Millet, probably best known as a primary ingredient in birdseed, is making a bit of a comeback.

It’s showing up in mixed-grain products and recipes more frequently, as well as grocery shelves. I used “pearl” millet, it seems there are several varieties, not all related. All judgements and proportions are based on “pearl” millet.

The pitfall I have run into with millet is the need to soak and/or cook for a very very long time in order to combat chalkiness. The seeds are very low in oil and the hulls are just thick enough that it takes a little more work, time, and water to get them to a point of fluffy and light.

whole millet in a bowl

While it looks like coarse cornmeal, it's tiny seeds.

The recipe calls for soaking in hot water three times, but does not suggest how long to soak. In experimentation, I found that at least a 24 hour soaking of pearl millet is needed just to get it started on the way to being pleasant, anything less was unsatisfactory.

After soaking, the next step is to beat the seeds very vigorously with the back of a spoon, in order to crack them and allow them to absorb more milk. Having beaten the millet, and not being vigorous enough for this task, I tried this with both whole millet and “millet grits,” cracked millet.

two small bowls with a coarse, dry-seeming cereal, stiff and lumpy.

I could not add enough milk to make whole millet work.

Once the millet was drained and beaten, I put milk into the pot and seethed it, added the saffron, and folded in the millet. As the milk boiled and thickened, the millet came together much like polenta.

soft, creamy, hot porridge of cracked millet, resting in a 12' cast iron pan to cool. Texture of fresh polenta.

cracked millet, cooling in the form

The contrast between whole millet, requiring “vigorous beating,” and cracked millet, an adapted selection, made all of the difference in the success of this dish.

The cracked millet soaked up twice as much water, allowing the starches the opportunity to convert when heat was applied, where the whole millet soaked up very little water, maintaining a less pleasant flavor and mouthfeel.

Cracked millet also absorbed twice as much milk, making for a thickened porridge, where the whole seeds were a less-well integrated ingredient in a sauce. The whole millet just could not get enough time seething in the milk before the milk ran out or began to burn.

The cracked millet was able to set into a lovely polenta-like dish which held well for two days and reheated well, where the whole millet was crusty, dry, and unpleasant in several hours; the mass was still absorbing liquid days later.

 

We loved the creamy tenderness and gentle texture of the porridge as part of a simple spring dinner. It is basic enough in flavoring to go well with many types of dish, and the way it set when it cooled in a pan into an easily sliced cake was convenient. It reheated very nicely the next day.

Recipe: Viander Millet

Summary: a porridge

Ingredients

  • 1 cup cracked millet “grits” or whole millet
  • 6 cups water
  • (1 tsp) salt (to taste)
  • 4 or 6 threads of saffron
  • 2 cups of milk
  • Strainer
  • cookpot with rounded bottom if you have one
  • Flame tamer if you don’t trust your stovetop
  • Spatula

Instructions

  1. Soak grits 24 hours, changing water three times Use the strainer, grits are small!
  2. If using whole millet, drain it and bash the heck out of it. A little smashing will not do. Destroy it. Smack it around til you think you are done, then do it again. It takes effort.
  3. If using cracked millet… drain it.
  4. After full soaking, begin to seethe milk in the pot, making sure that it does not scorch. (preheating it in a microwave might make sense)
  5. Add saffron to the warm milk, allow to sit for a few moments to start giving color and flavor.
  6. Fold in the drained millet, and begin to stir. Watch for lumps and splattering. It starts to absorb the milk pretty quickly but keep boiling, not just hot, but actually boiling, until the mix begins to set up. Salt it.
  7. At this point the instructions call for it to be set out in bowls, but you can also cool it in a form for later service.
  8. In order to make it ahead, but still serve it as a hot porridge, heat a cup of milk per batch, and fold in the cooled recipe, breaking it with a wooden spoon and a whisk. It won’t be easy, but it works.

Quick notes

Ratings:

-trying to get past the texture issue was a little challenging

-boiling milk is scary

-Millet can be hard to find.

+underused interesting ingredient

+only a little bit of attention needed

+just as pleasant as a make-ahead dish

+ very simple flavor profile, complements many types of food well.

I would be perfectly comfortable serving this in most settings.

Preparation time: 25 hour(s)

Cooking time: 30 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 8-12