Doctor Doug's Guide to Steel Cut Oatmeal

Once upon a time, I went to a restaurant with friends, and had Steel Cut Oatmeal.  I thought it Mighty Tasty.  So I went home and thought I would buy some.  But it was crazy expensive.  But then Laurel was at our grocery store's bulk-foods section and it was positively thrifty.  So she bought some for me.  But cooking it is not trivial, and so I had to learn some things, and I am passing what I've learned on to you.  Please don't think I went to the library.  What you read below, like today’s teenagers’ sex lives, is a result of knowledge gained from internet research and primarily solitary experimentation.

Real quick: What are steel cut oats?

Before I answer that, do me a favor.  Go to your backyard, harvest some oats, and gettem ready for oatmeal.  If you rolled them out first, you made “Rolled Oats.”  If you didn't, you made “Steel Cut Oats.”  And Rolled Oats come in two varieties: “Instant” and “Regular.”  You probably grew up with “Instant,” and your grandparents ate “Regular.” 

So the Steel Cut ones, having had less processing, are more nutritious?

No.  Some sites say there is a measurable difference, but no sites say it is significant, and most say there is no difference at all in their nutritional value. 

What about Deliciousness?

This is a no brainer: Steel Cut is far better than rolled, and rolled is better than instant.  Actually, technically, they all have the same flavor.  But Oatmeal is also about consistency and aroma.  Steel Cut is the winner here.  Rolled is also good.  Once you have tried them, you won't be wanting Instant again.

Okay, what about convenience? 

This is the major issue.  Let's start with Instant vs. (regular) Rolled.  Both of them require you waiting to boil water.  Instant requires you to add the boiling water to the oatmeal for 30 seconds to a minute.  With Rolled you have to wait.  You have to wait for... FIVE MINUTES!  Yes!  That's still pretty close to "instant!"  We are not talking about a huge time savings when you go to instant.  And instant is more expensive, usually comes with the powdered chemical flavorings, and annoying paper packets.  Fear not the rolled oats in the cylindrical box - they will be done by the time you've started the coffee.  Boil water, add oatmeal, wait five minutes, done. 

Steel Cut Oatmeal, on the other hand, is a pain in the ass.

But what about the microw-

Don’t even.  Seriously.  Sucks.  Makes your oatmeal into a gelatinous mucoid mass.  No matter what kind. Don’t do it.

So how do YOU do Steel Cut Oatmeal?

I'm glad you asked that question; its answer was the inspiration for the article.  What follows is a little different than anything I've found on the internet.  Most internet recipies require you to get the amount of water just right, or you will burn it or make soup.  The Doctor Shaw method is foolproof! 

  1. Boil TOO MUCH water! More than you need. I go 4 - 5 cups or water for a cup of oats.
  2. Add oats and a bit of salt. The salt makes it taste toastier.  If you are cutting down on salt, use just a teeny bit or leave it out.
  3. Boil for 15 - 25 minutes. Note: The reason internet recipies are all over the map on cooking time is that it is based on preference! So go 15 minutes, taste, and keep going until you have the consistency you like.
  4. Get your eyes off of that microwave oven.  Never.  Not even once.
  5. Now here is the magic step. Get a strainer, and pour the oatmeal into it. It doesn't look like it will stay in the strainer, but it does. Then kind of roll it around in the strainer with a nice tossing motion. When I do it, the mass of oatmeal is briefly airborne with every roll. And the extra water will vacate your oatmeal, while the oatmeal will take on a lovely, perfect, oatmeal consistency.
  6. Put it in a bowl.  Then add what you like. Dress it up.  Tart it up.  Show it some love.  A bit of honey and cinnamon isn't going to kill your healthy diet, and a few dried cranberries aren't going to harm anyone. Oh and why not some more honey? And did you see some real maple syrup in your cabinet, all lonely? Go ahead. 
  7. I just did more internet research!  Some people add sliced almonds, strawberries, dried apples, dried pineapple (I just came up with that one), flavored yogurt, sliced bananas, apple butter, marmalade, pumpkin pie spice, etc.
  8. That's it!
Some mornings you aren't going to want to take the time to make the Steel Cut Oatmeal.  But I would urge you to go to your bulk food provider if you have one, and try some.  Like me, you may gain a new vice that isn't really a vice!

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Douglas J. Shaw,  2013