Good Question: A Foolproof Recipe for Oatmeal?

Amy is trying to decide if she likes oatmeal or not. We would like to help her out. Here's her question:

Everyone seems to say that oatmeal is a powerhouse of health. I have a problem though — I don't know if I like it. What's a foolproof prep plan/recipe so I can try it and decide for sure. It looks yummy and warm and perfect for these frigid times.

Amy, yes, oatmeal is indeed a powerhouse of fiber, nutrition, and yummy nourishment. We like it year-round, although it is very comforting in the colder months. We do not think, however, that you should eat something purely because it is "good for you;" it's no fun to eat things just for health, and it won't lead to better health long-term. No, you should eat things because they are delicious, and oatmeal is fortunately one of those foods that is both nutritious and delicious — when prepared well.

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There are a few key things about oatmeal that you should know.

1. Buy steel cut oats.

The oat is a little piece of grain, right? The oats you find in Quaker boxed oats or in the usual oatmeal are rolled oats. These are flattened heads of grain. The oat is toasted, then rolled flat by huge machines. This flattened, flaked oat can be cooked much more quickly and easily. Rolled oats (pictured above on the left) are the most common sort of oats you can find. They could be called quick-cooking or old-fashioned oats. Instant oats are rolled oats that have been pre-cooked so they can be made into a porridge extremely quickly with boiling water.

Steel cut oats (pictured above on the right), one the other hand, are not flattened. The original oat grain (called a groat) is chopped roughly into smaller pieces, leaving the hull and kernel intact.

These steel cut oats have the same amount of fiber and nutrients as the rolled oats, but their real merit is in their texture and taste. Oatmeal from rolled oats has a tendency to get mushy and gluey, and instant oatmeal even more so. But steel-cut oats retain their pearly individual structure in a creamy porridge — like an oat risotto. They are delicious with great texture, even when reheated.

2. Start your oatmeal at night.

Steel cut oats, however, do take much longer to cook than rolled oats. Half an hour is the usual cooking time, compared to just five minutes for rolled oats. But fortunately steel cut oats are just as good reheated as when they're fresh. (Very different from rolled oats in this respect!) It's best made at night, or at least started before bed.

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3. Dress up your oatmeal with milk, sugar, and dried fruit.

We love adding all sorts of texture and taste to our oatmeal. Some favorite mix-ins: vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, unsweetened coconut, chopped pecans or walnuts, raisins (plumped up in a little juice or booze), stewed prunes, dried cranberries or dates.

The method
OK, here now is a basic recipe for making foolproof steel cut oats quickly and easily.

Before you go to bed, heat a sliver of butter in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat. When the butter foams, add 1 cup of steel cut oats. Cook and stir for a couple minutes, or until they smell toasty. Add 4 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn off the heat and cover.

In the morning, remove the lid and bring the oatmeal back to a gentle simmer. Once it's heated through, it's ready to eat! You can also add coconut, dried fruit, sugar, honey, or maple syrup while it's simmering. Serve with milk, butter, or whatever other decadent thing you prefer. We also really like to serve ours with stewed fruit, like in the photo above, where the oatmeal is topped with stewed quince.

Pack up any leftovers in the refrigerator, and reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop for breakfast on the following mornings.

Any more tips for Amy?

More on oatmeal:
Good Question: What's the Deal With Oatmeal?
What's For Breakfast? Irish Oatmeal
National Oatmeal Day: Steel-Cut Oats
Breakfast for Lunch: Steel-Cut Oats with Dates, Coconut, Cinnamon and Pecans
Recipe: Overnight Oatmeal with Apricots and Buttermilk

(Images: Faith Durand)