I recently "inherited" two containers of steel cut oats: one from our daughter, who bought a tub of "regular" oats at Trader Joe's to try, and another of "quick-cook" oats from my wife, which I bought when Aldi was out-of-stock of the rolled oats I usually buy for her.

Only after trying both products did I understand why they had been forfeited! The consistency of cooked steel cut oats is "rougher" than the rolled variety which typically has a creamy texture after cooking. And, to make matters worse, it takes longer to prepare this miserable gruel!

I absolutely hate to waste food. It is one of my pet peeves. By some counts, Americans waste as much as 40% of our food! So, what to do?

I started with the quick-cook oats. It didn't take long to figure out how to make this stuff tolerable: cook it twice as long as instructed on the tub, and then embellish it with a little brown sugar and cinnamon. Over the course of a month I was able to make this tub leave my pantry for the recycling bin!

Of note, one of my favorite additions has been a handful of fresh blueberries, added to the pot a couple minutes before serving, so they're slightly cooked and softened, kind of like in blueberry pancakes.

Another trick I learned was to measure a serving of oats (40g) into the specified amount of water (6 oz) as soon as I got up in the morning. By the time I made coffee, checked email, and read the morning paper, cooking the oats for breakfast took half as long! Soaking (rehydrating) for an hour was time well spent because I could do something else instead of standing at the stove stirring a pot.

The tub of regular long-cook product has been more troublesome. Doubling the cooking time from 30 minutes to a full hour isn't really practical. If I wanted to spend an hour making breakfast I'd use that time to create something more exotic, like eggs benedict!

When I similarly inherited a container of farro last year I used it up as the starch in my beef stew...instead of potatoes. Since winter is "beef stew season" here in New England, it was only natural to try this same trick with the long-cook steel cut oats, and it worked! After all, if simmering a couple hours can tenderize beef, it shouldn't be too hard to do the same to oats.

My most recent experiment included adding a half cup (80g) of oats to the simmering pot a full hour before serving. The results were very satisfying. The oats were completely soft and thickened the stew nicely.

The only caveat is to make sure you have enough extra stock in the pot as the oats absorb 3x their volume of liquid. Spelling this out: a half cup of oats requires three times that amount of stock for hydration. I used a full quart of stock for a 4-serving stew recipe (with 1# of beef) and it was perfect.

My next experiment tried an overnight soak with long-cook steel cut oats for breakfast. Theory: if it works for dry beans, it should do the same for oats. My inspiration was a New York Times recipe: "Overnight Oats" by Genevieve Ko. I'd call it a success as the oats were softer/creamier and cooking time was cut almost in half.

While they have been interesting to play with, when my stash of steel cut oats is gone I doubt I'll rush out to restock!

More Cooking Tips

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>Fresh Herbs
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>Hang your Pots and Pans
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>Home-made Stock
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>Lapsang Souchong Tea
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>Measure by Hand
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They've been said to be like a cross between an onion and garlic, but they're really their own thing. Just get some, and cook with them. You'll never look back!

>Sharp Knives
If you have a sharpener, this tip doesn't even cost you a cent... unless, of course, you cut yourself in the process and end up at the emergency room! If you don't have a sharpener, it's time to invest in one.

>Spice Rack
Maybe it is time to organize your herbs and spices. You can weed out ove-the-hill spices while you're at it.

>Squeeze Bottles
Yea, kind of flashy, almost celebratory, but you can use them like the pros to make things look nice too.

>Steel Cut Oats
What to do with this miserable product if you get caught with a tub.

>True Citrus
Real citrus in crystallized form, available in lemon, lime, and orange. Substitute for zest or extract.

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