This article over at Apartment Therapy got me to thinking about steel-cut oats again. It’s similar in concept to one on Good Eats from a few years back, except that this is for baked, and Alton’s was for slow cooker. The underlying approach is the same: cook the steel-cut oats very slowly, and give them a long, long time to absorb all the moisture.

Experiment 1: Of course, I’m not one to bake my oatmeal in milk. Instead, I used beef broth, with a touch of dry sherry, plus salt and some grinds of rosemary & garlic and dried mushrooms. No potato because I wanted to see what the baseline was like, and besides, we were out. The broth/oats ratio was 3:1 by volume. Mixed it all together, put it in our toaster oven for two hours at 220F, went to bed. That’s cooler and longer than the recipe calls for, but it isn’t slow cooker territory.

Seven hours later it was a warm slab of oatcake, or maybe oat stuffing, about twice the size of my usual breakfast. It was solid enough to pick up in your hand, but not solid enough to survive the trip up to your mouth. Maybe you should use two hands. I reheated it in the microwave, with a pat of butter (OK, three pats).

Result: The flavor was not memorable, but not bad. Needed more sherry, but not much. Like most of my beef-broth oats, this needed something like gravy. This is the drawback of savory cooking — you can’t just reach for the jug of toffee-flavored non-dairy creamer, you have to plan ahead. Much like the recipe that started my Oataku Adventures, it would be helped by some pepper and some sharp cheddar. I’m going to keep working on it.

Experiment 2: Chicken broth this time (3/4 cup), with 1/4 cup of white wine, and only a quarter cup of steel-cut oatmeal. Poultry seasoning, freeze dried onion, a couple grinds of garlic, salt. Cooked for four hours at 220F. Put a generous sprinkle of shaved Parmesan on top while I reheated it.

Result: Very good. A more reasonable size, and an improvement on the beef. I’m thinking there’s something that makes chicken go better with oats than beef does. The extra liquid softened the eraser effect, and made the whole thing look more like oatmeal than oat-cake. This could even make me a fan of steel-cut oats.

Experiment 3: Back to the beef broth. This time with wine. 3/4 cup broth, 1/4 cup red wine, 1/4 cup oats. Onion, marjoram, garlic, salt. Four hours at 225F. Reheated in the microwave, and topped with shredded Swiss cheese.

Result: Better than the first beef run. Probably a little too much wine. It didn’t taste winey, but it had that bitter edge to it.

Experiment 4: So let’s see what all this milk thing is about. Cuppa milk (real, whole, cow by-product). 1/4 cup oats. Glop of sugar free fruit preserves. Two hours at 225F. Reheated in the microwave.

Result: Meh. Bland. Even more jam didn’t help.

Experiment 5: Back to more manly stuff. Cuppa beer (Coors, the IPA was too bitter). 1/4 cup oats. Two hours at 225F. Reheated in the microwave.

Result: Still too bitter. Even with a quarter cup of beef broth added. Even with a tablespoon of BBQ sauce added to that. Two tablespoons of ketchup did the trick. Sortof.

I’m now out of steel-cut, and I don’t plan to buy any more any time soon. My last quarter cup of Coors I will try out on the 20-min rolled oats.

Lessons Learned

The long, slow, low-temp cook is a great way to do steel-cut oats, assuming you feel you have to. Use about half as much as you usually do, because my fancy european scale says a quarter cup of steel-cut weighs almost exactly twice what a quarter cup of rolled oats does. Chicken broth is the preferred cooking fluid, at least 3:1 by volume, and one additional unit of white wine can be added, if you like. Whatever the fluid (OK, maybe not dashi, but I didn’t try it) you should consider putting a fat pinch of grated cheese on top at the end. Any cooking time over two hours seems to work. I prefer a small oven-proof bowl in our small toaster oven. That way I don’t have to heat the whole stove oven, and I don’t have to fight with the big ceramic insert on a slow cooker.

And, yes, in all these experiments, the final consistency of these long-cook steel-cut oats was still that of tiny-but-exquisitely-prepared, pencil erasers.


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2 Responses to “SteelyO’s”

  1. Kurt Says:

    To quick cook steel oats, use a 1:2 ratio with water. For softer oats (cooked a bit longer, say 10-12 minutes or more, I use 1:3). Although I also sometimes go the rice pudding route and drop in raisins and chopped apples (and cinnamon), when I need my comfort oats. The raisins and apples produce and then soak up liquid (so I’m not sure how much they actually affect the ratio–probably not enough to worry about, and I dump in a good handful of each). Frozen blueberries, however, are a different story–between the blueberry juice and the frozen water, they definitely add more liquid overall.

    On the cheese side, I’m been tempted to layer with cheddar or goat cheese, then toast it with our little kitchen torch (to seal in the “juices” and make for a nice crust).

  2. Kurt Says:

    If your oats are rubbery, use more liquid and cook them longer. I used to think the same, but our local Whole Foods sells them cooked at the breakfast bar and they’re always soft–I noticed they use more water in their cooking than the package typically calls for. So I tried that at home, on days when I’m not in a rush. Works.

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