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Eating well

November 23, 2017

Mark McEwan’s barley risotto with braised chicken

Celebrity chef Mark McEwan ramps up the goodness in his healthy take on risotto, with lots of fibre and lean protein.

Classic risotto is famous for being labour-intensive, with lots of stirring. Chef Mark McEwan’s diabetes-friendly version, with high-fibre barley standing for short-grain rice, does involve a lot of steps and ingredients, but the result is well worth the effort! Serve it with a green salad for a weekend dinner party.

Makes 6 servings.


  • 2 tbsp. (30 mL) olive oil
  • 3 skinless chicken breasts, bone-in
  • Salt and pepper
  • ½ medium carrot, diced
  • ½ stalk celery, diced
  • ½ Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig sage, plus 4 leaves, chopped
  • ¾ cup (175 mL) dry Italian red wine
  • 2 cups (500 mL) low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 batch barley risotto (see below)
  • ¾ cup (175 mL) black olives, pitted and halved
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (authentic Italian parmesan cheese)
  • Ground white pepper
  • Minced chives for garnish

Barley risotto

  • 4½ cups (1.125 L) chicken stock or canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 2 tsp. (10 mL) butter
  • 1 cup (250 mL) finely chopped onion
  • 1 cup (250 mL) pearl barley
  • 2 tsp. (10 mL) chopped fresh thyme or 3/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. (10 mL) olive oil
  • 1 lb. (500 g) assorted mushrooms (such as oyster, stemmed portobello. stemmed shitake), sliced
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tsp. (10 mL) chopped fresh Italian parsley


  1. Rub the chicken breasts with a little of the olive oil and season them generously with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the remaining oil in an oven-safe saucepan on medium-high heat. Sear the chicken until golden brown on both sides; remove from the pan and set aside.
  3. Add the carrot, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme and sage sprig to the pan; sauté until wilted and lightly colored.
  4. Deglaze with ¼ cup (60ml) of the wine, scraping up all the brown bits.
  5. Continue cooking until the wine has evaporated, then return the chicken to the pan with the rest of the wine.
  6. Continue cooking until the wine is reduced by half, then add the broth.
  7. Bring to a boil, then cover, transfer to the oven (350°F/165°C), and braise until the chicken is tender and yields easily when pierced with a fork.
  8. Remove the chicken from the braising liquid and set aside.
  9. Strain the liquid into a saucepan, and over medium heat, reduce by about half – until it thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon. Season and set aside on low heat.
  10. Strip the chicken meat off the bones and tear into bite-sized morsels. Cover and set aside.
  11. Begin cooking the risotto: Bring chicken stock to a boil in a heavy, medium saucepan. Remove from heat, cover and set aside.
  12. Melt the butter in large nonstick skillet over low heat. Add onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes.
  13. Add barley, thyme, bay leaf and about 1/3 of the warm stock. Cook and stir steadily until the stock is absorbed.
  14. Add half of the remaining stock and cook and stir until it is absorbed.
  15. Add remaining stock and cook and stir until it is absorbed.
  16. Meanwhile, heat oil in another large nonstick skillet over high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.
  17. Stir in garlic, reduce heat to medium; cover and cook until mushrooms are tender, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with salt and pepper. Reserve.
  18. When the risotto is nearly cooked, and the supply of stock virtually exhausted, add the shredded chicken and olives. When that is heated through, add the cheese and the mushrooms, and again stir until heated through. Taste, correct seasonings with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the red wine reduction, and garnish with chives.

Nutrition per serving:

Calories 370
Fat 10g
Saturated fat 0.5g
Cholesterol 60mg
Sodium 520mg
Carbohydrate 33g
Fibre 5g
Sugars 3g
Protein 31g

Are you at risk of having pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes?

Healthy eating is one way to reduce the chance you will get diabetes. Take the CANRISK test to estimate your chance of developing type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes (a condition where blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet at the level of diabetes). Knowing your risk level can help guide your diet choices and inform your conversations with your doctor.

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