flavour in a dish like this) and fry in a little oil in the bottom of a casserole dish. Once the chicken is browned nicely all over (doesn’t matter if it’s not cooked through yet) add chunky chopped leeks and carrots to soften slightly. Pour over a good quality chicken stock to just about cover the chicken, add your barley and cover. Best to follow the instructions on your barley packet – you’ll probably need to have soaked it before hand for a while, or at least rinsed it, but you can buy vacuum sealed packs of barley in the way that you can buy lentils and rice, that only need to be warmed though. Since we’ve put a Caribbean twist, serve with a little dollop of creamy mashed sweet potato but you don’t really need anything to accompany it as it’s a meal in itself.