Proper Oatmeal

I eat oatmeal for breakfast frequently. I have developed very specific ideas about what makes a great bowl of oatmeal over the years I’ve been preparing the hot cereal at home, and adjusting my technique to accommodate my preferences.

I think a proper bowl of oatmeal should be more creamy than chewy. I like the oats to retain a little bit of chew, but not very much. The cereal should not be stiff, but it shouldn’t be totally runny and fluid either–a middle ground is called for. I like fruit in my oatmeal, especially blueberries, but I don’t like for the fruit to be cooked to death.

Quick-cooking oats are an abomination to me because they lack texture and flavor. It’s like eating a bowl of papier-mache. At the other end of the spectrum, I don’t care for Irish type oats much, either. I have tried to like them but they are a different food to me than the oatmeal I love. (They also take too long for my morning routine.) Quaker oats are the minimum acceptable oat in my book, but the best oats are the organic ones from the bulk bin at a natural foods market. These are usually milled so that the flattened grains are thicker and coarser than the Quaker variety, which means that they take longer to cook but have noticeably more flavor and texture to offer. I store these oats in a large Quaker oatmeal canister that normally lives near the stove.

I cook my oatmeal by putting two parts of filtered water in a shallow pot on high heat. When the water boils, I stir in one part organic oats. If I am adding dried fruit, I also stir it in at this time (which gives it a chance to fully rehydrate). I let the oats boil, stirring periodically, until the sound of the pot becomes louder–this indicates that most of the water has been absorbed or evaporated. My husband likes his oats less cooked and less liquidy than I do, so if I’m making us both some oatmeal I’ll pull his out of the pot at this point. I then stir in a half-part of milk–vanilla soymilk is also good here–and let the cereal cook down some more. Stir often, scraping the sides and the bottom of the pot. When most of the milk is absorbed by the oats, they’re basically ready. If I add frozen blueberries, I do so when most of the milk is absorbed and stir, cooking only until the berries are hot all the way through before removing from heat. If I add fresh blueberries (my favorite), I put them in the bowl, pour the hot oatmeal on top, and stir well to heat the berries without causing them to burst.

I like my oatmeal with good cinnamon and a combination of Splenda and brown sugar, but you can flavor it as you please after it’s cooked.

Oatmeal will be even creamier if you cook it entirely in milk rather than the water-then-milk sequence I like to use. You can also cook it over lower heat and take more time for a creamier result, but I’m usually hungry and have a toddler pulling at my pants leg while I make oatmeal. Using high heat (I actually use the “power burner” on my range) gets me the texture I like in minimal time, although it does require vigilance to prevent sticking or scorching.

Start to finish, I usually have oatmeal within 10-12 minutes using this technique. (It’s about the same amount of time as it takes for me to brew the half-pot of coffee I make most mornings, making for a perfect breakfast.)

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