Put down the dusty instant packets and get the cream.
When the temperature drops and leaving the womb in the morning becomes even more difficult, I use breakfast as a bribe. Sometimes it’s a sesame bagel with a touch of scallion cream cheese from my corner bodega; less often they are homemade pancakes with lots of chocolate chips. However, the most common is oatmeal. I know what you’re thinking: boring!
I blame those dusty packets of instant oatmeal for oatmeal’s reputation as a bad diet food. But believe me when I say it doesn’t have to be that way. The cozy pantry staple is a blank canvas just waiting to be gilded with all the power of your fridge — from miso-glazed mushrooms to a generous drizzle of tahini diluted with maple syrup. Why stop at a handful of frozen blueberries? The time has come for sumptuous oatmeal, and here’s my strategy for preparing it.
Good oatmeal starts with the right oats – more specifically, with the right oats. Steel oats – you’ve probably heard of them – are pieces of the whole oat plant from which only the inedible husk has been removed and sliced to allow the starch to practically melt in the cooking liquid. Boiling in enough water to coat the oatmeal for about 30 minutes melts the small pellets into an ultra-creamy, velvety goo without the need for milk. It’s ideal for relaxed brunches, but not suitable for Monday mornings. But that doesn’t have to hold you back.
The cozy pantry staple is a blank canvas just waiting to be gilded with all the power of your fridge.
I first came across this cooking method with Christina Chaey divided using their make-ahead method Enjoy your food in September 2020. She pointed out that cooked rolled oats in the steel tray keep for days in the fridge, and then can be easily warmed and fluffed up on the stovetop or in the microwave with a splash of water or your favorite milk. Now, if I have the foresight, I’ll make a big pot of oatmeal for breakfast on Sunday and then I’ll be ready to build the base for the different flavors throughout the week.
While the cooked oatmeal is in the fridge, I turn to the toppings. My ideal oatmeal always has a creamy component (nut butter, tahini, cream), something fruity (golden raisins, sliced apples, whatever flavor the Bonne Maman jam may have hanging on the door of my fridge) and a bunch of yummy sprinkles (toasted coconut, buckwheat groats, sesame). A sprinkling of brown sugar is mandatory, but my best bowls don’t stop there with the luxe touches.
Eat Chef Los Angeles Minh Phan’s soupy, congee-like mushroom porridge Porridge and puffs— a wonderful restaurant currently on hiatus but set to reopen this winter — inspired me to add miso and chili to the mix to make the dishes hearty. I took a page from the playbook of West Taghkanic Diner in upstate New York and dunked bags of Earl Gray in my original cooking liquid for a subtle tea flavor (and caffeine boost). And lately I’ve been stirring steamed and then mashed sweet potatoes into the mash for extra sweetness and flavor.
It’s all oatmeal, regardless of flavor profiles or health ambitions. The ethos of making it opulent is simple: let your cravings and the contents of your pantry guide you, and deliciousness will follow.