Porridge, or Oatmeal

Originally published March 17, 2014.

Comparing steel-cut oats and rolled oatsThe single most important decision in making porridge is the style of oats you choose to cook.  For my breakfast, the only acceptable style is steel-cut, sometimes called Scottish or Irish oats.

Why Quick Oats and Minutes Oats are The Worst.  Quick oats and minute oats produce porridge with a nauseating texture.  The grains are rolled and cut fine so that they cook quickly, but the oatmeal has a gluey mouthfeel.  My theory is that the extensive processing produces a very fine oat-dust, and as soon as this oat-dust is hydrated, it becomes a thick paste.  Whatever the cause, porridge made from quick oats subtly sticks to the back of the mouth, triggering a mild gag with every swallow.  Perhaps I have a unique physiology…

Steel-cut oats are not rolled, just cut so that they still have the round cross section of the whole grain.  The photo above shows steel-cut oats in the foreground, rolled oats in the back.  Yes, they take longer to cook, but there is little oat-dust, so the final porridge has a creamy mouthfeel, punctuated by larger pieces of grain.  It really is like risotto if cooked properly.

In conclusion: the only thing quick oats and minute oats are good for is making meatloaf.

A simple, simple recipe for porridge is typed below.  Be sure to read the note on fried porridge at the bottom of this post.  It may change your breakfast routine forever.

 

Basic Porridge

Master Ratio – 1:3 steel-cut oats to milk, by volume

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup steel-cut oats
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk, or I guess water in a pinch
  • speaking of pinches: 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • optional: buttermilk to drizzle over cooked porridge (try it…)
  • toasted nuts, seeds, and dried fruit as required

Procedure

  1. Melt the butter in a heavy pot.  Add the oats and turn the heat to medium.  Toast the oats until you can smell that the butter is starting to brown.
  2. Add the whole milk and salt.  Bring liquid to a boil, then reduce to a gentle simmer.  Cook until the oats are tender and the liquid has thickened, about 30 minutes.  Stir periodically.
  3. Stir in the brown sugar.  Taste and adjust seasoning as required.

A bowl of porridge with walnuts, dried currants, and buttermilk

 

Fried Porridge
or, why it behooves you to make more porridge than you can eat in one sitting

My great aunt Dorie used to pour leftover porridge into a tray to congeal.  The next morning it was cut into blocks and fried in bacon fat.  Think: rural Canada’s answer to fried polenta.

Fried porridge with berries and maple syrup

Breakfast Sausage

It recently dawned on me that I don’t have any sausage recipes on this site.  Which is crazy.  So I’m going to post a bunch.  For details on procedure and technique, I have two posts linked below.  Also… I happen to be teaching a sausage-making class for Metro Continuing Education on October 19, 2016.

 

Breakfast sausages frying on a griddle.I wanted to create an artisan version of the little sausages you get at dive-y breakfast institutions like the Commodore.  The kind of diners that that pour you bad coffee all morning.

North American breakfast sausage is usually made entirely of pork.  It is ground quite fine and mixed to emulsify so that it has a very delicate texture.  It is often flavoured with sage and other versatile herbs.  And, most characteristically, the links are narrow and short compared to, say a smoky or even a hot dog.

For my fancy breakfast sausage I use pork butt with all of the 1.5″ fat cap.  It is flavoured with both fresh and dried sage.  I find you have to add a prohibitively expensive amount of fresh herbs to get the flavour to come through in a sausage.  And to amp the fancy-factor up a notch I use orange zest and ginger.

I double-grind the meat for delicate texture.  That’s two passes through a 3/16″ plate.

And finally to get the narrow diameter characteristic of breakfast sausage I use lamb casings.  Being lamb, these are a bit expensive, but they’re essential here.  I twist the links into 4″ lengths.

A detailed recipe follows.

 

Breakfast Sausage
with sage, ginger, and orange

Ingredients

  • 2 kgs pork butt, boneless and skinless, but with entire fat cap (about 1.5″ thick)
  • 40 g kosher salt
  • 44 g fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1.6 g dried sage
  • 18 g fresh sage, chopped
  • 47 g fresh garlic, minced fine
  • 5.4 g black pepper, coarsely ground
  • 22 g orange zest (I use a packaged orange zest made by The Perfect Purée)
  • 222 mL ice-cold water
  • about 2 m lamb casing

Procedure

  1. Chill the pork butt thoroughly by spreading it out on a sheet tray lined with parchment and storing in the freezer.  The meat should be slightly crunchy on the exterior, but not frozen solid, and still with some give.
  2. Grind the meat through a 3/16″ plate.
  3. Re-chill the ground meat as described in step 1.
  4. Grind the meat through a 3/16″ plate a second time.
  5. Add the remaining ingredients (except the casings…) to the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix with the paddle attachment for 90 seconds on a medium speed, then 30 seconds on a medium-high speed.
  6. Fry a small piece of the mixture in a pan.  Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
  7. Stuff into lamb casings.
  8. Twist into 4″ links.
  9. Poach until the meat is just cooked, reaching an internal temperature of 150°F.  Transfer the links to an ice bath to arrest cooking.
  10. Let links dry thoroughly.

