Monday, December 13, 2010

Irish-American Oatmeal

Here are two versions of this thick and creamy Irish oatmeal recipe, the original is from Cook’s Illustrated (membership required) courtesy of my sister. My preferred recipe is one I adapted to my own tastes. Both recipes are below with my simplified and preferred recipe first. Both recipes work well with the steel cut Irish oats or with the more customary American style rolled oats. It's great for breakfast or any time.

This recipe makes a big batch, which is handy to re-heat as needed during the week. I refer to it here as Irish-American Oatmeal, as it is based on the original "Irish Oatmeal" recipe but I have adapted it to my American tastes. Over time, I have become accustomed to the coarse cut oats. There is some discussion whether there are more health benefits from steel cut oats than rolled oats; but in the end I think its just a matter of preference.

Thick and Creamy Oatmeal

• 4 cups water
• 2 cups milk of choice (my preference: 1 cup soy milk & 1 cup fat-free milk)
• 2 cups rolled oats (not instant)* or steel cut oats (if using steel-cut, you may need up to 2 cups more liquid)

Optional: (see more optional ingredients and toppings below)**
• 1  apple, peeled and chopped (it's OK to throw apples in once the oatmeal starts to thicken)
• 1 cup raisins (prefer California Golden raisins; rinse to clean them and soak them while oats are cooking)

*If using rolled oats, use Old Fashioned Oats that normally require 5 minutes cooking time.

Combine the ingredients in any order in a large, heavy-duty pan; I usually start with the oats and let them toast while I prepare the liquids. Bring to a low rolling boil (about 5 minutes, watch carefully so it doesn't boil over) and cook over medium-low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally; you may need to reduce heat as it thickens so it doesn't stick to the bottom of the pan (or after it comes to a boil, set on lowest heat for up to an hour). Add chopped apple and raisins and continue to cook for an additional 7 minutes or until the apples are softened. There's no harm in cooking this longer, but it does thicken as it settles.

That's it. It's just a little more time-consuming than the 5-minute variety but it is so much creamier and smoother, it's worth the extra effort. This makes a big batch so put the leftovers in the fridge and heat up a bowlful at a time; reheat a minute or so in the microwave or on the stove with a little more liquid. This actually tastes better the next day or even a few days later. It shouldn't require any additional milk when served and the plump and juicy raisins and apples should provide all the sweetness you could want. Of course, you can add your own optional ingredients and try different ways of cooking it. One of these days I'm going to put all the ingredients in a slow cooker and see how that comes out - how simple would that be?

Here is the original recipe, which uses the steel cut oats. It's good, too, but I prefer the taste without the salt and butter.

Cooks Illustrated Irish Oatmeal*

Ingredients (4 servings)
• 3 cups water
• 1 cup whole milk
• 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
• 1 cup steel cut oatmeal ~ Irish oatmeal (example: McCann's, see prep hints)
• 1/4 teaspoon salt (save salt for last 7 – 10 minutes of cooking time)

Ingredients (doubled, 8 servings)
6 cups water
2 cups milk
2 TBSP butter
2 cups oats
1/2 tsp. Salt (save salt for last 7 – 10 minutes of cooking time)

1. In a large saucepan bring water and milk to simmer over medium heat. (When bringing milk to the boiling point, stand by the pot to ensure it does not boil over ~ put a clear (if possible) cover on the pan to hasten the process but leave it tilted so the steam can escape.)
2. Meanwhile, heat butter in a medium skillet (a wok works well) over medium heat until just beginning to foam; add oats and toast the oats, stirring constantly with wooden spoon, until golden and fragrant, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
3. Stir toasted oats into the simmering liquid; reduce heat to medium-low; stir occasionally, about 20 minutes uncovered.
4. Add salt and continue cooking, stirring occasionally 7 to 10 minutes more.
5. Let stand 5 minutes.

Start to Finish: 30 minutes.
*Original recipe from a hand-written note (parentheses are my additions)

**Optional Extras: (not in the original recipe) and not needed to enjoy this thick and creamy dish.

For added sweetness, top with agave nectar, sugar, sugar substitute or maple syrup.
If oatmeal is too thick, top with a splash of milk.

Stir in any of the following fresh or dried fruit, nuts, grains, and flavorings or use your own favorite near the end of cooking time; for the most part, they only require 5 minutes or less.

· Apples and raisins make a great combination and you probably won’t need sugar
· Flax seeds and/or sesame seeds (add with the oats)
- Peeled and chopped fresh peach, pear, or apple: 1 piece of fruit or 1 cup
· Prunes
· Raisins, currants, or snipped pitted whole dates, 1/4 cup
· Dried cherries, dried cranberries, dried apricots or other dried fruit
· Wheat berries that have been precooked in apple juice
· Raw unsalted cashews – may be sprinkled on top
· A dash of cinnamon (or 1/8 teaspoon)
· A “tropical trail mix” (nuts) with dried shredded coconut
· Semi-sweet chocolate bits – add a handful after cooking in the standing phase

PS: Enjoying the coarse cut Irish Oatmeal at work.