Sometimes there's just no escaping a dinner disaster.
You can try as hard as you can, be armed with this recipe from the always-reliable Ms. Clark, can have lovely corn and vibrant green herbs from the greenmarket, a perfectly plump chicken breast from the gourmet grocery in the West Village, a sack of pearled barley from the now-defunct Balducci's and a luscious can of coconut milk, and things will still Just Not Work Out.
I mean, how many of you read this and got hungry right then and there? I can't have been alone. But what sounded so promising just ended up being this rather flat, pallid dish that I poked around on my plate for a while, feeling like a truculent third-grader while picking out nibs of corn with the tines of my fork.
If, and only if, you plan to attempt this yourself, here are my words of wisdom:
1. Don't fry the cashews with the chicken and then stir them into the stew at the end. This turns them soft and rubbery. And soft and rubbery cashews are Not Pleasant At All. Instead, toast them in a separate pan and strew them over the dish when you plate it. Crunch! Flavor! Delicious.
2. Melissa's method for cooking the barley just didn't work for me. It needed far more liquid than she said and more time, too. I cooked mine for 50 minutes and it was still too hard and chewy. Hard and chewy barley is not the same as al dente barley, not at all. Take it from me. Also, maybe two whole cups of barley is a little too much barley. I wonder.
3. How come the photo on the New York Times makes this dish look more like a barley salad than what I ended up with, a creamy barley stew? I don't know. But, in fact, the photo has a point. Maybe you should just cook the barley in salted water until it's properly done and then toss it with cubed, sauteed chicken, sauteed corn, a bunch of herbs and that jalapeño (try two!). Then you'd have a barley-corn-chicken salad that might have a bit of a kick rather than a coconut-barley-risotto type thing that will sit in your stomach like a lead weight and then also take up precious real estate in your fridge for five days before you can bring yourself to face the music and Just Throw It Out. (I'm really going overboard with this capitalization thing, aren't I.)
In other news, totally unrelated, I had my first (and please, God, make it also the last) meal at Katz's Deli (of Sally's infamous orgasm!) on Saturday afternoon. I think I probably aged about 26 days just standing in line, which might be almost as maddening as the (double) line at the Angelika Theater. Not that the corned beef wasn't delicious! It actually really was, as was the sour pickle it came with. But $14.95? For a pile of meat on rye with a freaking pickle alongside it and no table service? Holy highway robbery, Batman.
Next time I attempt a New York institution, I'm going to aim a little higher, I think. Babbo, anyone?