Porridge: Which Oats?
Now I know you can make porridge with all sorts of grains, but here we are talking porridge made with oats, and in oat porridge the most important ingredient is… oats. To make really great porridge you have to get your oats right.
You can buy oats in various guises: oatmeal, rolled oats, sprouted oats… they are all whole grain oats but they are processed differently.
Oatmeal is made by simply chopping oat groats up: you can get coarse, medium and fine oatmeal which describes the size of the bits. Coarse oatmeal takes a long time to cook: I’ve found that even with an overnight soak it takes around 20 minutes or more on the hob to cook up to porridge, and even then it retains its chewy texture and it’s hard to make it thicken. Fine oatmeal, on the other hand, cooks more quickly: just a few minutes in the microwave or on the hob. The resulting porridge is creamy and smooth.
Medium oatmeal is somewhere in between: it takes about 15 minutes in a pan to cook up and the result is a textured, yet creamy, porridge. If you pre-soak medium oatmeal it only needs a few minutes in the microwave.
To tailor your porridge texture you can mix together different grades of oatmeal. A little fine oatmeal in with your coarse or medium oatmeal will add creaminess whilst retaining some bite.
Rolled oats are your standard porridge oats that you find in every supermarket. They are pre-steamed, rolled then dried, and the amount of cooking they require depends on the amount of steaming and the size of the flakes: in general the larger the flakes, the longer the cooking time and the more texture you get. However the texture you get from rolled oats is not the same as the texture you get from oatmeal: rolled oats are less chewy than oatmeal, slightly more floury. I actually prefer them.
Sprouted oats are partially germinated, rolled then dried. I’d say they behave somewhere between coarse oatmeal and rolled oats: they are raw like oatmeal and so require quite a bit of cooking, but are rolled into flakes like rolled oats, which increases their surface area and makes them more absorbent than oatmeal. If you cook them straight off they take ages to soften, they remain chewy like coarse oatmeal, and they never really go thick; but if you soak them first all they need is a minute or so in the microwave and they turn into the most thick, wholesome, rustic, creamy yet textured porridge you’ve ever experienced! Not only that but the sprouting process changes their flavour: they are nuttier and more complex than non-sprouted oats, with a slight tang: not an unpleasant tang like they’ve gone off, but a savoury flavour that’s difficult to describe. Sprouted oats are expensive but they are the gold standard of porridge in my opinion.