• 1 1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) unsalted butter
• 1/2 cup panko crumbs
• 1 tablespoon canola oil
• 8 ounces orzo (about 1 1/4 cups)
• 1/4 cup minced yellow onion, minced almost to a paste (optional)
• 1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken stock, homemade or shop-bought low-sodium
• Coarse salt
• 1 cup whole milk
• 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter (optional)
• 3 tablespoons crème fraiche
• 1 1/2 to 2 cups white cheddar cheese, finely grated
• 2 teaspoons minced chives
• 1 teaspoon minced Italian parsley
Melt the 1 1/2 teaspoons of butter in a small non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the crumbs and sauté, moving the crumbs constantly until they are a rich golden brown. Remove to a bowl and set aside.
Heat the oil in a Copper-Core Windsor Pan over medium-high heat. Add the orzo and stir constantly to toast the orzo for about 2 to 3 minutes or until about half the orzo pieces are lightly browned. Remove the pot from the heat and immediately stir in the onions to incorporate. Steam will rise from the moisture of the onions. Stir until the steam subsides and any liquid from the onions has been absorbed by the orzo.
Add 3/4 cup of the chicken stock and return the pan to the heat. Stir until the stock is almost evaporated and add another 3/4 cup of stock and a pinch of salt. The liquid will become thickened and creamy from the starch in the orzo. When the mixture has thickened and you can see the bottom of the pan as a spoon is drawn through the orzo, add the milk. Cook until the milk reduces but the mixture is still creamy. Taste the orzo, it should be cooked but still have a bit of firmness, as when cooking pasta al dente. Do not let it become mushy. If the orzo needs more cooking, add 1/4 cup of the remaining stock and continue to cook. When the orzo is done to your liking, remove the pot from the heat.
Stir in the butter, if desired, the crème fraiche and 1 1/2 cups of cheese. Stir to incorporate. Taste and add more cheese or salt as desired. Check the consistency. If needed add a bit more of the remaining chicken stock to loosen the mixture. Stir in the herbs.
Spoon the orzo on individual serving plates and sprinkle with the panko crumbs.
If you are making the orzo ahead of time, pour it into a gratin dish and smooth the top. Cover and refrigerate. When you are ready to cook the gratin, remove it from the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature before reheating.
Preheat the oven to 325°F. Sprinkle the panko crumbs over the top of the gratin and place in the oven to heat for about 15 minutes, then increase the heat to 400°F. for an additional 10 minutes or until the top is crispy and the orzo is hot.
Serves 4 to 6
Chef Thomas Keller's tip
"I like this dish with the flavour that onions and butter add, but they are both optional ingredients."