The oatmeal most Americans know is hearty and nutritious — but unnecessarily pasty and bland. We can do better.
Common supermarket oatmeal is made from "rolled oats." Oat grains are rolled between big rollers to flatten the grains. Advantage: It cooks in minutes. Disadvantage: It's mush. Scottish and Irish oats are "steel cut" oats. The grains are chopped into pieces by steel blades. When cooked, they retain their texture and offer a nice, nutty bite.
Steel-cut oats used to be hard to find but have become much more common. Even the venerable Quaker brand now comes in a steel-cut variety. McCann's is the classic Irish brand. Avoid any instant or fast-cooking variety — they just don't have the same toothsome texture. You can also find them in the bulk grain bins, where they are a real bargain. Even at the pricey Whole Foods, bulk oatmeal costs a third of what the packaged brands charge.
They're easy to cook: One cup of oats to four cups of water and a pinch of salt, simmered uncovered for about 20 minutes. Or a cup of oats and three cups of water, simmered for 20 minutes with a cover.
A batch this size makes two to three servings for me. I usually make it on Sundays, refrigerate the leftovers, and have it on two additional days during the week.
Simmering is simple but I usually add a step, which I originally learned from Alton Brown. A light toasting in a very small amount of butter gives it a very satifying roasted grain taste. It uses the same pot, so there's no additional cleanup.
Cook a cup of oats with 1/2 - 1 tablespoon of butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring often, until the grain browns slightly and smells toasty. Let it cool for a couple of minutes and add four cups of water and a pinch of salt. (If you don't let it cool, the water will boil wildly when it hits the pan and splatter.) Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes until it's the consistency you like.
Makes enough for 2 large or 4 small servings.
I like it with brown sugar and milk and sometimes cinnamon or fruit.