Yield: about 35 x 4″ links

A plate with breakfast sausage, fried eggs, and toast.

My Ideal Hash Browns

When you order hash browns at a diner, you’re liable to get any number of things.  In my experience, all hash browns can be broken into two broad classifications:

Hash Browns Made from Cubed Potato.  Also called home fries.  This is the less interesting of the two classes.

Hash Browns Made from Grated Potato, bound to varying degrees.  Highly bound and cohesive varieties include McDonald’s Hash Browns, Tater Tots, and Jewish latkes.[1]  Loosely or not-at-all bound varieties would be found in corned beef hash.  Hash browns made from grated potato are similar to several traditional European potato dishes, notably the Swiss rösti.  They are superior to those made from cubed potatoes because they have a much higher ratio of crispy brown exterior to soft, potatoey interior.

Hash browns are a simple preparation, the only ingredients being potato, salt, and oil for frying.  They are quick, and don’t require any par-cooking.

When cooking highly bound grated potato hash browns at home, high heat is key.  When I say high heat, I’m talking about more than the control dial on the stove.  That’s only part of the equation, because to have constant high heat you also need a heavy pan.  The thin, damn-near-flimsy non-sticks that most folks have can get very hot, as long as there’s nothing in the pan.  As soon as the potatoes are pressed within, the temperature drops dramatically and will take a few minutes to recover.

We want to aggressively brown the potatoes.  Heavy stainless steel (or cast iron) is key, and if the pan is hot enough and well-oiled, I promise that the potatoes won’t stick.  Use abundant oil.  Maybe 1/8″ or even slightly more.

No need to add any binder, like flour or egg: grated potato will stick together just fine.  Grate the potatoes using the large holes in a box grater.  I leave the skins on.  There’s flavour in there.  Some recipes recommend squeezing excess moisture from the grated potato before frying.  I don’t really understand why you would do this.  The hash browns turn out just fine without wringing.  Sprinkle the potatoes uniformly over the pan, then gently press with a spatula so that the patty is about 1/4″ thick.

I make a single hash brown as big as my pan will allow and pile any “garnishes” such as eggs on top.  My favourite breakfast:

Two poached eggs atop a large hasbrown1.  Latkes are not usually considered hash browns because they include flour and egg, making them “potato pancakes”.  However, most commercial hash browns contain some kind of binder (corn starch at McDonald’s).  The distinction is arbitrary.

 

Breaking the Fast

In grade eight we studied Japan.  I remember learning that they eat cold rice and pickles for breakfast.  I was revolted.

Many years later, in the summer of 2010, Lisa and I hosted an Austrian student named Dominik.  He was staying in Edmonton to work at some of the hotel kitchens in the downtown core.  He usually started work late enough that I had time to cook him breakfast before he left.  We went through a few days of yogurt and granola and toast and the like.  One day he started work even later than usual, so I made scrambled eggs and hash browns.

The expression that I had made when I first heard about a breakfast of cold rice and pickles – something between a scowl, a grimace, and a gag – now appeared on Dominik’s face.

“Potatoes? For breakfast?”  He was incredulous.

I understood his reaction better once I had been to Austria.  No matter where I went, and whether I was staying in a hotel or a hostel or a friend’s house, breakfast was the same: buns, cold-cuts, cheese, and coffee.  Sometimes liver spread.

It seems that morning foods are full of medieval stricture.  An Italian would never drink a cappuccino after noon, nor would a Bavarian eat weisswurst.  I would never eat rice before noon.  Perhaps the belly and mind are a bit sensitive after being “starved” for eight hours, so we seek familiar, comforting food.

The hearty, starchy, meaty breakfast is definitely a hallmark of North American cuisine.  If the Austrian breakfast seems austere to you, I understand that the French and Italian versions are even more so, often consisting solely of milky coffee.

Do I eat the kingly meal of bacon and eggs every morning?  Of course not.  But on weekends, holidays, and any other day that I have more than fifteen minutes to prepare breakfast I do.  I associate good breakfasts with weekends and hangovers and holiday Mondays.

Anyways.  With all this in mind I’ve been writing about breakfast dishes.  I’ve already written about a few classic breakfast foods (bacon, pancakes, doughnuts, jam and jelly, soft-boiled eggs).  Expect more over the next couple months.