Yes, sometimes even BA staffers make basic cooking mistakes. Like, say, something as simple as toasting grains and spices. Below, associate web editor Elyssa Goldberg confesses her millet disaster to digital food editor Dawn Perry. Here’s Perry’s advice for making sure it never happens again. Welcome to Effed it Up.
Last week, I wanted to get on the alt grain train. I even bought a bag of millet for the occasion. Several recipes I peeked at suggested I toast my millet before cooking to unleash its nuttiest qualities. I’ve heard about doing the same thing with quinoa (and spices, especially in Indian recipes) to reduce cooking time and enhance flavor, but I’d never tried it before. Every source I looked at said to treat the toasting millet like popcorn. That is, remove it from the stove once it starts making a popping sound. Easy enough, right?
But, when the first grains popped, I didn’t know whether I should take the millet off the stove or let more start popping. I couldn’t decide. So I left it on…until I started to smell something burning. A few of the grains (I’d say around 1/5th of what I was working with) browned, bordering on charred. I have a hunch I went too far.
There are just so many variables, Dawn. Oil or no oil? When do I take the grains off the stove? How long do I cook once they’re toasted? Is there any way to salvage over-toasting? And, if I can’t even toast grains, how am I ever going to figure out how to toast spices, which are more delicate? Where do I start, Dawn? Halp.
Elyssa, who can toast bread but very little else
Dear Elyssa, who burned her grains to $&@!,
You’re right! Toasting grains—and spices—is a great way to boost flavor. And while you can fry grains in oil before or after cooking, it’s a lot easier to make (and clean up) when there’s no oil involved.
So, you started on the right track with a dry pan. I always start toasting over medium heat or so. Those grains are little, so if you start with your heat too high, the outside will burn before the inside gets any benefit from the heat. A few important things to consider:
The Right Size Skillet for Your Grains
Toasting just a smidge? Use a small pan. More like a cup? Use a large one. This helps to distribute the heat evenly and prevents you from working too hard, although…
Keep It Moving
Whether you’re toasting quinoa, millet, sesame seeds, or cumin, you’ve got to keep them moving in the pan. I like a swirling motion if the skillet’s not too heavy, but you can use a heat-safe spatula or wooden spoon to stir the grains around. This also helps to distribute the heat and encourages even toasting on all sides. You’ll see lighter grains take on some color and you will start to smell them (especially true if you graduate to toasting spices).
Millet grains, pre-toasting. Photo: Ditte Isager
Prepare for Dismount
Always get a small bowl or rimmed baking sheet ready to catch the grains when you’re done toasting. Leave those little guys in a hot pan and they’ll burn. As soon as they take on color and get fragrant, go ahead and transfer them someplace to cool.
Going Too Far
If you go too far and they’re burned, just start over. Like blackened garlic, singed grains and spices will make a whole dish taste bitter.
About That Popping
In my experience, some grains and spices will pop over heat (mustard seeds, amaranth), but unless you’re trying to pop something (like sorghum), it shouldn’t actually puff like popcorn. They should start to snap, but as long as you’re moving and swirling they shouldn’t get so hot that they pop. These instances are usually followed by the quick addition of a liquid, say vinegar for pickling, or stock for a flavorful broth.
Millet-Scallion Pancakes. Photo: Ditte Isager
As for Spices
While we’re here, a note on the spices. As they sit on the shelf, even whole spices loose their pungency. Toasting them reawakens and intensifies their flavor. The same rules above apply here: Right-sized pan, keep it moving, and have a place to land.
When in doubt, lower the heat and go slow. You can always toast a little more, but you can’t take it back. You got this.
Want to make the grain bowl of your lunchtime dreams? Get some tips and tricks to making your best-ever grain bowl.
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from Bon Appétit http://www.bonappetit.com/test-kitchen/how-to/article/effed-it-up-toasting-grains-spices