Oatmeal. It’s not the most glamorous subject, is it?
I grew up eating oatmeal for breakfast on a fairly regular basis. My Dad would often make it for us on cold, winter mornings before school. Sometimes it would be plain and I would eat it with butter and a bit of brown sugar. That wasn’t so bad. Some mornings, he would add chopped dried apricots, my favorite way to eat oatmeal. But more often than not, he would cook it with raisins. Plump, rehydrated raisins. Yuck! While I now look back on those mornings with a certain fondness, I certainly wasn’t in love with oatmeal at the time!
I preferred things like my Mom’s french toast with butter and powdered sugar or my Dad’s soft-boiled eggs served over buttered toast. And as far as hot cereals went, I loved the smooth and creamy bowls of ‘mush’ that I would eat at my Nana’s house (which I later found out was just boiled cornmeal). Lumpy oatmeal with rehydrated, squishy raisins just wasn’t my idea of a wonderful breakfast in those days.
But tastes change and now I enjoy eating oatmeal for breakfast. Even with raisins. And no, I’m not talking about the little packets of overly-sweetened, artificially-flavored instant oatmeal. I like the texture of old-fashioned rolled oats and, even more, steel cut oats. When I have children, they’ll be eating oatmeal for breakfast, just like I did, squishy raisins and all! By the way, do you know that it only takes five minutes to cook rolled oats? Five minutes! With all the varieties of ‘instant’ and ‘quick-cooking’ oatmeal available, you’d think that cooking the regular kind must take forever! Wrong.
So now let me tell you a little more about my latest oatmeal love: steel cut oats! I like to think of steel cut oatmeal as ‘oatmeal for adults.’ Why? Because it has a wonderful, chewy texture that I think is more appealing to me now than it would have been when I was a kid. Steel cut oatmeal does take longer to cook, usually about 25 minutes. But the great thing about steel cut oatmeal is that it can be made in advance because it reheats so well!
I like to make a large batch of it once a week, then divide it between individual plastic containers. In the mornings I can pull out my little container of oatmeal, pour a little milk on it, and pop it in the microwave. It’s my own version of instant oatmeal! The steel cut oatmeal retains it’s chewy texture and you’d never guess it wasn’t fresh off the stove. Have you ever tried reheating oatmeal made from rolled oats? It turns into a gummy, gluey mess!
You see, I never have an appetite in the morning so I really have to force myself to eat breakfast. Yes, I know that I just got through telling you that old-fashioned oatmeal only takes five minutes to cook. But when I don’t feel like eating anyway, I generally won’t put any effort into breakfast at all. This is where my pre-cooked steel cut oats come in. If all I have to do is take the container out of the fridge and pop it in the microwave, I’m much more likely to eat breakfast. It’s even easier than pouring a bowl of cold cereal. It’s true that I don’t ever want to eat breakfast in the morning, but my day sure goes a lot smoother when I do!
I first tried steel cut oats several years ago. At the time, the only brand I knew was McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal. It comes in a pretty metal can, is imported from Ireland, and is rather expensive! I’ll admit that the reason I first bought it was because I wanted that beautiful black, white and gold can (to this day, I still use the can to store spare change). But it turned out that I really enjoyed the oatmeal inside the can, too! Due to the price, steel cut oatmeal was a luxury rather than a regular part of my diet for a few years. But when we moved to San Diego, I had access to several stores that sell steel cut oats in bulk, for a much better price. And now, thankfully, steel cut oats are gaining in popularity and are therefore much easier to find in regular grocery stores.
With it’s recent surge in popularity, you might think that steel cut oats are a new superfood or are somehow much healthier than other types of oatmeal. The truth is that old-fashioned rolled oats and steel cut oats basically have the same nutritional value. They are both made from whole grain oat groats, they are just processed differently. And yes, they are both extremely good for you (but you knew that already)!
When rolled oats are made, the oat groats are steamed and rolled flat under heavy metal rollers. This process results in the familiar-looking flat, flaky oats. Quick-cooking and instant oatmeal are processed even further and in some cases, some of the bran may be removed. If you want to make sure you’re getting all the good stuff, buy old-fashioned rolled oats, remember they cook up in only five minutes!
So if rolled oats are actually rolled, can you guess what happens when steel cut oats are made? That’s right, the oat groats are cut into small pieces rather than rolled. Common sense argues that since these steel cut oats are processed even less than the rolled oats, they are probably a tiny bit healthier for us. But both types of oats retain the bran and germ, and both types are still considered to be whole grain. I prefer steel cut oats for the texture, but if they happen to retain a bit more nutrition due to the minimal processing, then that’s even better!
Steel cut oats may also be called Irish oats, Scotch oats or pinhead oats. Keep an eye out for them in the cereal section of your supermarket or the bulk bins of your local health food store. If you decide to buy it in bulk, here are some general cooking guidelines:
Steel Cut Oatmeal
For one serving: 1 1/2 cups water and 1/4 cup oats
For four servings or more: Use 1 cup of water per 1/4 cup oats for each serving (i.e. 4 cups water/1 cup oats for four servings)
Bring water to boil in a medium saucepan (or large saucepan if making several servings at once). Stir in oats and immediately reduce heat to low. Watch carefully, because the water might foam up and boil over! (If using an electric stove, and the water foams up before the burner cools down enough, briefly lift the pan off the heat and the foam will subside). Simmer uncovered over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 25-30 minutes or until oats are of desired texture.
Notes: If making ahead with plans to reheat, I cook the oats for only 20-25 minutes. I like to add a tiny pinch of salt when I add the oats to the water, but this is entirely optional. If you want to add dried fruit while the oatmeal is cooking, add a bit of extra water. I like to cook 8 servings at a time: I let the oatmeal cool slightly then divide into 8 small plastic containers, which can be refrigerated for up to one week. To reheat, add a splash of milk or water, then microwave until heated through. Stir and serve plain or with desired toppings. I’m sure the oatmeal can also be frozen and reheated, but I haven’t tried that myself!
So what do you like to eat on your oatmeal? My standard used to be a bit of milk, butter, and brown sugar. But now I like to eat it with fresh berries or dried fruit and a small handful of chopped nuts. Sometimes I cook the dried fruit with the oatmeal, sometimes I throw it in as I’m reheating it, or sometimes I just add it at the very end. My favorite dried fruits are apricots, cherries, or cranberries. But this morning, I ate my oatmeal with nothing but a handful of plump, squishy raisins!
Whether you prefer steel cut or rolled oats, a bowl of warm oatmeal is a delicious, healthy and easy way to start the day. Give it a try, your body will thank you!
You can learn more about the health benefits of eating oats at The World’s Healthiest Foods.
Around the Web: