Once you go steel-cut, you'll never go back

Baked Banana Pecan Oatmeal Jill Blanchette/The Day

I think it was from Martha Stewart that I first heard of steel-cut oats, a new — or more accurately, very old — form of oatmeal.

She touted it as a better, more flavorful way to enjoy your morning oatmeal but I figured it was just Martha being Martha, endorsing anything that costs more and takes more time to cook as automatically better.

Now, after actually having tried steel-cut oats, I have begun to wonder why anyone would prefer the more traditional form, the rolled oat.

Steel-cut oats, also know as Irish oats, are the main ingredient in gruel and porridge, that fabled slurry served to Oliver Twist and to all those peasants in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” They are made from oat groats — the whole grain minus the hull — chopped into two or three pieces.

Rolled oats, the more common form in the U.S., are made by steaming the groats then rolling them flat. The more thinly they're rolled, the more quickly they cook.

Steel-cut oats have a more nutty flavor and are much chewier than rolled oats. Where a bowl of oatmeal made with rolled oats has a texture similar to mashed potatoes, the texture of similarly prepared steel-cut oats is more reminiscent of risotto.

You can’t really use steel-cut oats for baking say, oatmeal cookies, unless you cook them first. But you can use steel-cut oats to make many savory dishes in the way that you would use rice or couscous. The website of the Golden Spurtle, the world porridge-making championships, offers an intriguing selection of recipes in this vein, from Steel Your Heart Away Eggrolls to Podgeree, a porridge featuring smoked haddock and hard-boiled eggs.

I haven’t taken my new love of steel-cut oats that far, but I have made up with Martha and on more than one occasion, have begun my day with a delicious, piping hot serving of her Baked Banana Pecan Oatmeal. The recipe comes from Sarah Carey, a chef with Martha’s Everyday Food magazine, who can be seen in a video demonstrating this recipe. Carey takes the position that the only reason you would choose rolled over steel-cut oats is because they take less time to cook, and who really has the time to cook in the morning?

The recipe offers an overnight soaking method that reduces the morning cooking time to 10 minutes. It serves four. Morning cooking isn’t really an issue for me and I rarely prepare breakfast for anyone other than myself, so I just use the single-serving instructions on the box to prepare the steel-cut oatmeal, then turn to the recipe for the topping and broiling.

A big benefit of the steel-cut oats is that they take a while to digest because they are made from the whole grain that hasn’t been precooked or processed much at all. As a result, I find they hold my hunger at bay longer than a bowl of rolled oats.

In this recipe, you can adjust the sweetness by altering the amount of brown sugar. You could substitute another fruit, but really, what’s better than a carmelized banana? With the toasty pecans and the chewy oats, it’s a great way to start the day.



Baked Banana Pecan Oatmeal

1½ cups steel-cut oats

½ teaspoon table salt

2 tablespoons whole milk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 firm but ripe bananas, sliced ¼-inch thick on the diagonal

3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar, whisked to remove lumps

¼ cup pecans, roughly chopped and toasted

In a medium pot, bring 4½ cups of water to a boil. Stir in oats and salt and cook 1 minute. Let cool, cover and refrigerate overnight.

In the morning, bring oatmeal to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in milk and vanilla. Transfer to a 9-inch pie dish.

Heat broiler with rack about 4 inches from the heat. Top the oatmeal with banana slices and sprinkle with the brown sugar. Broil until the bananas are carmelized, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with pecans to serve.

Original recipe from MarthaStewart.com. To share recipes or comments, send email to j.blanchette@theday.com.

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