No Flat Tires – Steel-Cut Oats with Eggs, Preserved Lemon and Olives

When Jody and I signed up for the cycling fund-raiser the PanMass Challenge last year we stepped up our game when it came to exercise.  Speaking exclusively for my Falstaffian self, I thought it might not be a bad idea to drop a few pounds ahead of the actual 200-mile 2-day ride.  That’s how we ended up making dishes like Steel-Cut Oats with Eggs, Preserved Lemon and Olives.

But it was a journey to get there.

Cyclists love oatmeal.  Me, not so much, especially instant oatmeal.  Instant oatmeal sits atop a plinth on whose base are chiseled the words, Convenience trumps all.  As far as I can tell there is nothing else to recommend it.  Despite the manic exuberance of the athletes on its packaging, instant oatmeal is thin fare, with more than a whiff of deprivation about it.  I wanted something that wouldn’t feel all square peg in a round hole when I followed food writer and NY Times columnist Mark Bittman’s suggestion to eat oatmeal with leftover roasted vegetables and a splash of fish sauce.

The solution?  Steel-cut oats.

Why, oh why, have I wasted so many winter mornings slurping rolled-oat oatmeal when I could have been feasting on steel-cut oats?

Remember those fifth-grade cross sections of wheat kernels with different layers labelled germ, bran and endosperm?  Oats work the same way (well, not quite, the hull of wheat kernel is edible; the hull of an oat is not).  Groats are the whole grain, minus the hull.  Steel-cut oats are oat groats that have been cut into two or three pieces.  And that’s it.  To make rolled oats, the groat pieces are flattened between steel rollers.  How much they’re flattened determines the cooking time.  Instant or infant oatmeal requires very thinly flattened oats; slow-cooking oatmeal uses thicker rolled oats.

Instant oatmeal is to steel-cut oats as rice gruel is to risotto.  Both have their virtues, but why would you eat gruel when you can have risotto?  Steel-cut oats taste and feel like a chewy grain, a little like wheat, but a bit starchier like barley, definitely something with substance.

Steel-cut oats lend themselves to the same treatment as any other whole grain–they beg for savory ingredients to offset their starchiness, which means that while you can eat them for breakfast, you can also use them for lunch or dinner without feeling like you’re still in your pj’s.  You can accompany an SCO dish with a glass of wine or beer.  You can top them with eggs–we decided to soft-boil our eggs, but the dish would work equally well with a poached egg.   And you can make a week’s worth at one go, microwave subsequent portions as needed, and feel as though you’ve eaten a real meal when you finish.

Think of steel-cut oats as Arborio rice with a Scotch accent.  Wouldn’t that help roll you out of bed on Saturday morning and ride 30 miles before you’re deep into your day?

Ken

NOTES:  I’m putting this stuff here because it didn’t fit anywhere else:

  •  We prefer Bob’s Red Mill Steel-Cut Oats over McCann’s Steel-Cut Oatmeal (the one in the tin), but both work and both are widely available.  You can also order Bob’s online directly from Bob.
  • If you prefer your eggs poached instead of soft-boiled, check out Cooking Lessons, where our friend and fellow food writer Sally Vargas recently posted a definitive how-to on the topic.
  • Become a fan of Team Rialto-Trade and help support the Jimmy Fund.  For more info about the team or to make a donation click here or on the Fight Cancer link at the top of the post.  Generous supporters (that could be you!) helped us raise $65,000 for last year’s PMC.  We’re shooting even higher this year.

Steel-Cut Oats with Eggs, Preserved Lemon and Olives

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups water
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 4 extra large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, cut into ¼ inch dice
  • ½ pint grape tomatoes, washed, dried and cut in half
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped green olives
  • 1 tablespoon chopped preserved lemon
  • ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes or 1 teaspoon harissa
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Directions:

  1. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Season generously with salt. Add the oatmeal and stir until the water has returned to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until tender, 15 – 20 minutes.  Taste after fifteen minutes – you want them cooked, but still chewy.
  2. While the oats are cooking, heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook 5 minutes or until tender. Increase the heat to high, push the onions to the side, add the tomatoes and char on the cut side. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, olives, preserved lemon and hot pepper and cook 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the cilantro.
  3. To boil the eggs, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil with the vinegar and a teaspoon of salt. Add the eggs and simmer 5 minutes. Scoop out the eggs and run under cold water just long enough to allow you to peel the eggs.
  4. Put a spoonful of oatmeal in 4 warm bowls. Top with a boiled egg and then spoon the tomato sauce over the egg. Serve immediately.

Fat tires on the left, flats on the right. 

Jody Notes: 

I never liked oatmeal.  Growing up in my house, where both my mother and father had to be out the door by 8:00 am, there were 4 breakfasts in the family repertoire and all of them were mushy: 

  • 3-minute eggs in an egg cup… those really gross soft eggs with the runny whites.  The only remedy was toast bits and LOTS of butter;
  • Cream of Wheat with brown sugar and butter… not too bad, but no texture;
  • Raisin bran or Oat flakes with milk…  OK but a little cardboardy and got soggy fast;
  • And finally the big L loser–rolled oats with milk and white sugar… no flavor, no texture…and no way of changing them.

But steel-cut oats are different.  They actually taste like something and depending on what else you’ve got in the fridge they can be the start of pretty interesting meal.  On busy mornings I can nuke a quick bowl with a handful of arugula leaves, add a drizzle of olive oil, some hot red pepper flakes, a sprinkle of grated cheese and I’m good to go.  

