Savory oats are supreme winter comfort fare

Steel-cut oatmeal used to be my weekend treat, its long cooking time suited to leisurely mornings.

But as mornings have become less leisurely over the past six months, I’ve found myself skipping oatmeal for eggs or other quick-cooking dishes. I certainly could simmer hot cereal the night before and reheat it in the morning. I even stocked up on steel-cut oats to cook in the Crock-Pot for Christmas morning. But without the anticipation, I seem to have lost my taste for oatmeal.

Then I tried taking oats in a savory direction, as advised in the current edition of A la Carte. Like the story’s author, I was skeptical of cooking oats in broth or with unconventional spices. I reassured myself by recalling that in Scotland, perhaps the most enthusiastic oat-eating culture, porridge is rarely sweet and most often salted. That’s not to mention Asia’s tradition of savory rice porridge (“congee”), often incorporating meat or mushrooms.

Homemade turkey stock provided the base for my savory oats. For good measure, I braised some fennel bulb in more stock and sherry. I’ve paired the vegetable with polenta so why not this? I also threw in a Parmesan rind as I would for polenta or risotto

Unlike those dishes, however, my oats required no stirring or much in the way of monitoring, making them perfect fodder for a hectic weeknight. While the oats and fennel cooked, I fed my son his dinner, then cracked an egg on top of the oats when they were almost done.

I retrospect, I should have added the egg sooner, when more liquid remained in the pan to poach it. I ended up transferring the pan’s contents to an ovenproof bowl and finishing the egg under the broiler. The resulting toasty skin on the oats ended up tricking my eye a bit, distracting me from the simple fact that this was indeed oatmeal with an egg on top. Finished with the fennel, a bit of olive oil, toasted pine nuts and finely grated Parmesan, this was supreme winter comfort food.

Sarah Lemon photo

The following recipe, a takeoff from shrimp and grits, would satisfy the same craving. And the second dish could be a good use for quick-cooking oats that never made it into holiday cookies.

Southern Shrimp and Oatmeal

1 1⁄2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth

3⁄4 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup steel-cut oats

1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese

2 tablespoons butter, divided

3⁄4 teaspoon hot sauce, divided

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1⁄2 cup cubed or sliced andouille sausage

1 pound large Gulf Shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tablespoons Wondra flour

1 cup sliced mushrooms

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

2 tablespoons chopped scallions

1⁄4 cup chopped tomato

In a medium saucepan, combine the chicken broth, sea salt and 1 1⁄2 cups water; bring to a boil and gradually whisk in the oats. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until thickened. Stir in the cheese, 1 tablespoon of the butter and 1⁄4 teaspoon of the hot sauce. Keep warm.

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil and cook the sausage for 5 to 7 minutes or until crisp. Drain on paper towels, reserving drippings in skillet. Set sausage aside.

Toss the shrimp with the flour. Saute shrimp in hot drippings for 1 minute. Add reserved sausage, the mushrooms and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the lemon juice, remaining hot sauce, the thyme, scallions and tomato, stirring to loosen any browned bits from bottom of skillet. Remove from heat and stir in remaining butter.

Serve shrimp mixture over hot oatmeal.

Makes 8 servings.

— Recipe from Bob’s Red Mill 2011 Spar for the Spurtle competition.


Spicy Oat-Crusted Chicken With Sunshine Salsa

3⁄4 cup prepared salsa

3⁄4 cup coarsely chopped orange sections

2 tablespoons canola oil

1 tablespoon soft margarine or butter, melted

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

3⁄4 teaspoon salt

1 1⁄2 cups quick oats, uncooked

1 egg, lightly beaten

4 boned and skinned chicken breast halves (about 5 to 6 ounces each)

Chopped cilantro (optional)

In a small bowl, combine the salsa and orange sections. Refrigerate, covered, until serving time.

Heat oven to 375 F. In a flat, shallow dish, stir together the oil, melted margarine or butter, chili powder, garlic powder, cumin and salt. Add the oats, stirring until evenly moistened.

In a second flat, shallow dish, with fork, beat the egg with 1 tablespoon water until frothy. Dip the chicken into egg wash, then coat completely in seasoned oats. Place chicken on foil-lined baking sheet. Pat any extra oat mixture onto top of chicken.

Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and oat coating is golden-brown. Serve with Sunshine Salsa. Garnish with the chopped cilantro, if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

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  • Blog Author

    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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