Ah, busy weeks – school events, late meetings, travel – whatever the reason, they can wreak havoc with any hopes of having dinner with your family.  However, with a little careful planning, you can take advantage of having a little more “home time” on the weekend to cook ahead and make a dinner or two for the week so that all you have to do is reheat and eat!  And, let’s face it, there are some dishes that actually benefit from having a day to let the flavors marry and get to know each other a little better.

The thing I like about this dish, in particular, is that, with a minimum of effort, you wind up with a dish that closely resembles a chicken and mushroom risotto – and without all the standing and stirring … and stirring … and stirring.  Plus, if you’re trying to look for ways to add grains to your diet, here’s a delicious dish that feels fattening and decadent, but isn’t.

Chicken and Barley Casserole

  • 5 or 6 chicken thighs, skinned but with the bone still in
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 or 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 lb mushrooms, quartered
  • salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup pearl barley
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 heaping tsp Dijon mustard
  • zest and juice of a lemon
  • 1 heaping Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon
  • 3 Tbsp low-fat creme fraiche (optional)

Preheat oven to 325.  Set aside a casserole dish (with lid) that will hold the chicken thighs in a single layer.  If everything is prepped and ready to go, this will go quickly.  In a wide pot, heat a healthy glug or two of olive oil over medium high heat until shimmering, then brown the thighs a couple at a time so that you don’t over-crowd the pan.  Brown the thighs for a couple of minutes on each side, then place in them in the casserole dish.  When all the chicken is done, add the onions, celery and garlic into the same pot, seasoning lightly and cooking 3-5 minutes until soft, then pour on top of chicken.  Mushrooms are next – add those to the same pot, again seasoning lightly, and cook another 5-7 minutes until they start to release their liquid.  Once cooked, add to the casserole.  Last up, mix the mustard, lemon zest and juice, white wine and stock together, pour into the pot and bring to a simmer.  Add the barley and raise the heat to high to bring to the boil, giving it a couple of stirs.  Once it’s reached the boil, turn off the heat and pour over the casserole contents, making sure all the barley grains are in the liquid.  Cover and pop into the oven, cooking for about an hour and a half.  Once done, add the chopped tarragon and creme fraiche (if using), stirring well and letting sit to heat through.

pearl barley - the magic ingredient that makes this dish creamy and delicious