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18 thoughts

  1. Appetizing and useful. Although I rarely–OK, never–cycle 30 miles. Or cycle at all. But now I know how to make brekky for ravenous children and others, should I ever need to do so. Not to be sneezed at. The egg factor–yum.

    The photos as always are so good.

    “Plinth.” How camp! Right up there, usage wise, with “scrim.” This might seem like an obscure comment.

    Step 2: Push the onions to the side (not the tomatoes).

    • Lewis–The proofreader award again! You know, some people can see this stuff and others can’t. Just as some of us are naturally skinny and others need to ride 30 miles. I’m in the latter camp in both categories, always the last kid in the kindergarten to notice that Spot in illustration number three had a green collar instead of blue. I love the word “plinth” because in French it’s pronounced “plant.” Ken

  2. God, that looks good. Two of the four of us are already avid SCO fans (love the acronym. It gives SEO a run for its money) and not the two you would immediately assume. One of us (me) loves preserved lemons. And all four of us are big fans of breakfast dinner.

    So, for our family at least, you may have hit on the perfect unifying dinner. We’ll give it a try next week and see how it goes.

    Now please help me entice the three hold-outs in my family to embrace brown rice.

    • Our kids weren’t big brown rice fans until we switched to short-grain, or short-grain sticky. I’m not a fan of brown jasmine myself. Try one of the alternatives and maybe you can sneak some preserved lemon pieces into it as well. Good luck. Ken

  3. We are SCO converts, as well. Although we converted from a yogurt-and-granola breakfast, not a mushy roll-oat breakfast. We have found the SCO in the bulk section of Whole Foods to be good and priced lower than the boxed varieties. Our ratio is a bit different: 1.5 cups salted water to .75 cup SCO, boil then simmer, slightly uncovered for 17 min – then add in a handful of raisins for another 3 min. 20 min all said and done, and with a delightful toothsomeness. Tomato? Egg? Sounds like tomorrow’s breakfast. Thx!

    • Geez, I breezed through the bulk section of the WFM near us and didn’t see any. I’ll have to look more closely. Regarding the water to oats ratio–I was little taken aback when I first read the Bob’s Red Mill instructions. It seemed like a lot of water. As soon as I can get my hands on some bulk SCO I’ll try your ratio. I’ll bet the result is even chewier than ours. Thanks for stopping by. Ken

      • Ken, I was reminded that not every WFM has a complete bulk section. We’ve found SCO in Dedham (Bulk food Paradise) and JP. Not in Symphony. Newton might be too small? Thanks for directing me to an easy poached egg instruction. Just topped my SCO w/a poached egg and chopped parsley. I like this savory side of oats!

      • The Dainty Dot: Sorry, replies only go one level deep. In any event, I figured that differences in WFM bulk sections must have been coming into play. I sometimes find myself at the River Street store and it can accommodate a bulk section at least double the size of the one Brighton. Glad you found Sally’s poaching instructions! Ken

  4. Hey guys, thanks for the mention!

    I agree, steel cut is the way to go. The biggest problem is the time involved. My grandmother used to cook them overnight in a heavy pot with doubled-up burner grates on low heat . I’ve heard of the slow cooker method (also overnight), but as I think I mentioned, in one of my typical rash moments I gave mine away after cooking a stew with dismal results. So my way of making this easy is to cook up more than I need, stash extra in the fridge and (gasp!) reheat in the microwave on succeeding days. And I almost never measure–just put about a cup in a small pot, and fill it with water. Cook it until it’s thick enough.

    Also, Whole Foods does have them in the bins (at Fresh Pond, anyway). They’re called oat groats I think. I love your savory additions to this, even though I was never a hater to begin with. Maybe because we always ate it with butter and brown sugar, kind of like an oatmeal cookie.

    Also also, I think I forgot how to ride a bike, and I stink at proof-reading!

    • Hi, Sally. Several people seem concerned about the time element. I was actually a little puzzled that Jody’s batch took so long (mine seemed to take closer to 20 minutes). I haven’t tried cooking them in the pressure cooker yet, but that’s on the list. We also freeze big batches, then reheat in the microwave; the texture is unaffected as far as I can tell. Some people do soak SCOs overnight, a technique I have used, and it does reduce the cooking time (for me at least) to around 10 minutes. (By the way, my hate was only directed at oatmeal that’s instant. ;-) ) Ken

  5. Ken, I also make it in advance, and freeze it or make a big batch on the weekend and keep it in the frig for quick breakfast during the week. I don’t have time most mornings to devote 45 minutes to cooking breakfast – closer to 45 seconds…But I do like to have something that ‘sticks to your ribs’ before heading out on my bike (or, this time of year, on my skis).

  6. This is really wild! I had no idea so many people were into steel-cut oats. We don’t have a lot of breakfast time either, which is why the one-big-batch followed by a week of microwaving is our modus operendi as well. Ken

  7. I usually consider steel cuts the loving treat wherein I take thirty minutes to make a tasty breakfast for my son. Since I seem to stay close to it, not as close as when making a risotto, a few years ago I merged a process in the effort for a new idea in Irish fare for St. Patrick’s Day. The result, besides the Fish Loaf, was an Irish Risotto made with steel cut oats, Irish cheddar and a touch of vino blanco (couldn’t commit to the Guiness in that recipe).

    • I’ve never tried cooking SCOs risotto style (adding hot broth a little at a time), but I imagine it would work. I’ll be the cheddar cheese was great–your instincts were probably right about the Guinness. ;-) Ken

  8. Pingback: Spring Oat Risotto - Recipes from Italiaoutdoors Food and Wine | Italian Food, Wine, Health and Fitness

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