Kevin Fink is a heritage grain fanatic. At Emmer & Rye, his Austin, Texas restaurant, the 2016 F&W Best New Chef mills his own flour and cooks with a dozen different varieties daily. "I could list them all," he says, "but there are so many." Fink sees the return to growing and milling artisan grains as a return to vibrant flavors. "As mankind we decided a while ago that wheat should be as neutral as it possibly can," he says, "so obviously heritage grains that have so much flavor to them were one of the first things to go—not only because of harvesting techniques, but also because they are so boisterous in flavor." Here, Fink reveals four of his favorite grains to cook with.
White Sonora Wheat
"White sonoran was the original flour that Mexican sonoran tortillas were made with," says Fink. "It has a high gluten content and this slightly fungal note to it." Despite its rich flavor, it looks like the common grains we're used to. "It's really complex in flavor but still maintains that traditional white flour aesthetic, which makes a really great transition," he explains. "It's a great one to start with. We make brioche with it quite a bit."
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Fink calls this a "geek-out" grain, and it's easy to see why. It's tricky to track down (Fink says it's sometimes available from Anson Mills), and the harvesting process is quite complex: "It's emmer that hasn't fully matured," he says, "and they light the grass on fire. This doesn't necessarily cook the wheat berry, but it cooks all the grasses aroud it, and then when you beat the wheat against a wall it releases all the berries. So you get this really refreshing, grassy, bright green note with this slight hint of smoky flavor." Because Emmer is high in protein, Fink likes to use it in pasta or anything else that requires a firm dough. Right now, Fink's menu features an emmer pasta with cabbage, pork conft, crispy kale amd a white wine, lemon and butter sauce.
"Einkorn is a throwback to the absolute oldest grain that there is," says Fink. "It's what changed us as mankind from foraging wild grass to being able to plant and understand crops. That's why our name is Emmer & Rye—'einkorn' doesn't sound as great as 'emmer,' but the restaurant was always about the throwback in history." Einkorn falls under the Spelt family, Fink explains. "It's these little tiny wheat berries. It's great for breads. You can use it really well in sweet applications. It goes really well with citrus zest."
Black Rice Flour
"For frying and dredging things, rice flour is one of the best things out there," says Fink. "It keeps such a great crispiness, but it's still very light and delicate." The flavor is terrifically umami-rich: "I find black rice flour almost slightly seaweed-y," Fink says. "I think it retains the water that it grows in a lot more than the white rice does."