Recipes reimagine porridge, hearty breakfast of childhood
Sweet, savoury, crunchy and creamy, oatmeal and its iterations are flexible favourites
Porridge is the breakfast of so many childhoods. It's quick, hearty, inexpensive and a staple of kitchen tables around the world.
You may have grown up on old-old-fashioned, steel-cut oatmeal or those little packets of instant oats, congee, Cream of Wheat, Sunny Boy or Red River, which is a combination of wheat, rye and flax. A lot of us either love it or hate it now, as a result.
While the term porridge may conjure images of oatmeal, it can refer to any number of grains: wheat, rye, barley, millet, rice or buckwheat. It's simmered and served soft or firm, sweet or savoury.
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Congee, an Asian dish of rice boiled in stock, is savoury and comforting, with added ingredients ranging from shredded chicken or ground pork to scallions or crispy onions, fish sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, chilies and the like.
When it comes to oats, simmered on the stove with some cinnamon, I come from the camp that prefers a less stodgy bowl with more distinct, chewy grains.
Robin, a Calgary Eyeopener listener, recently enlightened me to his oatmeal-making process, which was a game-changer.
He starts by browning the grains, seeds and nuts in a saucepan. He uses a blend of rolled oats and rolled barley, which has the same texture and flavour as oats, and adds any combination of nuts and seeds. He typically uses walnuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
When everything is sufficiently browned, he adds the water, a dab of butter, a little salt, spices. Robin suggests thinly sliced ginger and a cinnamon stick, chopped apple and/or raisins.
Cover and simmer until it's done, about 10 minutes. Do this without stirring, just as you would a pot of rice.
It's done when the grains are soft and have absorbed all the water.
When I did mine, I made it in the cast iron skillet that lives on my stovetop. By the time the grains, nuts and seeds had browned, which was quick with the large surface area of a skillet versus a saucepan, the heat of the pan made the added water come to a rollicking boil immediately.
The oats cooked through quickly and wound up like a soft, not sweet, granola that was delicious with milk and a drizzle of maple syrup. Robin's daughter upped the ante with sautéed apples, added at the end.
To make a bowl of savoury congee, aim for about ½ cup of short or medium-short grained rice added to six to eight cups of chicken stock. Simmer them together for a good hour or so, stirring often.
It will thicken as the rice softens and starts to split and fall apart. The texture is even softer and soupier than risotto. It can be seasoned in much the same way you might spice up an Asian-flavoured chicken soup: with ginger, spring onion, chilies, cilantro, shredded chicken or cooked ground pork, fish sauce — anything goes.
Porridge in all its forms is a quick, affordable and comforting way to stay warm this winter.
Hear more from Julie Van Rosendaal and her adventures making porridge:
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With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.