steel yourself for winter

Summer day after summer day at our family cottage, us kids would wake at 6 am to our grandfather’s porridge. He’d put it on the old stove long before then, and retreated to the forest to chop wood or “putter,” as our parents called it.

Slowly, we’d rise, assembling one by one by the fire he’d made.

steel cut oats

I didn’t love oatmeal then, but I loved him and so I ate it anyway.

I’ll always associate this storied Three Bears dish with him, doling it out into bowls for our crew of cousins. We’d sit out on the deck around a cracked wooden table, the girls in baby-doll nighties, and him hovering over us with the pot. I’m not sure if it’s a photograph I see or a real memory.

steel cut oats

I guess we all come back to porridge, because lately it’s all I’ve been craving. I’ve also recently discovered the steel cut, or Irish variety, which is less processed and more “whole” than its instant cousins.

Calorie-wise there is no nutritional difference between steel cut and rolled, but the extra steps in the processing of rolled oats does diminish some of the micronutrients (like magnesium and selenium) that oats have to offer. Steel cut oats are whole groats that have been chopped into two or three pieces. Rolled oats are groats that have been steamed and pressed. Quick or instant oats have been chopped, steamed, pressed, cooked, and dried. Even the littlest bear doesn’t want that in her bowl.

steel cut oats

steel cut oats

Oats are a superfood like no other. They stabilize your blood sugar, meaning you won’t get hungry as soon after eating breakfast. They also lower your cholesterol, and are high in fiber and protein.

But besides health, steel cut oats are just so much better than the instant ones. I can’t even begin to explain it. They create their own starchy sauce while they cook, and when their done still have an al dente chewy snap that other hot cereals don’t hold a candle to. They also keep really well in the fridge, so you can make a huge batch on Sunday evening and have it for breakfast all week.

steel cut oats

Making this hearty breakfast is a snap. For two servings, dry toast 1 cup of oats to give them a nice, nutty taste. You can do this right in the pot you’ll be using, stirring constantly over high heat for 2 minutes, or until you can smell them toasting.

Then add 3 cups of water to the saucepan (remove it from heat while you do this, or it might splatter, and watch out for steam!), stir, and lower the heat to medium-low. DO NOT ADD SALT. Salt inhibits the release of starch, and will stop your oats from becoming as creamy as they were meant to be. Now you can go take a shower or do what you need to do for about 20 minutes, without stirring them once. You’ll find the heat setting on your element that’s right for you…the stew should gradually thicken and bubble gently. The higher the heat, the faster they’ll cook.

When you come back to your oats, they should be nice and tender, and just beginning to stick to the bottom of the pan. It’s no problem if they’re sticking a bit, unless you have the heat too high, they’ll scrape right off.

Scoop a generous portion for yourself into a bowl, and sprinkle with a little good-quality sea salt (we’re lucky to have some from Slovenia kickin’ around right now, a gift from a friend). Salt actually increases the natural sweetness of the oats: you might not even need sugar! If you want it, add brown sugar or maple syrup to taste, a shake of cinnamon, and some milk.

And once, promise me at least once, you’ll try it with whole milk or a splash of cream. To feed a bigger crowd or have leftovers for mornings ahead, simply increase your oats and water proportionally.

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