The last two times I've gone to the supermarket, I've noticed a peculiar thing in the bulk foods aisle. Three different people hanging around the oat bins looking confused. One of them asked me if I knew what the difference was between rolled oats and quick-cook oats. (Did I ever!!) I overheard another asking an assistant, "My wife wants me to buy oats for her morning oatmeal, what kind do I buy?"
So why all the confusion? Well, because the bulk aisle at Whole Foods actually sells four different kinds of oats. According to King Arthur, the differences are:
- Oat groats - the most unprocessed form of the grain that is still edible. The whole grain with the outer husk removed.
- Steel cut (also known as Irish or Scottish) - Oat groats that have been cut into a few pieces for faster cooking time.
- Rolled - Oat groats that have been steamed and rolled flat. These can be eaten raw or cooked. They are commonly used in muesli, granola and oatmeal cookies.
- Quick cook - Oat groats that have been cut into pieces, steamed and rolled flat.
Because the oats matter. You can't make a great bowl of oatmeal (I will get to it eventually) without the right oats. This bowl of steaming goodness will start your day off right and won't taste anything like the paste that results from dumping a bag of instant oatmeal into a cup of boiling water. Ok, wait, the oats.
Oat groats and steel cut oats taste nutty and have a creamy, silky texture while retaining a little bite. They really, really are so good. And, no matter how long you cook them, they don't get sticky as does oatmeal made from rolled or quick cook oats.
Before we go any further, please think back to all the bad oatmeal you've ever had. My sisters and I had to cook my own before school when I was a kid, and the single word that comes to mind is glue.
With oatmeal, taste really matters. Great, so why not eat groats every morning?
Unfortunately, the less processed an oat is, the longer it takes to cook. Oat groats and steel cut oats require anywhere from 40-60 minutes. Rolled oats require about 10 and quick cook require about 5.
BUT… I have discovered the secret to eating better oats with less work. With only the tiniest bit of forethought, you too can have delicious oatmeal without having to wait for an hour to eat.
Oh! And I forgot to mention toppings. As much as I love oatmeal, it does get a little boring every weekend. You can add textural and taste variety by experimenting with various seasonal toppings throughout the year. Since it's winter, this version makes use primarily of dried fruits and nuts
Better Winter Oatmeal
- Oat groats or steel cut oats - 1/3 c. per serving
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Toppings: dried apricot, prunes, raisins, nuts
- Maple syrup
The night before (here is the tiny bit of forethought part)...
Step 1: Place oats in a saucepan with a pinch of salt.
Step 2: Put on the kettle
Step 3: Go brush your teeth.
Step 4: When the kettle boils (conveniently right around the time you finish brushing your teeth), pour boiling water over the oats at a ratio of 3 parts water to 1 part oats. Put the lid on. Go to bed.
The next morning…
Bring the oats back to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. During this time prepare your toppings. Add the cinnamon to the oatmeal. Cut up the apricots and prunes and add them to the oatmeal pan to soften for a few minutes. Gently toast the nuts in a pan, coarsely chop and set aside.
When the oatmeal is cooked, stir in the raisins and nuts.
Serve the oatmeal with all the toppings mixed in, drizzled with pure maple syrup and a little milk.
Have I convinced you yet? I wasn't able to convince the woman at Whole Foods (she walked off about 200 words ago) but that isn't going to stop me from continuing to try to spread the word. I'm sure there will be another unsuspecting passerby perusing the oats this very weekend.