Porridge. When it comes to hot topics, how to cook perfect porridge might just be up there with politics and religion; everyone seems to have a definitive answer. One thing that seems to be unanimously agreed though, is that porridge is perfect winter fare, and it’s good for you.
As to how to prepare the perfect bowl of porridge, I have the following advice:
- Proper oats. Anything simple requires the best ingredients. I use Flahavan’s Irish Organic Porridge Oats, not available here in France, but thankfully something that can be ordered online, and I do, it in bulk, just before the first frost hits. Good porridge oats need to be big and chunky. Granted, they take longer to cook, but the texture and taste are far superior to the modern instant microwave versions that claim to be the same thing. Their not.
- Salt. Good porridge needs a good pinch of salt. It brings out the earthiness of the grain and balances the addition of sweet toppings, enhancing their flavor.
- Water. I don’t use milk or even a 50/50 mix of milk and water. The secret to creamy porridge is all in the stirring. The more you stir it, the more creamy it becomes and the best way to stir it is with a Scottish porridge spurtle, although the other end of a wooden spoon is just as good. The smaller surface area of the spurtle avoids lumps forming and according to Scottish legend, you should always stir clockwise and always with your right hand, ‘Least you invoke the devil’.
Porridge toppings are endless, but here are a few of our favorites:
- Dried fruit compote, made with raisins, prunes, apricots, cranberries, a stick of cinnamon, one or two pods of star anise and a few strips of lemon peel. Add sugar if you wish, but cook slowly just covered with water, until the fruit is soft. It stores in the fridge for up to a week.
- Grilled pineapple sprinkled with demerara sugar and a dash of coconut milk.
- Grated apple, cinnamon, and chopped toasted walnuts, or pecans. Top with maple syrup.
- Sliced blood orange, honey, pistachios and toasted coconut strips.
- Freshly grated nutmeg, chopped dates and a good splash of cream.
- Fresh banana, almond butter, cream, and cinnamon.
- Homemade fig jam and a dollop of ricotta.
- A teaspoon of our homemade raspberry jam and cream.
And finally the aesthetics.
There’s a fine line between institutional gruel and the comforting pleasure of creamy porridge. It all hinges on the right bowl.
Porridge bowls need to be round, high sided and in my opinion, handmade. There’s something indefinably nurturing about the earthiness of clay and the imperfections of the handmade that add to the comforting early morning metaphorical hug that comes from wrapping your hands around a warm bowl of porridge. Seek out a local potter as I have, and order half a dozen bowls. When wind and rain are lashing at the windows and the dark mornings sap your motivation like a hoard of Harry Potter dementors, everyone needs a beautiful handmade porridge bowl; a one-off, just for you and you alone.