Monday, February 6, 2012

How I make ... oatmeal

When I was taking Russian 3, after we had finished the unit on hygiene and the imperfective aspect we were tasked with preparing a short oral presentation describing the actions we take every day to get ready in the morning. I looked up the word for oatmeal (овсянка, if memory serves me correctly) and organized my essay around that. Every morning I put oatmeal on the stove. Then, while the oatmeal cooks, I take a shower, wash my hair, brush my teeth, use the toilet, get dressed--in that order--and come back to make sure the oatmeal is cooked completely. Then, after mixing in some сироп and nuts, I eat it. I eat it with a spoon. Every morning. I have to say, it was one of the most successful talks I ever gave in Russian class, perhaps second only to the presentation I gave we learned different terms for family members. I pretended to be Sarah Palin and described my myriad progeny, prefacing the talk by noting, "You may think it's strange that I am speaking Russian to you right now... but, конечно, I can see Russia from my house."

It was true that I was eating oatmeal just about every morning for breakfast when I was in Russian 3. It wasn't true that I was brushing my teeth before eating it--gross. Even though I tend to lean toward a two-egg omelet or a quick socca for breakfast these days, I think oatmeal will always hold a special place in my heart as my favorite breakfast food. Maybe it's not a weekday thing--it's a slow food, the kind of meal you need to toss on the stove first thing when you wake up before you've had your coffee and then shovel down after you're already late for your bus. But if you take a little time, sit down on the weekend and make some oatmeal, spike it with some honey or a poached egg... oh my stars! Oat my stars.


3 parts steel-cut oats
1 part millet
1 part quinoa
1/2 part pearl barley
1/2 part brown rice
1/4 part amaranth
1/4 part wheat bran
kosher salt


Mix the grains together and store in a large jar. Make sure they're evenly distributed.

One serving of oatmeal is about half a cup of oatmeal mix. When you're ready to make oatmeal, pour your desired quantity of oatmeal mix into a pot and cook over low heat for a minute or two, just to toast the grains. Add several generous pinches of salt and four cups of water for each cup of oatmeal mix. Bring to a full boil, then turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for 30-40 minutes. At that point, taste a spoonful to make sure all the grains are cooked through. If they are, remove the lid and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the oatmeal reaches your desired consistency.


The seven grains above make up my preferred oatmeal blend, but more often than not I'll just use whatever I have hanging around, haphazardly grabbing a few random bags of grain out of the pantry and tossing them into a pot one-by-one. Feel free to experiment.

Here are a few failed experiments on my part: 1) too much amaranth can give you a grassy flavor, which can be unpleasant unless you're a cow; 2) buckwheat turns really sludgy and gross; 3) wheat berries will never soften by the time your oatmeal is ready. I'm about to have these findings published in a peer-reviewed oatmeal journal.

If you want to go gluten-free, you can ditch the barley and the wheat bran, and make sure that the oats you're using weren't processed in a facility that also processes wheat.

If you're adding a fat like brown butter or olive oil, it doesn't hurt to toast the oatmeal mix for a few seconds in that and then add the water. Be careful to do this over very low heat and for for just a few seconds--tiny grains like amaranth can burn very quickly when you're toasting them in fat.


I like red quinoa better than golden quinoa, but it's gotten really expensive, as chronicled in this article, which is kind of a downer. Black quinoa can be kind of sandy and I do not dig it--like, who was eating my oatmeal at the beach? Is that a hermit crab?

Any kind of rice is fine, including super fancy jade or black rice, but try to pick one that cooks in 30 minutes or less so it's not too chewy when the oats are done. Now that I'm not using red quinoa anymore, I dig red rice for its nuttiness and color contrast.

Oatmeal keeps surprisingly well in the fridge--make a larger batch earlier in the week, and then later in the week you can heat up a portion by stirring into an extra half-cup of boiling water and cooking for 5 minutes or so. The texture is a little less exciting than fresh oatmeal, but it gets the job done.

Some people like cooking their oatmeal in milk or cream--I think it's a very Irish thing to do--but I actually like the contrast of cold milk separate from the warm chewy grains. But don't listen to anything I say; you might end up in grad school.


PBAB -- Once the oatmeal is cooked through, add a few tablespoons of peanut butter and stir until smooth. You may need to add a little warm water to thin things out afterward. Pour the oatmeal into a bowl and garnish with tangy apple butter, maybe a little milk too.

Elvis -- Add peanut butter as above, then garnish with sliced banana, chopped toasted peanuts or walnuts, milk, honey, and granola. What really makes this for me is cooking the oatmeal extra long so it's nice and chewy, then pouring cold milk over it. Lovely.

Fat Elvis -- Peanut butter, then garnish with sliced banana, crisp bacon (duh), and honey. Sans oatmeal, plus oat bread, this is also my favorite sandwich on Earth.

Good Morning, Campers -- Extra-virgin olive oil, maple syrup, and salt. Last year, I spilled half a pot of this on a rock on the way to Clouds Rest in Yosemite. Warning--this oatmeal is so delicious that after you make it for the first time, you will be asked to make it on all subsequent camping trips.

Ultimate Oatmeal -- Maple syrup, miso, and tahini. I like this because it marries three flavors from different continents into one crazy good savory oatmeal. Mix the miso and tahini with a little hot water before adding them to the mix, otherwise they'll clump up, and nobody wants to hit a big chunk of miso paste in the middle of breakfast.

Sunday Oatmeal -- Caramelize some onions with salt and curry powder, then serve the oatmeal with a poached egg and caramelized onions. Wonderful.

Arpeggio -- Brown a tablespoon (maybe two) of butter per person in the pot that you're going to use to cook the oatmeal. Pour half of this brown butter off into a small bowl. Toast the grains in the brown butter for a few seconds, then add water, salt, and a light drizzle of maple syrup. While the oatmeal is cooking, poach one egg per person and keep them in a bowl of cold water. When the oatmeal is ready, reheat your poached eggs in simmering water for 15 seconds. Top each bowl of oatmeal with a poached egg, a drizzle of brown butter, finely minced chives, fancy salt, and white pepper. Stunning. See photograph above.

FRIED OATMEAL -- Make some extra oatmeal. Right before you add any fatty elements like cream, milk, peanut butter, or tahini, take a serving of oatmeal and spread it out in a shallow dish at a thickness of 1/2 inch (crispy) - 1 inch (custardy). Let the oatmeal cool to room temperature, and then cool it, covered, in the fridge overnight. When you're ready to have your mind blown, take the cooled oatmeal and fry it in a cast iron skillet over medium heat with a bit of butter (clarified butter is even better, because it won't start smoking). Add a little more butter, flip, and place the skillet into a 350 ºF oven. Cook for 5 or 6 minutes, or until warmed through and crispy on the second side. Move to a plate, 9then top with salt, pepper, and a poached egg. Tears. Streaming.

I've always thought that oatmeal or fried oatmeal would be a really good bed on which to rest some lamb braised in tomato sauce. Or, if you're a vegan, some cauliflower roasted with turmeric. Either way, it's something I need to try at my next dinner party.

1 comment:

  1. I'm definitely trying this, mixing quinoa with my oatmeal, Yes Please. Thank you for the tip