Thursday, March 28, 2013

April Bloomfield's Porridge

Food52's The Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks was one of my favourite reads last month. Despite there being thousands of new cookbooks on the market, you hear about the great ones pretty quickly, and it was exciting seeing books that I'd bought or read about vying for the top spot. And almost as good as the books themselves were the reviews--Stanley Tucci! Byrant Gumbel! (Believe me, that one also took me by suprise.) But it didn't surprise me at all that The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook was in the final bracket--Deb is a phenom, no doubt about it. April Bloomfield's A Girl and Her Pig did catch me unawares, probably because I am the last person to even open a book with a dead pig on the front. That poor little piglet took The Piglet, and it made me sad that this fantastic book was of no use to vegetarian me. 

Boy, was I wrong. 

I still haven't cracked the cover of A Girl and Her Pig. I might, sometime. But what happened was this: the book won, and people started talking about porridge. Not pork belly, or marrow, or whatever other nose-to-tail creation I'm assuming Bloomfield's book contains. Good ol' oatmeal. As a Canadian girl who comes almost entirely from Scottish-British-Irish stock, I am a huge oatmeal fan. Indeed, I eat it for breakfast almost every day--raisins, apple, and cinnamon in winter; berries and pineapple in summer. I carry it with me when I travel so that I'm never without a proper breakfast, whatever the vagaries of hotel dining may be. Alexis, whose half-Scottish-half-French heritage is most easily discernible at breakfast, is perhaps even more devoted than I am--he has eaten porridge for at least one meal a day, every day, for the entirety of our relationship, except for the two weeks we spent in France last summer when all he ate was buttered baguette and croissants. His porridge is always the same: old-fashioned oats cooked with cinnamon and topped with blueberries, pineapple, banana, ground flax, and kefir. Porridge is even a verb in our house: porridge, v. def: to congeal in the manner of cooked oats. So when people like Adam started mentioning April's porridge, I got very curious. Lucky for me, Luisa did too, and I got my greedy hands on the recipe without having to face that poor little piglet. 

Having made, and eaten (and made and eaten) April's porridge, I'm even more torn about her book. A cookbook is worth its salt if it contains even one genius recipe, and this one certainly does--but what if there are more, that I'm missing? On the other hand, this one recipe is so perfect that to ask for any more seems greedy. I know that you're thinking: but we're talking about porridge here, right? Yes. Oats. Glorious, nutty, creamy, hearty, soothing, mouth-filling, belly-filling oats. They are indeed something to get excited about. 

There are a few secrets to this recipe, some of them April's, one of them mine, that make this the most glorious bowl of hot mush that I've eaten in many a year. The first one's mine: toast the oats. Fire up your pot and give those oats a chance at soaking up some heat before you get on with the rest of the recipe. If you want to get really crazy, toast them in some butter. If you're one of those people who isn't hungry in the morning, this will change your mind. The second secret is salt, and plenty of it. April's original recipe calls for 1 1/2 teaspoons of coarse salt, which I found more than a bit too salty. But with 3/4 of a teaspoon of flaky sea salt in the mix, these oats balance right on the edge of salty-sweet once you've topped them with some fruit or maple syrup, and that's an edge I love to walk first thing in the morning. It seems like there are as many salts as there are cooks, each with their own level of salinity, so play around until you hit the sweet spot. The third secret is to use two kinds of oats--old-fashioned rolled oats, and steel-cut. Take a bite of this porridge and you get tender-chewy steel-cut oats bound by a creamy blanket of rolled oats that have soaked up all the good milk and salt and slumped into satisfied submission. It's a positively dreamy combination. The milk is the last secret, because we Scots (at least in my family) have been frugal porridge makers all our lives and used just water. Milk makes all the difference. What kind, not so much. I've made this with whole milk, and it was predictably great, but it was surprisingly fantastic with almond milk too, so that what I've been sticking with. To play up the nuttiness of that version, I add a good whack of ground flaxseeds too. 

They make me feel better about all of the maple syrup.

So excuse me while I go put on another pot of these, and apologize to The Piglet, and the piglet. Seems I was wrong to judge a book by its cover. Still:

I do think it should be called A Girl and Her Porridge. 

While the original recipe states that this porridge must be eaten immediately, I find it reheats just fine. Put it back in the pot over medium-low heat, add a generous splash of water, and start stirring/mashing until the lumps smooth out. Keep adding water, a little at a time, until the porridge is hot and creamy once more. Alternatively, spoon your cold and claggy serving into a bowl, add a generous splash of water, microwave for two minutes, and then stir back to life. This means that for people in a rush in the morning, this recipe doesn't have to be saved just for weekends when you've got 25 minutes to spend on oatmeal.


Adapted from A Girl and Her Pig via The Wednesday Chef

Serves 2-3

1 1/4 cups almond milk (or another dairy or non-dairy milk)
2 cups water
3/4 - 1 1/2 teaspoons flaky sea salt (start at the bottom of the range and increase if desired)
1/2 cup steel-cut oats
1/2 cup large-flake (also often called old-fashioned) oats
1/4 cup ground flax seed
Toppings of your choice: maple syrup, brown sugar, raisins, extra milk, fresh fruit, pears or apples sauteed in a bit of butter, cinnamon, toasted walnuts

Over medium-high heat, toast the oats in a medium pot until fragrant and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Pour the oats into a bowl and put the pot back on the heat. 

Raise the heat to high and bring the milk, water and salt to a simmer, keeping an eye on it so that it doesn't boil over. When the mixture starts to simmer, add both oats and the flax seeds, stir to combine and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook the oats at a steady simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary and stirring occasionally. At 20 minutes, the steel-cut oats will be just cooked and the rolled oats will have melted into the porridge.

Taste for salt, add more if needed, then divide into bowls and add the toppings to taste. Eat immediately. Alternately, transfer to a heat-resistant container with a lid, let cool to room temperature, and refrigerate. Reheat, using the instructions in the note above.


  1. You're quite gorgeous with your cookies HeeHee Meet me Upstairs, girl, and we'll dance the night away.

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