How to CookOat

Oats in All Their Many Forms

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, we're talking about oats. 


All oats begin their lives as groats, before they're cut, rolled, or steamed. How the groats are processed is what determines their different tastes, textures, and yes, cooking times.

Let’s get down to the grain and see what sets steel-cut oats, rolled oats, quick oats, and instant oats apart:

Steel-Cut Oats

Steel-cut oats 

How they're made: Groats are chopped with steel blades.
How to cook them:
Slowly! These grain take about 40 minutes over low, low heat in a pot or in a slow cooker -- this keeps them thick and chewy.
A flavor trick:
Toast them with butter in a pot before cooking them to bring out their nuttiness.
Good for:
Adding to granola.
Not so good for:
Using in baking because they take so darn long to hydrate. 

Rolled Oats

Rolled oats (or old-fashioned oats)

How they're made: Whole oat groats are toasted, hulled, steamed, and flattened to cook evenly and more quickly.
How to cook them:
In as little as 5 minutes on the stovetop (or 3 in the microwave), they're creamy and ready to eat. But due to all of the processing they go through, they lose some of the sweet, nutty flavor of oat groats.
Good for:
Baking! Cookies, rolls, granola bars, and tarts often call for rolled oats, lending baked goods of all kinds that familiar hearty, chewy texture. 

Quick-Cooking Oats

Quick-cooking oats

How they're made: Basically the same process as rolled oats, but these ones are roughly cut beforehand.
How to cook them:
Ready in literally 1 minute, these oats are built for convenience. Stir them into boiling water on the stovetop (or combine with cold water and microwave, if that's how you roll).
Make them at home:
In a pinch, quick-cooking oats can be made by pulsing rolled oats in a food processor a few times.
Good to know:
In baking recipes, if the type of oats isn't specified, quick-cooking can be used interchangeably with rolled oats. Try them in these easy-to-throw-together flapjacks

Instant Oats

Instant oats 

How they're made: These oats are cut even more finely and flattened even more thinly than quick-cooking oats, and they're pre-cooked. They're pulverized really.
How to cook them: With the addition of boiling water, these oats are ready in, well, an instant.
Not so good for: Considering the additives found in most instant oats, it's probably best to forgo them altogether -- or at least save them for your next camping trip.

A few more tips:

Oats on the run: Fortunately for those who roll out of bed and run out the door in the morning, instant oats aren't the only option. Oats can be made ahead of time by soaking the grains overnight in boiling water and heating them in the morning. Or, better yet, prepare for the week by cooking a big batch of oatmeal, storing it in the fridge, and reheating it in the microwave or on the stovetop with a little milk or water. 

Nutritional Know-How: Oats contain vitamin B, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium. They also contain mineral-blocking phytates, but these can be minimized by soaking oats prior to cooking them -- hence overnight oats.

To salt or not to salt? We're pro-salt. Season oats with a big pinch of salt, similar to how you would season pasta water.

Toppings, sweet or savory: We like both. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Steel-cut oats with ricotta, pistachio, and raisins
Baked blueberry oatmeal
Overnight miso porridge
Oat risotto with peas
Oats with mushrooms (serve it with roasted chicken)

How do you like your oats?

Tags: DIY Food, How-To & Diy