Fermented barley, caramelised yogurt and saute wild mushrooms
One of the bookmarks in English food history arrived at the same time as the explosion of the wool trade. Wool became a vital part of English trading, and so agriculture became a national rather than local interest.
Two things happened as a result: (1) landowners moved away from rearing animals to be eaten, instead giving land to sheep for the much higher value wool. Thus increasing price of most meat. And (2) people gravitated towards towns and cities as the trading hubs.
As a result, there was a rise in the preserving of meat and fish. Salting, pickling and drying had already been in use by local peasants as ways of preserving produce till summer. Yet, the wool trade’s explosion tied in with the methods being rolled out elsewhere.
For a monthly supper club I had with friends recently, we borrowed this philosophy (or more accurately stole it from Smoke & Salt). Ancient techniques were the go-to premise.
For the first course, we fermented (barley, caramelised yogurt and saute wild mushrooms). For second, we pickled (cucumber-cured mackerel). Slow-braising for main (venison cannelloni). And finally freezing (rhubarb sorbet with pistachio crumb). The last two were a bit of a stretch but we got to experiment with the first two.
It was by far the most ambitious meal we’ve cooked to date and were all the better for it. The joy of experimenting with so many classic, ancient techniques is that most of the cooking and prep is done beforehand. When it comes to cooking on the day, aside from blanching some pasta, or sauting some mushrooms there’s not loads to do.
The starter is one I highly recommend (and one we paired with beer to marry the fermenting in the dish). I found it in Root + Bone few months ago from the chefs over at Londrino. Reproducing my version here. As a warning this takes a couple of weeks prep time in advance.
1. Mix 200g barley with 25.g of salt and 100ml of water in a glass jar. Cover the top with salt. Keep in a cupboard for two weeks at room temperature.
2. On the day before or the day of your feast. Spoon yogurt (must have live cultures, such as Greek) into more glass jars. Submerge in a large saucepan of boiling water and place in a low oven (120 degrees) for 12 hours. Check the colour of the yogurt through the jars throughout the day, you’ll see it change colour. I was quite nervous about this process generally, so ended up reading a number of pieces online about it. In particular, this sous vide guide made it look really simple. This old blog had an alternative technique. The NYT even had a piece on it, though a very different method again. My written up method works with only a glass jar as an extra, though if you have a sous vide, it looks far easier that way.
3. Strain the yogurt mixture through coffee filters to separate the whey. The whey can then be used for other fermentation later (though I’ve yet to use mine).
4. Mix your yogurt and barley together. Try out different combinations until you get a taste and texture you like. I followed Londrino’s guide for 2:1 barley:yogurt and it was delicious.
5. Saute wild mushrooms in plenty of butter before serving.
6. Plate the yogurt and barley mixture first, then a layer of saute mushrooms, then shavings of raw button cup mushroom. Garnish with whatever herbs you have handy. Microherbs for added style.
It’s a great, interesting dish, and one I’d be keen to try again. I couldn’t ferment for the full two weeks unfortunately, and my caramelisation had a small mishap (water seeped in). So the next time I run through I’m looking forward to giving it a proper go.