A basic rice cooker is one of the simplest of all kitchen gadgets, with a single button to push and no settings to tweak. When the water is all absorbed and the grain is cooked, it simply switches from cooking to keeping warm. That simple appliance can be used to prepare more than just rice, though. Steel-cut oats cook in the rice cooker as well. There are a few tricks to learn — it's prone to boiling over — but couldn't be easier. If you own a more sophisticated rice steamer, you may even have a special setting for porridge or oatmeal.
So What Is This Stuff?
If you're new to steel-cut oats, they're very much the same as rolled oats except in their shape. All oats are steamed during the milling process to keep them from turning prematurely rancid, which results in a par-cooked oat groats. If the groats are then chopped into smaller pieces, resembling cracked wheat, you have steel-cut or Irish-style oats. If they're pressed between steel rollers, either whole or after chopping, the end result is the familiar flaked oats. Old-fashioned oats are made from whole oat groats, while the quick-cooking varieties are made from chopped oats. In any case, the finished oats are still whole grains and nutritionally identical, but steel-cut oats have a chewy, nutty texture that many diners prefer over oatmeal made from flakes.
A single serving of steel-cut oats starts with 1/4 cup of the raw oats, though depending on the size of your rice cooker, it might work better if you make two or more portions at once. For oatmeal, you'll typically need 2 1/2 to 4 parts liquid for every part oatmeal, depending how thick you like your breakfast. At 2 1/2 parts liquid it will be very stiff indeed, while a ratio of 4 parts liquid to one of oats yields a thinner, creamier porridge. You may have to experiment a little to find the proportions you like best.
Oatmeal in a Basic Cooker
To prepare your oatmeal in a simple one-button rice cooker, just measure your oats and liquid into the bowl, replace the lid, and push the button to start the cooker. It will begin to simmer and then boil, just as it does with rice, and will eventually stop when the water is mostly absorbed. The sticky starches that make oatmeal so healthy also make it prone to boiling over, so if you can cook two cups of rice in your cooker you should probably limit yourself to one cup of steel cut oats. Irish oatmeal producer McCann's suggests soaking the oats overnight so that some of the water is already absorbed and not available to foam up. Another potential "gotcha" with low-cost rice cookers is the possibility of scorching at the bottom. If your cooker typically forms a crust on the bottom of your rice, you should probably stir the oatmeal periodically with a utensil that won't damage the pot's nonstick coating.
Oatmeal in a High-End Cooker
If you own a higher-end rice cooker with multiple setting options, it probably has a setting for porridge and may even have a separate setting for steel-cut oats. In that case, preparation is easy. Measure the oats and liquid, set the pot to its most appropriate setting according to the manufacturer's instructions, and press the button. As long as you've followed the instructions in your manual, boiling over shouldn't be an issue.
Having Some Fun
As good as it is, steel-cut oatmeal is even more pleasurable if you tweak it a little. One common alternative is to use milk for all or part of your cooking liquid, in place of water, to make the oatmeal creamier. You'll need to be cautious about this if you have a basic cooker, partly because it will be even more prone to boiling over and partly because milk scorches easily on the bottom of the pan. Whether you use water or milk, oatmeal just cries out for tasty add-ins. Warm spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, toasted nuts or seeds, and fresh or dried fruit and berries are all excellent choices. Aside from their comforting flavors, the add-ins can bring even more nutrition to what's already a very healthy breakfast.
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- Store unused oats in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two days. You can reheat them on the stovetop or in the microwave. If your reheated oats are too thick, add water or milk to thin them.
Fred Decker is a trained chef and prolific freelance writer. In previous careers, he sold insurance and mutual funds, and was a longtime retailer. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. His articles have appeared on numerous home and garden sites including GoneOutdoors, TheNest and eHow.