I've become an oatmeal connoisseur. I'm that woman who orders oatmeal when eating out at relatively nice restaurants or on vacation to see just how they do it. When on a train trip a few months ago, I even became quite enamored with Amtrak oatmeal and would look forward to it each morning (it was a long train trip). Like you, I'm sure, I've had really great oatmeal and my share of pretty awful bowls, and I've learned a lot in between those experiences.
I think the key to really good steel-cut oats is treating the oats delicately. I like to toast mine with a little butter before beginning — this brings out their nutty flavor. Then I always heat up the cooking liquid in a separate pan from the oats and add the oats to the hot liquid. This may sound fussy, but the less time the oats spend sitting in the cold liquid as it's heating up, the better; this method always yields much more toothsome oats than if you pour all the ingredients in together and call it a day.
Last, I don't spend much time stirring my oats after I add the cooking liquid. I let them do their thing. The more you stir (and some folks like to stir their oats vigorously), the greater chance there is for the integrity of the oats to break apart and you could very well end up with gummy oats. No one's favorite.
The idea for this particular recipe came about as I was experimenting with different savory versions of oats and began thinking about the sweet and savory flavor combinations I love. In the winter, there's nothing more satisfying than maple-roasted apples with a little hunk of cheddar, so I decided to incorporate all of those flavors into a simple winter porridge. You will likely have a few roasted apples leftover, but they're wonderful on top of future oatmeal or swirled into yogurt or ice cream in the evenings.
Steel-Cut Oats with Maple-Roasted Apples and Cheddar
For the apples: 4 firm, crisp apples (about 2 pounds), such as Granny Smith or Honeycrisp
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
For the oats:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup steel-cut oats
3 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese, plus more to top
Brown sugar (optional), for serving
Heavy cream (optional), for serving
Sea salt (optional), for serving
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Quarter each apple and cut away the core/seeds. Slice into 1/2-inch cubes.
In a small bowl, combine the maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Turn the apples out onto the prepared baking sheet, and pour the maple mixture on top. Use your hands to toss until the apples are evenly coated. Spread them out in a single layer. Break apart the slice of butter and scatter small pieces over the apples.
Roast until soft and fragrant (but not mushy or collapsing in on themselves), about 17 to 20 minutes, depending on type of apple. As they roast, baste them with the maple juices to keep them from drying out and sticking. After they are finished cooking, remove from the oven and set aside.
In a medium-sized heavy-bottom skillet, heat butter over medium heat until melted. Add the oats, stir, and toss gently in the pan until light-brown and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
Bring water, milk, vanilla, and salt to a simmer (just barely a boil) in a separate medium saucepan. Stir in the toasted oats. Return to a slow boil, reduce heat to low, and partially cover. Let the porridge cook without stirring until it has begun to thicken and the oats are soft, about 30 minutes. Gently stir in the cheese and place the lid back so it's partially covering the pot. Continue cooking for additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until oats have soaked up majority of liquid and are at desired consistency.
When finished cooking, scoop into serving bowls and top with roasted apples and a sprinkle of extra cheddar. Add a little brown sugar, sea salt, additional maple syrup, or heavy cream if you'd like. If you have leftovers, store the oats and apples in separate containers and refrigerate for up to 5 days.