In recent years I’ve developed a devotion for oatmeal for breakfast. San Francisco is always oatmeal weather, and it’s so warm, comforting, and easily zazzed up with bananas, brown sugar, oatmeal, walnuts–you name it. But until I walked into Jamba Juice and tried their steel-cut oatmeal, I didn’t know I’d never had real oatmeal. This porridge had nothing in common with my instant paste-like breakfast: it was creamy, light, with a strong oat taste, and individual oats that burst in my mouth like so much breakfast caviar. It’s like having risotto for breakfast, and I’d eat risotto for every meal if I could.
I never tried making proper oatmeal at home, though. It seemed terribly complicated and time-consuming, and really: was the morning payoff worth it? After having the Jamba Juice oatmeal day after day, and then making myself instant on the weekend, I decided it was, indeed, worth it.
Since then I’ve tried three different methods of cooking Irish steel-cut oatmeal, and I thought I’d share them with you to save you some experimentation time. Every recipe uses the same proportions and ingredients listed below. I store the oatmeal in the refrigerator and microwave my portions for three minutes in the morning.
1 C oatmeal
4 C water
Big pinch of salt (Do NOT skip the salt.)
1/2 C dried cranberries (This is optional, of course, but I love the sweetness they lend, and they rehydrate during the cooking process, which results in plump, sweet bites of deliciousness.)
Method #1: Slow Cooker
The recipe I used doubles the amounts above, I suppose to make use of the size of the slowcooker. It also requests that you spray the pot with nonstick cooking spray.
Method’s easy enough: combine all ingredients in the pot, turn to high for three hours. Our pot switches to warm after it’s done cooking, and that’s where I went wrong the first time. Five hours on “warm” means the oatmeal’s still cooking, and my morning bowl of porridge was mushy, pasty, and even a bit gummy. The next time, I made it on a Sunday afternoon and removed the oatmeal to Tupperware containers at the three-hour mark. The resulting dish was good, but still a bit on the mushier side–I wanted the mouth-popping texture of individual oats.
Method #2: Traditional Stovetop
Bring the water to a boil; sprinkle in the oats, salt and cranberries. While stirring, boil the porridge until it has reached a slightly thicker, creamier texture. Turn down the heat and simmer for thirty minutes, stirring occasionally.
This method turned out perfect porridge, even better than I’d had at Jamba Juice. Perfect consistency, texture and flavor; because I was around for the whole of the cooking process, I could control it much closer. Unfortunately, I had to be around for the whole of the cooking process. The stirring was exactly like the risotto I’d mentioned earlier, and while I have some time on my hands on maternity leave, I don’t want to spend 45 minutes twice a week just for a good bowl of oatmeal. (15 minutes stirring to consistency, then the extra 30 to simmer.) I’m doing this method right now because I forgot to get a jump on my breakfast last night, but it’s not what we’d call in the software biz a sustainable way of tackling the problem.
Method #3: Overnight Soak
Bring the water to a boil on the stovetop; turn off heat and stir in the oats, salt and cranberries. Put the oatmeal in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, simmer the oatmeal for 9-12 minutes on the stovetop.
This is, in my opinion, the best method. The texture and taste are very good–a little less textured than the traditional stovetop method, but I’m sure that can be adjusted in the morning simmer. And it’s easy. Spend five minutes on a Friday night, 12 minutes on a Saturday morning, and you have oatmeal until Wednesday. Or Tuesday, if you have a greedy toddler who can’t stop herself from stealing your porridge.
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