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What are the best substitutes for arborio risotto rice? And how about when your only choices are all the local shops have: pearl barley, or 'brown rice with barley and spelt blend'?

For the first question, this suggests Carnaroli, pearl barley and farro. This makes me think pearl barley is the best option. It take a lot more boiling than normal rice (40 minutes), so I'll have to half-cook it by boiling before adding it to my pan with stock as my risotto recipe calls for. (My recipe is similar to this.)

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What are the best substitutes for arborio risotto rice?

Your best replacement would be another short grain, or in a pinch, medium grain rice. (if it's a variety that doesn't cook up creamy enough for your liking ... you can cheat and after you remove it from the heat, quickly stir in a beaten egg)

And how about when your only choices are all the local shops have: pearl barley, or 'brown rice with barley and spelt blend'?

I'd probably go with the pearl barley, just because it'll have a more consistent cooking time than a blend. (so you don't end up w/ little uncooked nuggets in a puddle of overcooked mush.

This makes me think pearl barley is the best option. It take a lot more boiling than normal rice (40 minutes), so I'll have to half-cook it by boiling before adding it to my pan with stock as my risotto recipe calls for.

Don't pre-cook it. You want to toast your uncooked grains in the oil, just as you would with a rice-based risotto before you add any liquid. If you don't do this step, you won't get the same flavors (I can't comment on the texture, as I've never tried cooking pearl barley this way).

If you're reluctant to spend almost an hour in front of the stove, the period to cheat is in the middle; toast it, do a couple of stock additions w/ lots of stirring, then add lots of stock & let it cook, then once it's nearly dry go back to stirring & slowly adding liquid 'til it's done ... or use a pressure cooker

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Risotto is a method as much as it is a single dish. You can make it with a wide variety of grains--or even pasta. You may not get the same creamy texture as with the classic rice based dish, but the results can be good in their own way.

If you google barley rissotto, you will find a goodly number of recipes. In general, they do not require pre-cooking the barley, but rather cook as part of the risotto process. The times range (probably due to types of barley and cooking method), but cluster around 50 minutes. One recipe suggests 6 hours in a slow cooker.

You can also experiment with the other grains and blends that you have available locally. Watch the pot, and when the grain seems close to being done, start tasting every few minutes, and you will soon learn the timing required for the ones you have available.

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I use Hinode (white, medium grain) Cal Rose rice. It cooks in 20 minutes (aldente); it is inexpensive and very good.

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