When I was a kid, oatmeal always meant rolled oats. Not instant, just the regular oats that need some cooking but don’t take very long. I liked it all right but was never wild about it – the texture was a little slimy, the flavor dull. Then we discovered steel-cut oats.
Because they take longer to cook, they require a bit of planning ahead to be able to do them on a work morning, but a bowl of good oats is well worth a little trouble. I like to set out my pans, measure my water and oats, and generally have everything ready to go the night before, which lets me get them ready in about half an hour after we get up.
We learned this great way of cooking them from Cook’s Illustrated (which we’ve simplified a bit to be slightly less rich) – you toast the oats before you add them to your boiling water. It speeds up the cooking process a bit, and gives the oatmeal a lovely warmth and depth. If you want to go the whole hog, Cook’s has you saute the oats in butter, then cook them in part water, part milk – it’s very tasty but makes it unnecessary to add cream, which for us is sort of the whole point of oatmeal.
Steel-Cut Oats (serves two)
- 2 cups water (may be part milk)
- 1/2 cup steel-cut oats
- pinch of salt
Set the water to boil in a small heavy saucepan. Put the oats in a medium skillet and toast over med-high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly golden and fragrant. When the water comes to a boil, add the oats and stir well. Adjust the heat under the pan to get a slow bubble and cook uncovered until thick, about 15-20 minutes. Add a pinch of salt and stir it in. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and let sit another 10 minutes if possible (you can eat the oatmeal right when it comes off the heat but the texture won’t be as good). Serve with cream, brown sugar and fruit.