What could be more Russian than a loaf of dark and malty rye bread?
I have written generously about rye grain – in Borodinsky bread (here’s a version on the wonderful 100 Loaves of Solitude blog), in Ice-cream with caramelised rye bread, and Bread and Butter a la Russe.
I like rye. It touches some little, deep corners of my slowly-unRussinising heart. I like the flavour – nutty, down-to-earth, complimenting well many other of my favourite bold flavours (like herring and cured lardo).
But I also like rye’s character, how it’s stubborn and takes on the climates of Northern Europe better than most others. The grain is easy to ferment, and so it gives life effortlessly to beer, kvas (Russian low-alcoholic drink), and sourdough bread.
So my interest picked easily when I spotted a pack of raw, unpolished, rye grain in Whole Foods (where else). Despite rye (‘black’) bread being so common on the tables of all Russians, I have never heard anyone cooking with the grain itself. Needless to say, I was buying it.
Well, I’m certain that in the old days my peasant ancestors made many a kasha with this very grain, but during my 30 odd years I’ve yet to see someone cooking with it. So I’ve started to experiment…
Rye grain needs a lot time to be cooked, as you can imagine. I soaked it first for good 4-5 hours and then cooked on a medium heat for another 2.5 hours or so. Surprisingly, the resulting ‘porridge’ is quite glutenous (surprising because rye is hailed as a panacea for many gluten-light recipes), and so I decided to follow the principle of Italian Arancini – rice balls made with leftover risotto.
I’ve come to an idea of using the flavours of Borodinsky bread: rye, molasses, coriander seed and herring, my favourite topping, to replicate the idea of Borodinsky bread but in a different format.
Without unnecessary modesty, this is one of the most original and satisfying dishes I’ve made in a long time. The texture of grain never becomes too mushy and so retains its lovely, toothsome stubborness. Combining rye’s natural sweetness with dark sugars of molasses and contrasting it with sharp herring inside is my sublime version of a little ball of heaven.
Goes really well with cucumbers in sweet and sour marinate and sourcream.
(with coriander seeds, molasses and stuffed with home-made cured herring)
You’ll need (the quantities are rough for now but I’ll come back to give more precise measures soon) for about 6 golf ball size arancini:
200 gr rye grain
1 medium onion, chopped finely
1 tb wild mushrooms, soaked in a bit of hot water and chopped finaly
1 tb coriander seeds, crushed
1 ts molasses
pinch or two cayenne pepper
1-2 herring fillet (preferably salted and not vingered variety), chopped – this is optional for vegetarians of course
for frying 1 egg whisked, a couple of tbs flour and 3-4 tbs breadcrumbs
best to deep-frying but you can also shallow fry gently
1. soak 4-6 hours or overnight.
2. cover with water and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring about every 20 mins. you want the grain to become really quite soft. it’s difficult to overboil it I find so go for 3 hours if unsure.
3. Fry an onion (lard is particularly good) until soft and sweet (good 20-25 mins). Add mushrooms, fry a couple of mins. Then coriander seed, another minute, molasses, then salt, pepper, cayenne.
4. Fry on low heat for another 20-30 mins. The more you fry the more caramelised the flavour will be. But obviously don’t overdo it as you’ll be in danger of burning the mixture.
5. Cool and put in the fridge for several hours.
To make arancini:
You can do it with just your hands easily but for more pretty balls use this method.
6. Cut a piece of clingfilm about 20×20 cms, layer it on a table. Take a bit of cooled mixture, press it in your hand for a bit (you want to increase the glutenous quality, which you do by ‘needing’ the mixture), press it against the clingfilm about 5-7 mm high.
7. Put a few small pieces of herring in the middle and tie carefully the rye mixture around the fish by using the clingfilm as you aid.
8. Roll each ball in a bit of flour, then egg, the breadcrumbs.
9. Heat your oil till really quite hot but not tally burning (they say drop a piece of white bread, if it browns within a minute or so, you’re good to go. if it gets too dark quicker, turn the oil down a bit). carefully drop the balls in the oil and fry for about 3-4 mins.
10. Put your arancini onto kitchen towers to absorb extra oil.
You can eat arancini both hot or room temperature.