At this time of the year, nourishing, warming and energising foods are just what we need. And nothing delivers more than a good old bowl of porridge. With its slow releasing-carbohydrate oats, warmth and satisfying creaminess, porridge is a popular breakfast for many of us. But how to make that perfect bowl? Chef and cookbook author, Henrietta Inman, reveals how she makes the perfect porridge.
First thing’s first. Which oats?
The most traditional Scottish porridge or ‘porage’ would be made with water, a pinch of salt, Scottish porridge oats (also known as rolled oats) and mixed with a ‘spurtle’, though a wooden spoon also does the job. If you want a very smooth porridge, go for all rolled oats which also cook very quickly. If you like some texture, use jumbo which will take slightly longer to cook. Or try half and half, my preferred blend, allowing for a smoothness with a little bite.
Pinhead oats and oatmeal are also more traditional choices, their coarseness benefitting from an overnight soak or slow cook. Rude Health’s sprouted oats have a distinct, slightly fermented flavour and rough texture so I would recommend blending all three of these with rolled oats to take the edge off their coarseness.
How to make traditional porridge
The basic rule is a double liquid to solid ratio, though I always find a little more liquid is necessary to avoid a big lump of oaty gruel, rather than a delightfully smooth slop! When it comes to the liquid, water creates a less heavy porridge whereas using all whole milk is quite rich. Nut milks work well too or stick with the oat theme and use oat milk; always opt for unsweetened versions.
Take a small-medium sized mug, fill it half way with oats and place them in a saucepan; fill the mug again, this time completely, with water or milk, or half of each, and place that into the saucepan with a good pinch of sea salt. I like grinding in Maldon sea salt flakes.
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Good morning! ☀️🌈🌻 It’s suddenly a little milder today but still certainly porridge weather… we ♥️ porridge! We make it either with lots of grains for all their different wonderful textures and flavours (swipe along to see our menu), or just delicious classic and very creamy oats, topped with all the classic toppings too – @eppinggoodhoney or Demerara, dark brown muscovado or molasses sugar from @billingtonssugar, with Northiam Dairy whole milk, their divine cream or @rudehealth oat milk… which sugary top do you prefer?! 🙂 Thank you SO much @billingtonssugar for all your support and delicious unrefined sugars for our porridges, cakes and tarts, and for this lovely 📸 @tonylucas.images! We’re open today from 10am with all these @karendowning.porcelain bowls of mmm, all our eggy things, fresh soda bread… lunch from 12.30pm so better get on with that! Have a great weekend and we look forward to cooking for you if you’re planning a visit 💫 #Porridge #BillingtonsSugar #Fairtrade #Breakfast #Lunch #Tea @glebefarmfoods #Oats #UKFarmers
While stirring continuously, warm the mix on a medium-low heat until the oats have absorbed the liquid and a delicious, creamy consistency has formed, without letting it boil and bubble too much or stick to the bottom of the pan. A serving for one should take 10 to 20 minutes, though this also depends on the type or ‘cut’ of oat you use (see above).
When the oats have absorbed the liquid and you’ve created a smooth mix, add more liquid, milk or water, if you like it a little runnier, remembering it thickens as it cools. Pour into the bowl (heat the bowl first if you like) and serve with an extra glug of milk around the edge of the bowl, helping the cooling porridge to keep its fluidity. Top with anything you like! I recommend Billington’s dark brown muscovado sugar or local honey and extra milk or cream (some add whisky too!).
Go against the grain: mix up your oats
Though I’m a stickler for classic oat porridge, the possibilities for different grains and toppings are endless. Try Sharpham Park spelt flakes, which have a nibbly texture and great nutty flavour, or use a blend of grains for a multigrain porridge: in a high speed blender, pulse 100g each spelt, rye, barley and wheat flakes. Mix in 100g porridge oats and cook as above; you will need a bit more liquid for this blend.
Add a sprinkling of chia or flax seeds for a more interesting texture
The mix of grains allows for great depth of flavour and lots of nutritional goodness. Top with seasonal fruit compote, some thick natural yoghurt for extra creaminess and toasted nuts or seeds for crunch. Add a drizzle of honey for extra sweetness if you like. Maple and date syrup and brown sugars work well too.
For a more interesting consistency, add a sprinkling of chia or flax seeds to the saucepan when cooking. Both seeds are mucilaginous which creates a slightly gelatinous and gooey porridge. Top with chopped fresh apples or pears in the winter or fresh berries in the summer.
Porridge toppings. Keep it interesting!
Topping of dreams; poached quince, thick yoghurt, puffed oat and walnut clusters
Nut butters and seed pastes like tahini are gorgeous toppings too, adding a little richness and extra protein also. Granola is perfect sprinkled on top for some crunch or try other things like brittles. I have a recipe in my book, The Natural Baker, for a buckwheat and triple nut brittle which I love crushing up over my porridge. You can also try mixing a few handfuls of puffed oats with a little runny honey, a teaspoon of rapeseed oil (I’m a big fan of Duchess Farms’ extra virgin rapeseed oil) a pinch of sea salt and chopped nuts. Bake on a tray for about 10 minutes for some delicious, crunchy clusters.
Porridge is the perfect canvas onto which you can add so many tasty things, even extra ingredients like spices, cocoa and seeds to the base mix. Always think about the layering and balancing of different textures and flavours too, incorporating crunch, freshness and colour. Porridge consistency, milks, grains and toppings will always remain a personal preference for us but one thing we must all adhere to is to keep on stirring clockwise, otherwise tradition says you will invoke the devil. A little patience and lots of love are key ingredients too!
Henrietta Inman is resident chef at Yardarm in East London. Check it out if you want an epic porridge menu, cakes, bakes and more seasonal dishes celebrating local producers.
Perfected your porridge? Here are another 6 deliciously simple ways to kick-start a healthy diet.