Blackened Corn and Shiitake Barley Risotto

Blackened Corn and Shiitake Barley Risotto
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risotto dinner
Risotto can be filling, so we generally dish up just a small amount — of course, we almost always have seconds, too.

This isn’t a real risotto; after all, it doesn’t have any rice. Instead, it’s a barley dish that’s cooked just like risotto. While we really like risotto, with all its creamy goodness, we thought that we’d try to make up something a bit different. Once we decided to use barley as the grain, we looked around to see what we could add to the risotto. Well, it turns out that we had an ear of corn, and, of course, we always have dried shiitake mushrooms on hand. Dinner plan solved.

Now, if you’re regular risotto makers, as we are — we try to scratch out a batch every couple of weeks, although lately our risotto levels are running low — all the information you need to make this barley risotto is that we seared the corn and shiitake mushrooms in a hot cast iron skillet before adding them to the almost-finished risotto. If you’ve never made something like risotto before, follow along as we scratch out a batch.

Blackened Corn and Shiitake Barley Risotto

Yield: 4 servings

Blackened Corn and Shiitake Barley Risotto


  • 2 Tbs olive oil, divided
  • kernels from 1 ear corn
  • 4-5 shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 3 Tbs finely minced onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup barley
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups vegetable stock, simmering
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1 Tbs unsalted butter, to finish

Abbreviated Instructions

Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and swirl to coat. Add corn kernels, season lightly with salt and pepper, and cook without stirring, until blackened on one side. Stir, and blacken other side of kernels. Transfer to a small bowl.

In the same skillet, adding a bit more oil if necessary, sear shiitake mushrooms over medium-high heat, without stirring, until slightly charred. Stir to flip and sear other side. Transfer to the bowl with the corn.

Melt butter along with 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed kettle. Once melted, add onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, until translucent, 3 to 5 minutes.

Add barley and stir to coat with butter and oil. Add wine, and simmer, stirring continuously, until nearly completely absorbed. Add vegetable stock, about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring and simmering until absorbed before adding the next addition. Continue cooking and adding stock, until barley is mostly tender, about 45 minutes.

Stir in corn kernels, mushrooms, and cheese. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes. Stir before serving.

Ingredient discussion:

Obviously, if you think that this would be better made with arborio rice rather than barley, feel free. Follow the same instructions and you’ll be golden. For the wine, we like to use a Pinot Grigio, almost always Barefoot brand. It’s inexpensive, but good. For Parmesan, you can substitute Grana Pardano — we almost always do — as it’s made in the same fashion, just not in the Parma region of Italy. We never get pre-grated Parmesan, as, once grated, it loses its flavor, and who wants cheese without flavor?

Procedure in detail:

charring corn
Searing corn brings out some great flavors, although the sugars do caramelize onto the pan.

Char corn. If you have one, place a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Otherwise, use your heaviest skillet, and let it heat up very hot. Once hot, add about a tablespoon of oil, swirl it around, then add the corn. Shake it into a single layer and season with salt and pepper. Let the corn blacken on one side, about 5 minutes, then give everything a stir, trying to flip over most of the kernels. Let sear and char for another 5 minutes or so. Transfer to a small bowl.

searing mushrooms
There is nothing quite like seared mushrooms: delicious.

Sear mushrooms. Since the skillet is still nice and hot, we’ll sear the mushrooms. If needed, add a bit more oil to the pan, then spread the mushrooms into a single layer and sprinkle with just a bit of salt and pepper. Let sear, without stirring, until golden-brown on one side, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir the mushrooms around, trying to flip, then let sear on the other side until golden, another 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the same bowl as the corn.

Cook onions. In a large (3-4 quart), heavy-bottomed kettle over medium heat, melt the butter along with a tablespoon of olive oil, swirling the pan to mix. Once melted, add the onions and the garlic, and cook gently, stirring often, until translucent and tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.

cooking barley
Just to switch it up; we swapped barley for arborio rice.

Coat barley. Stir the barley in with the onions and garlic until the grains are coated and glossy. You can cook the barley for a minute or so like this, but not too much longer, as it’ll seal off the grains, making it harder for the grains to absorb liquid while cooking.

adding wine
As you can see, we pretty much eyeball the proper amount of wine.

Simmer in wine. Once coated, pour in the wine, give everything a stir, and simmer, stirring nearly continuously, until most of the liquid is absorbed. This can take 5 to 10 minutes.

cooking risotto
You really want almost all the liquid gone before adding more.

Simmer in broth. This is the technique for risotto: add hot broth a little at a time, stirring until it’s absorbed before adding more. We generally add about 1/4 cup of the hot broth, then stir, stir, stir, and, after 5 minutes, or so, it’s absorbed, so we add more. All the time, we keep the broth simmering. If we run out of broth before the barley is done, we quickly boil some water and use that. As the broth is absorbed, test the barley, and, when it seems mostly tender, but still slightly chewy, it’s perfect.

adding corn, mushrooms, and cheese
When the barley is done, add the mushrooms, corn, and cheese, stir and wait for the cheese to melt. Stir again, and season as needed.

Finish risotto. Add the corn, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese. Give everything a stir, cover, and remove from heat. Let it stand for about 5 minutes to let the corn and mushrooms heat through and the cheese melt, then give it another stir. If it seems as if there isn’t enough broth, you can add a tablespoon of butter and stir it in. Taste, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

Serve. We think of risotto as a main and plate it accordingly. If you want, top with a bit of added Parmesan for a garnish.

While this was pretty good, we found it to be sweeter than we would have liked. What was surprising was that the sweetness came from the corn kernels, and not an added sweetener. We think it would have been fine with just half the amount of corn, but, at half an ear, what do you do with what’s left? The barley was a nice change from arborio rice; it had a different flavor, but was nowhere near as creamy, which, to our minds, is what risotto is all about. On that basis, we’ll say three stars.

Worth the trouble?

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