Breakfast Gruel ~ Or How to Make Oatmeal, Not Glue

Unlike John, I simply can’t cope with drinking my breakfast. I love milkshakes, I even like some smoothies. Maybe I’ve seen WALL-E and taken it too much to heart, but I just can’t do breakfast-in-a-cup. But, also wanting to get through my day without getting into the chips left over from the last gaming session, and wanting to acquire some basic daily nutrition, I too have a daily morning routine.

Half a cup of steel cut oats, steamed (basically).

Now, I never liked rolled oats as a kid, nor cream of wheat, or really any kind of hot cereal, whether it was breakfast fare or otherwise. To me they always ended up in a form better suited to papering walls than filling my insides. But this radically new approach has changed all that, especially with the switch to steel cut oats. Steel cut oats have much more fiber than rolled, they just take a lot longer to cook — typical Western approach to food, convenience over nutrition, right?

I will freely admit that a lot of what I know about generalized technique I got from Alton Brown’s early seasons of “Good Eats”. Over time, I’ve noticed a pattern when he’s dealing with starches in some kind of small, pellet like form (rice, oats, barley, polenta, &c.) – start with high heat and fat (butter, oil, what have you) to get some caramelization going, get boiling water into the situation as quickly as possible, cover as tightly as possible, and then let things go low and slow for as long as possible without losing a very gentle simmer/very low boil. Because this is almost like baking, and the margin of error is very narrow, I actually have this down to fairly precise details at this point to avoid disaster.

I use my smallest sauce pan, with a lid, and a kitchen towel (for weight on the thin lid, if you have a heavy lid, don’t bother). In the small pan I heat a silver dollar sized pour of olive oil. Once good and hot, into this goes the half cup of steel cut oats. Begin moving them about immediately and quickly so that all the kernels are coated in oil and none are sitting there deep frying in a small pool. Keep this over fairly high heat, moving frequently. When you start to hear consistent popping noises, pour in one and one eighth of a cup of water, a pinch of salt and whatever spices you like. I usually go with cinnamon, but powdered ginger, clove, nutmeg or all four can be very nice. Heck, I’ve even had it with zatar and it was really good, too. If you have an electric kettle and don’t mind the effort, make that cup of water already boiling when it goes in. Otherwise, get it up to a boil as fast as you can. Once boiling, slap on the lid, pile on the towel to help keep it down (being sure none of the edges hang over near your flames!), and reduce the heat to low. I sometimes do this on two different burners, the big one for the very hot stages and my tiniest one for the simmering stage. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Yes. That long. If you do the first half in your jammies, breakfast is ready by the time you get dressed and have a cup of tea.

When the timer goes off, uncover, add a reasonable amount of honey and if you like, a splash of milk (not half and half or cream!) or almond milk works on certain days. Stir briefly and serve immediately.

No more cereal of limitless sticking potential! Hello daily fiber.

2 thoughts on “Breakfast Gruel ~ Or How to Make Oatmeal, Not Glue

  1. I’m going to have to give this a try. When I worked from home, I had time for this sort of thing. I used to have oats on the weekends, but I get a little carried away making my shake and it tends to last all week.

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