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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Calling all porridge people!

What you are about to read may revolutionise the way you eat breakfast. A big call I know, but seeing as I have changed the breakfast eating habits of four friends in one week with this information, I think I have some evidence to back up my wild claims. Three words: steel cut oats.

Now, I first heard about these bad boys on Oprah a few years ago when she had one of those doctors on, trying in vain to get the viewers to stop enjoying such delicious breakfast treats as Chocolate Chip Pancakes & Sausages on a Stick and start eating things like porridge (well, they probably said oatmeal) instead. As a porridge eater I took notice when they mentioned the magical marvellous qualities of using steel cut oats as opposed to rolled or instant oats, but I don't think I really ever followed up on it as I was reluctant to do anything that was recommended by Oprah.

Since then however I have heard about them a few more times but it wasn't until I came across this post on fellow food blog Pinch My Salt that I actually took proper heed and decided to go a-searching for this supposed king of grains. IGA, Coles and Woolies all failed to provide me with my fix, but my local health food store down at Dog Swamp Shopping Centre came up trumps. $3.75 later and a 500 g bag of perplexing oats were all mine. Perplexing because they just don't look oaty, it is really is more rice-like in appearance. Astonishingly, this is because the grains are cut instead of rolled.

Steel cut oats, anticipating their imminent transformation into tasty tasty porridge

Steel cut oats take longer to cook than your standard rolled oats, and presumably much longer than instant oats, but the real beauty of it is that the finished product, true to its rice-like appearance, has a risotto-like texture yet still retains the creaminess of your standard porridge. It even keeps this lovely risotto-esque chewiness when reheated days later, so you can make up a week's batch in advance when you have the time, and then just pull it out of the fridge to reheat for your breaky in the morning. I've been testing this out this week, bringing in a little container of porridge, and a little container of yoghurt, fruits and stewed rhubarb to add to it once reheated for a perfect easy/yummy/healthy post-gym breaky.

Steel Cut Oat Porridge

To cook my oats I have been using the ratio of 1/4 cup oats to 1 1/4 cups water for each serving.

I just add these to a pot, bring it to the boil and then let it simmer uncovered until cooked (one serve takes around 25-30 minutes), giving it a good stir every so often.

You'll want to keep an eye on it when you've got the heat up high at the beginning, as it can bubble up quite quickly once the water starts to boil.

It can also develop a bit of a skin on top during the non-stirred periods, and unlike my father who has a bit of a soft spot for the skin that can develop on custard when it cooks, I am not a fan of the pan skin and so I just skim it off occasionally.

If you are going to make fresh batches up in the morning, you can leave the oats to soak overnight to shorten the required cooking time. In fact, apparently this also has nutritional benefits, if you can trust Sue Gregg (looking at her photo, I think it's fair to say she spends more time concerning herself with cooking and less with keeping abreast of current trends in hair and fashion), as soaking the oats in an acid medium like water with some whey, lemon juice or vinegar, or buttermilk or yoghurt assists in releasing the nutrients from the grains.

Other ideas for cooking it include leaving it to cook in a slow cooker or rice cooker so that it is ready when you get up. I also read about someone leaving the oats and boiled water in a thermos overnight and then waking up to perfectly cooked, warm porridge in the morning! Having not tried these methods I am not sure of the oat:water ratios involved so some experimentation would be required.

The things you can add to your porridge are of course limited only by your imagination (and possibly budget and location and level of motivation and cooking skills) but some ideas are:
  • Yoghurt and fresh fruit,
  • Milk, brown sugar and sultanas,
  • Stewed rhubarb,
  • Golden/maple syrup and banana,
  • Vanilla, cinnamon and mixed dried fruit,
  • Grated apple, cinnamon and milk,
  • Coconut milk and banana,
  • Butter, brown sugar and hazelnuts.

Steel cut oat porridge with chopped plum, natural yoghurt, stewed rhubarb and a sprinkling of muesli

My favourite way to have it is with Mundella Natural Yoghurt, fresh grapes and berries (although with the season on the way out this will be soon changing), stewed rhubarb and a little sprinkling of muesli on top for some added crunch. I prepare the stewed rhubarb in advance too, so all of these elements are waiting in the fridge come breakfast time.

To make the rhubarb I simply give it a good wash, chop it up and simmer gently with a tiny bit of water, a splash of vanilla extract and something sweet (last time I used golden syrup, but brown sugar or honey are also good) until it has softened. In addition to adding some tasty tartness (ooh la la) to your morning porridge, it is also pretty awesome with icecream or yoghurt for a sweet treat.

Having gone through my 500g bag of oats, and finding myself a steel cut oats convert, I thought it best to go searching for a cheaper supplier than my local health food store. It was marginally cheaper at the health food store at Broadway Fair Shopping Centre, at $3.50 for a 500g bag, but then I discovered it is available at The Angry Almond for $2.99 per kilo. For you sandgropers not living in Perth, they deliver anywhere in Western Australia for $3.50. Full of excitement at discovering this cheap supplier, I called one of my (fellow porridge eating) friends who I had been raving about these oats to, to let them know I had found a cheaper supplier and that I would be buying them some to try. In a strange twist of oaty fate he happened to be, at that exact point in time, at Kakulas Brothers in Northbridge checking out the oat selection and discovered they sell them for $2.50 per kilo. It was a sign! A beautiful oaty sign.

I am happy to say this fellow porridge eater is now also a steel cut oats convert, and as the porridge maker of his family he has also converted his wife and daughter. I've also got my friend, whose house I'm currently staying in, including it in her rushed workday breakfast by putting little serves in cups for her. She just heats it up, adds yoghurt and rhubarb and fruit (oh my!) and gets stuck into it whilst hooning down the freeway.

Precooked porridge, ready for a rushed morning breakfast

With the power of porridge, anything is possible.


Panamahat May 14, 2009 at 2:11 PM  

Thanks Conor, this is a great tip. I WANT SOME NOW. Luckily I am heading up to Perth June 20th for a 40th birthday bash, so will endeavour to shop then. Thanks for doing all the leg work, you rock!

Here is another tip for cooking porridge I was told about recently: double boiler. Yes, like the way you melt chocolate. Just put your normal ratio of oats to water in the top basin and bubble away. HOW this makes the porridge far more delectably creamier than just cooking on direct heat, I don't know. But it works for me. I can't go back...

Anonymous May 7, 2010 at 10:07 AM  

This looks delicious!! I'm definitely a porridge lover, and I tend to use quinoa and buckwheat to make porridge as well. I went to Angry Almond the other day to pick up some steel-cut oats (inspired by this post) but they were out! Have you been raiding their supplies...? :P When I eventually get some I will be whipping up a porridge abd topping it with my homemade granola, yoghurt and fruit. Yum!

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