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In Search of Perfect Porridge

I don’t like instant porridge, I much prefer making it properly from oats.  I thought I was good at making it until I tried it at Galton Blackiston’s Morston Hall hotel in Norfolk, where it is simply amazing (as was all of his food).  I’ve a vague idea on how he does it (he does some sort of overnight cooking/soaking of steel cut oats and cooks it with butter and cream), but since trying it I’ve been on a quest to find the best possible recipe combinations I can, some variations of which are here.

Cooking Method Variations

  • The slow cooker does well when you use rolled oats, but not so well with steel cut oats
  • The pressure cooker randomly seems to do either really well, or burns everything.  Also a pain to clean, especially if I use the release valve to depressurise it, at which point porridge shoots up blocking the mechanism.  If you choose to use a pressure cooker, you’ve GOT to depressurise slowly
  • Sous vide inside mason jars at 60-65 degrees C.  This has the benefit that you won’t overcook it easily, and can start cooking the night before.  I have found that you have to cook in just water though – I tried it with milk overnight, but it curdled.  In fact, this seems to be a general rule anyway – cook the porridge in water and maybe salt ONLY, then flavour with milk or whatever else AFTER it’s cooked.  The drawback with sous vide is that the water doesn’t evaporate in the same way as it does with other methods, and the oats come out with a very different texture
  • On the hob – possibly the best way for all but steel cut oats
  • Combination of sous vide and finishing on the hob – sous vide can be used (again with mason jars) before finishing off on the hob.  This lets you use tougher “cuts” of oats as they soften a few hours first, but then you can adjust the texture and liquid amount easily on the hob.

Ingredient Variations

  • Milk and sugar – just a boring but classic way of doing it
  • Coconut milk or almond milk – I tried these thinking it’d be interesting to add new flavours, and also that I could maybe throw them in overnight without the risk of them curdling like milk does.  They ended up too sweet for my pallet though.
  • Oat milk – This was an attempt at making the oats more oat flavoured.  It didn’t really work though.
  • Soy milk – I found this quite similar to just using regular milk.  The flavour is subtly different, but not something I’d go out of my way for.
  • Cream – possibly the best tasting liquid to add, but to my taste it makes it a bit too heavy, so I can only eat half a portion with cream added.
  • Coco nibs – these are quite a hard texture.  I’d hoped they would soften like the oat nibs, but it didn’t really work out so well.
  • Dried fruit – seems obvious, but this works pretty well
  • Jam – again, an obvious choice
  • Rolled oats – Gives a blander texture, more like wallpaper compared to steel cut oats
  • Steel cut oats – these took me AGES to find in the UK, but you can get them at Amazon and in some shops if you look hard enough.  They give a much better flavour than rolled oats, but are much harder to cook and take far longer.  Once cooked, you can refrigerate them a few days and reheat later and they still taste about the same (don’t refrigerate with any flavouring ingredients added though as this will make it go off faster)

Things I will try but haven’t yet:

  • Cooking in butter
  • Soaking overnight in milk in the fridge, then cooking
  • Mixing various amounts of steel cut, rolled, and quick cook oats to try to finesse the texture
  • Working out some savoury flavours, maybe something surprising.

Anybody want to share some perfect porridge tips?

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The “Chef” and the Butcher

Once when we were talking to the local butcher, my wife joked that I was her personal chef.  I said I wasn’t a chef, but I think somehow it’s stuck, and now every time we go in he wants my opinion on how I’d cook various unusual pieces of meat.  I once cooked something reasonably complicated and took it back for him to try (at his request), and I can’t help but think this cemented his idea of me working as a chef.