Oatmeal may never have the magnetic allure of luscious chocolate cake or breakfast brethren like lofty dutch babies or loaded breakfast burritos. Still, one need not resign to a bland or gloppy bowl: I start almost every day with a bowl full to the brim and have yet to grow bored. Here are a few tips that are too good not to share.
- Don't forget the salt: While the instructions on the tub of oats might imply that salt is optional, quite frankly it's not. Your bowl of oatmeal shouldn't taste salty (unless, of course, you're trying a savory iteration, like the one below), but adding a hefty pinch will help enhance flavors whether nutty, sweet, or creamy. Just make sure to season to taste after it's done cooking; if you add it at the start, the oats will release less of their starch, and the resulting texture won't be as creamy.
- Skip instant oats: These flaky par-cooked fragments might simmer up quicker, but with a catch: the resulting bowl of oatmeal will be reminiscent of wallpaper paste. Instead, try rolled (old-fashioned) oats or steel-cut groats. Not only are these options more toothsome and robustly flavored, they'll stave off hunger longer.
- Swap out water for other liquids: Boost flavor by experimenting with other liquids. For a creamier bowl, replace half of the water with milk or nondairy alternatives like almond or soy milk.
- Play with texture: Topping porridge with sliced banana or plump berries is hardly novel, but a simple mash or simmer allows their flavor to incorporate throughout. Try adding half a cup of frozen berries (raspberries, bing cherries, and wild blueberries are particularly great) per serving in the last few minutes of cooking, allowing them to simmer alongside the oats and break down slightly. Or fold in one mashed banana, half a cup pumpkin puree, or applesauce after they're done cooking. For exceptional crunch, top with chopped toasted nuts or seeds.
- Make muesli: Late riser? Plan ahead with muesli; soaking oats overnight in milk or yogurt results in a texture similar to those simmered on the stove, and they'll be ready to go first thing the next morning.
- Think outside the box: Essentially oatmeal is a blank slate and can incorporate a whole host of novel flavors. Explore your pantry, fridge, freezer, and fruit bowl for options. Additionally, oatmeal need not be sweet; learn a trick from the Chinese and model your bowl of oats after congee, a savory rice porridge. Not only does this expand options, making palate fatigue less likely if you're a steadfast oatmeal fan, but savory oatmeal is also a great candidate for breakfast for dinner.
Want more inspiration? Try these three novel varieties. What are your tricks for a better bowl of oatmeal?