I love porridge. In the pursuit of a perfect bowl of it, I’ve tried tons of different techniques, visited multiple porridge restaurants, participated in long WhatsApp exchanges about toppings and got a sugar high after overdoing it with dulce de leche on porridge at a friend’s house.
Porridge is my breakfast on most days, as it’s easy to make and is nutritious. It took me a bit to get to the type of porridge I enjoy eating. In this post, I cover the types of oats I use, my preferred cooking method, and the toppings I enjoy.
Oat flakes vs steel-cut oatmeal
Oat flakes, also known as rolled oats, are oat kernels that have been steamed and rolled into a symmetric shape during production. 1 I’ve been unable to make good porridge with oat flakes, fine or coarse. I think that the main reason is the large surface area of an oat flake: larger area means more water gets absorbed. I couldn’t get to a consistency other than too stiff, independently of the amount of liquid I use, when using oat flakes.
I do like oat flakes in overnight oats, flapjacks, cookies, and in granola. But not in porridge.
Instead, I prefer steel-cut oats. The first time I tried steel-cut oats after years of using oat flakes, the texture was a revelation. Steel-cut oats absorb less liquid than the flakes and result in the perfect creamy texture that’s not too dry and not too wet. I usually go with the thickest cut possible for the steel-cut oats.
There is a small problem with steel-cut oats, though, compared to the oat flakes: getting steel-cut oatmeal if you don’t live in the UK, Ireland, the US, or Canada is challenging. For example, here in Germany, I haven’t found a single supermarket, online or offline, that sells steel-cut oatmeal.
Where to get steel-cut oatmeal in Europe
Amazon UK seems to be the only place that would deliver steel-cut oats at a reasonable price across the EU. It was painful to pay more for shipping than for the oats itself, but the total cost per kilogram is still lower than any other way of ordering that I’ve found.
DIY steel-cut oats at German supermarkets?
My local organic supermarket sells whole oat grains. Cooking those takes a long time, and the result is closer to a cooked whole grain (e.g., rice) than porridge. However, the supermarket also has a grain grinder. In theory, it’s possible to grind your own oats on one of those machines.
I’ve only realised the importance of salt in porridge after starting to use steel-cut oats. There is a massive difference in flavour when using a pinch of salt per portion vs no salt at all, added at the very beginning of the cooking process.
I like the texture and the taste of porridge more when I use softened water (from a portable water filter). Almost all of the liquid you add to the oats will end up in oatmeal, and only a small amount will evaporate during cooking. So I use the water that I would enjoy drinking.
7:1 ratio of water to oats (by weight) results in fully cooked oats with a bit of crunch to them.
I’ve seen it recommended to toast the oats before cooking them. I think the difference in flavour is minimal so I usually go straight to cooking oats in water.
Starting with cold water slightly extends the cooking time and yields a softer texture than if starting with already boiling water.
I cook oats uncovered, bringing them to a boil on high heat and reducing to medium-low as soon as the pot boils. Stirring at the beginning doesn’t make much of a difference, but when most of the liquid is already absorbed, stirring frequently helps avoid any sticking or burning. I usually stir the porridge every couple of minutes.
At the very end of the cooking process, when the porridge is already of the right texture, I take it off the heat, cover it with a lid, and let it sit for another ten to twenty minutes while I do something else. The extra time softens the oats even more and allows the porridge to cool down to a temperature that’s reasonable for consumption.
My general preference is sweet toppings. While savoury toppings like adding a raw egg and have it cook from the heat of the oats sound cool, it’s just not for me.
In my opinion, the texture in toppings is as essential as in the porridge itself. Banana, for example, is one of the best sweet toppings on oatmeal because it’s very soft and still different from the texture of the porridge. But harder things like whole almonds can create an unpleasant difference in textures.
Small seeds like flax seeds are usually fine; they add a little crunch without causing any texture issues. Walnuts are softer than almonds, so they are alright too. If I had to add almonds, I’d add sliced almonds rather than whole almonds.
I like salt on top of sweet toppings. Maldon or other less trendy types of sea salt work great.
A few combinations of toppings I like:
- Banana + almond butter + chocolate + sea salt
- Frozen blueberries (they thaw in the porridge) + flax seeds
- Peanut butter + honey (dangerous)
- Banana + dulce de leche + salted almonds (a friend’s creation that resulted in the only sugar high I can personally recall)
I’m surprised that nut butter isn’t a common porridge topping. I’ve seen a café add peanut butter to porridge but in trace amounts — not enough! I would always take the texture of nut butter over whole nuts in oatmeal.
One more reason to like nut butter on porridge: you probably know that oats are almost entirely carbohydrates with low protein content. Nut butter, on the other hand, is quite rich in protein (and, certainly, fat). Adding protein to your porridge can reduce the overall insulin response vs. porridge with no protein. 2 Porridge and nut butters were made for each other. I like adding almond butter, sunflower seed butter and walnut butter are also great. I usually stay away from peanut butter.
I like my porridge as I make it today, and I’m looking forward to improving it further. I’ll continue experimenting with different toppings. I’m also going to try gluten-free steel-cut oats once I find them in stock somewhere.