When it is cold and dreary outside, there is oatmeal for breakfast. It's an "If A, then B" kind of situation. If you have a little extra time — a weekend morning, say, or a handy snow day — it's worth pulling out the steel-cut oats. Yes, they take longer to cook than our standby rolled oats, but the trade-off is the best bowl of oatmeal you've ever had.
Steel-cut oats are made from whole oat groats — the "steel-cut" part of the name comes from how the groats are chopped into small, nubbly pieces. Chopping them makes them easier to cook (whole groats take even longer to cook than steel-cut oats!), and it also exposes the starches inside the oats to the water. These starches, in turn, dissolve into the water during cooking, creating the kind of thickened, creamy porridge of Goldilocks' dreams.
The basic ratio for making steel-cut oatmeal is 1 cup of oats to 3 to 4 cups of water — I've found that less water keeps the oats more intact and chewy while more water makes a silkier porridge. I like them both! Play with it and see what ratio you like best. And if you want a real treat, you can also swap out some or all of the water for milk.
Cooking steel-cut oats is easy-peasy — boil water, add oats, reduce heat, and simmer — but it does require some patience. The oats take a good 20 to 30 minutes to become tender and decide they want to make a porridge. Start tasting the oatmeal around the 20 minute mark and keep cooking until you're happy with it. Sometimes I find that the oats are tender at 20 minutes, but leaving the pot bubbling for a little longer helps thicken everything up.
Steel-cut oats have a nuttier, earthier flavor than rolled oats. I honestly love this oatmeal all on its own with nothing more than a splash of cream and a sprinkle of sugar. But of course, you can bring the whole line-up of oatmeal toppings out to play: chopped nuts, dried and fresh fruits, maple syrup and honey, cinnamon, fruit preserves and all the rest of your favorite toppers.
By the way, leftover steel-cut oatmeal can be refrigerated for up to a week. If you love steel-cut oats for breakfast, you can make a big batch on the weekend and parcel it out all week long. It firms up in the fridge, but a splash of milk and a minute or two in the microwave softens it right back up again.
Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer the oats for 20 to 30 minutes. Stir occasionally.
How to Cook Steel-Cut Oats in 30 minutes
Serves 4 to 6
What You Need
3-4 cups water (or a mix of water and milk)
1 cup steel-cut oats
Scant 1/8 teaspoon salt
Measuring cups and spoons
2 quart saucepan
- Bring the water to a boil: Use 3 cups of water for firmer, more intact oat grains or 4 cups of water for creamier oatmeal. Pour the water into a saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat.
- Stir in the oats and the salt: Pour the oats into the water, add the salt, and stir.
- Return to a boil: Let the water come back up to a rolling boil — this should only take a few seconds. Be watchful as the water comes back to a boil as it can sometimes foam up and spill out of the pan.
- Reduce heat to low: Once the water is boiling, reduce the heat to low and bring the oats to a simmer. You may need to play with the exact setting on your stove — aim to keep the oats at a barely perceptible simmer. You should see steam coming off the water with a bubble or two every few seconds.
- Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes: Let the oats simmer for anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan. Cook until the oats are very tender and the oatmeal is as creamy as you like it — longer cooking will make thicker oatmeal.
- Serve immediately or refrigerate for 1 week: The oats are ready to eat immediately. You can also let the oats cool and then store them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week. The oats will thicken in the fridge; stir a little milk or water into them when reheating to loosen.
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(Image credits: Emma Christensen)