I first met Megan at a conference, I think? I’m a real loser when it comes to conferences – crowds make me feel like hiding under furniture, and my brain is a wide-mesh sieve for faces and names – but I think that’s how it happened. We met at a conference, and at some point down the line, she happened to hire our friend Sam to do the website for her granola company Marge, and at some point further down the line, Megan and Sam started dating, and at some point down the line from there, she became Our Friend Megan. I hope she will still be Our Friend Megan after I post this picture of her and Sam being pummeled by wind on Puget Sound.
If you like to eat, she’s a good person to know, especially if you like to eat breakfast, and particularly if you like to eat things involving oats. When I run out of homemade granola, hers is the only one I buy. In recent years, she’s done a lot of playing around with other grains, too, grains that tend to intimidate me but luckily not Megan, and about ten days ago, her first cookbook, Whole-Grain Mornings, was published by Ten Speed Press. You might have already heard of it – Heidi, for one, just mentioned Megan’s California Barley Bowl – but as soon as I tried her method for making steel-cut oatmeal, I knew I had to write about it.
I’ve been making oatmeal the same way forever: boiling three cups of water and half a teaspoon of kosher salt, stirring in a cup of steel cut oats, lowering the heat so that the pot just simmers, and letting it go like that until the cereal has thickened. It gets the job done, and it also has the benefit of being easy to make with one hand while I have a 25-pound person wrapped around my hip like a monkey. My oatmeal is good – I originally typed “my oatmeal is food,” and that’s also true – but Megan’s oatmeal is better.
It starts with an ingenious (ingenious!) idea: you toast the oats in butter. (!) This is, admittedly, somewhat difficult to do with one hand while you have a 25-pound person wrapped around your hip like a monkey, and if you saw me on my first time attempting it, you would also have heard a lot of cussing (me) and whining (me and June). But if you have two hands, it’s no big deal. It’s no more difficult than boiling water – about three parts water and one part milk, to be specific – which is what you do while the oats are toasting. You’ll know the oats are ready when the kitchen smells like you’re baking shortbread, and then you scrape the toasted oats into the pot of simmering water and milk and let the mixture roll slowly along for about half an hour, until the oats are plump and you’ve got soft, creamy porridge. I recommend that you top it with maple syrup.
I don’t know whether it’s the oat-toasting or the ratio of water to milk, or both, but Megan’s is a very special oatmeal. It’s velvety, velvet punched up with chewy oats. It’s perfectly salted and perfectly not-sweet. The entire recipe, which feeds four, has only a tablespoon of butter and a cup of milk, which I consider very reasonable, but it feels rich, satisfying. I might even call it luxurious, a word that was never intended for oatmeal. As soon as we’d finished our first batch, I made a second – this time at night, after June was in bed, so that I had full use of my limbs – and I can report that it reheats very well. It’s even good at room temperature, which probably sounds revolting, but I like it, so be nice. I made my third batch last night, and June and I took down half of it this morning. June likes hers with applesauce and plain yogurt, eats a full adult-size portion, and then mooches from my bowl when hers is gone.
Megan, it’s a keeper. xx
The original version of this recipe includes vanilla extract and raisins, but I’m a plain-oatmeal person, so what follows is the basic portion of the recipe. I hope Megan will forgive me for being boring.
I should note that both Megan and I use Diamond Crystal brand kosher salt, which tastes less salty than Morton brand. And as far as natural cane sugar goes, I use unbleached and unrefined cane sugar – bought in bulk at my local supermarket – but you could also use demerara, turbinado, or muscovado.
In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the oats, and cook, stirring occasionally, until quite fragrant, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
In a 2 ½- to 3-quart saucepan, bring the water, milk, sugar, and salt to a simmer. (Be careful: I find that this mixture goes quickly from zero to boiling and has a tendency to boil over.) Stir in the toasted oats. Adjust the heat to maintain a slow simmer, and partially cover the saucepan. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent clumping and scorching, until the mixture has thickened and the oats are soft, 25 to 30 minutes. The cereal will still be quite loose at this point, but don’t worry; it will continue to thicken. Remove the pan from the heat, allow it to rest for a few minutes (still partially covered), and then serve hot, with maple syrup, brown sugar, or honey.
Yield: 4 servings