How to Cook Millet


If grains were dogs, millet would be a Jack Russell terrier -- tiny, but utterly indomitable. Its ability to thrive and even flourish in arid climates is matched only by its potent nutritional punch, a happy combination that makes millet a staple food for millions in Africa and Asia. The diminutive grain is mostly fed to animals in the U.S., but its sweet, nutty flavor and appealing, pale-gold color deserve wider appreciation.

Things You'll Need

  • Heavy saucepan with tight-fitting lid
  • Salt, and other flavorings as desired
  • Water or broth

Fluffy Millet

  • Measure your millet, and pour it into a heavy-bottomed saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. It will expand to 2 1/2 or 3 times its original volume, so allow plenty of space.

  • Heat the saucepan over a medium burner, swirling it continuously, until its color begins to deepen and it develops a nutty, fragrant aroma. This step is optional, but it makes the grain tastier and it will have a slightly firmer texture when cooked.

  • Add water or broth to the pot, using 2 parts water for every part of millet. This produces light, firm, fluffy grain that works well as a substitute for long-grain rice. Add an extra 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup for a softer, stickier texture reminiscent of short-grain and medium-grain rices.

  • Season the millet with salt and pepper or other flavorings to taste, then bring the pot to a boil. Turn it down immediately, cover the pot, and gently simmer the grain until it has absorbed all the moisture. This typically takes 15 to 20 minutes, depending whether you've used the larger or smaller quantity of water.

  • Remove your pot from the heat and let the millet rest for 5 to 10 minutes with the lid off, so it can cool slightly and the individual grains can firm up. Lightly fluff the millet with a fork and serve it warm, or cool and package it for later use.

Millet Polenta or Porridge

  • Measure your millet into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and toast it over moderate heat -- if you wish -- until the grain is golden and aromatic.

  • Season the grain lightly with salt and other flavorings as desired, then pour in water, broth, or a combination of those or other liquids. You'll need 3 parts water to 1 part millet for a stiff, polenta-like result, but the millet can absorb 3 1/2 to 4 parts water for a smoother, breakfast-porridge texture.

  • Cook the grain for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring periodically at the beginning and then constantly, with the lid off, near the end. Otherwise, like polenta or other porridges, you'll run the risk of it sticking to the pot and possibly scorching.

  • Remove the pot from its burner once your millet has reached its desired texture. To eat it as breakfast porridge, sweeten it to taste and add a splash of milk. Stir in fresh herbs and grated cheese if you're serving it as a soft polenta.

  • Turn out your polenta onto an oiled or parchment-lined sheet pan, if you wish to serve it as grilled polenta. Smooth the cooked grain to an even thickness and flat surface, and let it cool completely. Once cooled, cut the millet into shapes or oblong slices, and grill or pan-fry them as you would with corn polenta.

Tips & Warnings

  • In any pot of millet, a few of the grains will remain firmer than the others. This is normal, and adds a pleasant textural contrast, though it's disconcerting to some diners. Toasting the millet slows cooking slightly and minimizes this difference, and cooking softer millet or polenta-style millet reduces it still further.
  • To make a millet pilaf, gently saute a small quantity of onions, garlic, celery, diced peppers, fresh herbs or other aromatic ingredients in oil or butter before measuring your millet. Toast the grain along with your aromatics, then add the liquids and proceed as usual. Alternatively, reheat previously-cooked millet in a skillet with your aromatic vegetables.
  • Leftover millet is dryer than leftover rice after refrigeration. If you're reheating it on its own in the microwave, sprinkle it lightly with water and cover your bowl to trap the resulting steam. This method yields soft, moist, millet.
  • Cooked, cooled millet also works well as a substitute for bulgur or quinoa in grain-based salads. Toss the millet with fresh herbs, shredded and diced vegetables and a light vinaigrette.
  • For a richer polenta-style dish, omit 1/2 cup of the water. Add that same amount of milk late in the cooking process, when the water is almost all absorbed, then finish cooking as usual.
  • Millet breakfast porridge can be enhanced by the addition of fresh or dried fruit and your choice of warm spices while it's cooking.
  • For slightly faster porridge, grind the grain in your blender or spice grinder before cooking it.

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