Savory Steel-Cut Oatmeal Skirlie

In food on 01/29/2009 at 9:41 am

I didn’t grow up with much of a sweet tooth. It wasn’t cultivated as much as kids from the European tradition. I didn’t even really eat cereal for breakfast until college. Then I ate it for lunch and dinner too. As for oatmeal? I think I tried one of those Quaker microwaveable packets once and nearly puked. Hot artificial fruity flavors, ugh. AND total violation of my anti-mushy rule. Enter McCann’s steel cut oats in that handsome cylindrical tin.

It’s expensive as all get out, but nutty, hearty, rib-sticking QQ and not mushy if you cook it right. But it takes forever and I don’t yearn for it like I don’t yearn for congee, unless I have a stomach virus. Then it’s congee for days, with soy-pickled cukes and pork dust.

The Scots love their oats like the Irish with their potatoes. The chilly weather back in the day didn’t permit growing other grains as well. They like it in everything. Haggis, the Scottish meatloaf, even employs oats as the binder for all those lovely innards. According to superstition, porridge should only be stirred in a clock-wise direction using the right hand so you don’t evoke the Devil. The stirring is done with a straight wooden spoon /stick without a molded or flat end known as a Spurtle or Theevil.  Thus the trophy given to the winner at the annual World Porridge Championships in Carrbridge, Scotland is a Golden Spurtle. The specialty dish winner last year: Marzipan porridge with Glenfiddich whisky ice cream and vanilla marinated stewed apple.

The other half relishes the milk-steeped, butter, sugared type of skirlie which is also known as brose: uncooked soaked oats in butter and cream. Vermonters, highest per capita consumers of oats in the States, continued the tradition by soaking oats overnight with water, maple syrup and salt. I wanted my oatmeal savory, so I came up with a relish that could top the same base of cooked oats.

Some shortcuts were discovered along the way. First, do as the Scots do: 1 cup of steel-cut oats soaked in 2 cups of water. Leave overnight at room temp or in the fridge, covered. The oats don’t expand much, nor do they soak up all the water. Drain the water before cooking, pour 1.5 cups milk or water over 1 cup oats and boil for less than 5 minutes or until desired creaminess. I find this amount makes 3 or 4 servings. Make the oats even more nutty by toasting them in an ungreased skillet for a few minutes on high before the overnight soak.

Cheap it out by buying the bulk variety at 99¢ a pound. It saves you at least $6 over the formidable McCann’s. You sacrifice the beautiful can, but it tastes the same! There’s also the quick cooking steel cut oats from Trader Joe’s if you forget the overnight soak or suddenly get an extreme craving. They cook up in 5-7 mins while still tasting “real”. Oatmeal also works great packed in lunches. They zap up nice sprinkled with milk or water, and retain their texture, unlike rice.

Lastly, my relish:

1 onion, sliced

1 tomato, chopped

Saute the onion until carmelized, then add tomato until softened. Salt and pepper to taste. To amp it up even more, add a touch of soy sauce or fish sauce, garnish with scallions. If you’re feeling especially starving, crack an egg on top the final seconds and swirl in until cooked. Top this on your oatmeal while your compatriots eat their sweet oats.


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