Perfect overnight oatmeal

I've been on an oatmeal binge lately. Unfortunately, I am lazy and enjoy sleeping as late as I can, so the 30+ minutes that it takes to prepare steel-cut oats (the good stuff) is not gonna happen most weekdays. Enter the preferred gadget for lazy cooks: the crock pot. I think I've nailed down the perfect recipe with a minimum of fuss and a maximum of flavor.

(Anyone familiar with Good Eats will notice that this is suspiciously close to Alton’s steel-cut oatmeal and overnight oatmeal recipes. In my defense, um, it’s a remix!)

First, fire up a decent sized frying pan or saucepan over medium-low heat and toss in a tablespoon of butter.

As the butter melts, toss in a cup of steel-cut oats.

Not rolled oats, quick oats, or instant oats, which look generally like this:

rolled oatmeal
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That shit cray

For this recipe, steel-cut oats are non-negotiable. They look like this:

steel-cut oats
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That shit grain

Check the bulk bins. They’re cheap.

And, seriously, don't even try lesser oats: they'll dissolve to mush overnight – and not a good mush!

serving up Krusty-brand imitation gruel
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Nine out of ten orphans can’t tell the difference

Anyway, you’re throwing them in some butter to toast them for a nuttier, toastier flavor.

Keep the oats and butter moving and pay attention to the smell. A lot of other recipes say you're done toasting when you smell butterscotch; honestly, I think they already smell a bit like butterscotch. When you smell just a hint of popcorn, they're actually done. Get your precious oats off the heat and out of the pan so they don't burn.

Go get about a cup and a half of dried fruit, an alternative to dumping in a lot of brown sugar or whatever to sweeten it up.

Alton’s suggestion of 1 cup cranberries and a half cup chopped figs is my favorite – complex, tart, not too sweet. But you can substitute whatever fruits you're in the mood for. I had pretty good luck the other day with dried pineapple and coconut.

Now, if you throw this straight into the crock pot, there’s a good chance you’ll have oatmeal that burns to the bottom and edges of the pot. It doesn't taste good (Yes, I tried. Shut up! I was hungry!) and is a real bitch to scrape off. Gross.

Doing a water bath solves that problem completely. With a pool of water in between your oatmeal and the heating elements of the crock pot, nothing can burn.

Here's the tricky part: you need a bowl that…

  1. Can fit about 5 cups of oats, fruit, and liquid. So long, lots of small bowls!
  2. Is (more-or-less) oven-safe. So long, anything plastic!
  3. Can easily fit inside your crock pot. So long, almost everything else!

Good candidates are a metal mixing bowl, a small casserole (like for a souffle), or a bowl from a rice cooker (that's what I use).

Now, for the liquids: 1 cup of oats will absorb 4 cups of water. Easy.

But you've got dried fruit in there: add like a half cup more.

A.B.’s recipe calls for heavy cream, which adds a lot of calories but not a lot of benefit: this will get plenty creamy and sweet on its own. If you're counting calories, splurge on the butter to toast the oats.

4.5 cups of liquid will give you middle-of-the-road lumpiness. Increase or decrease the amount of total liquids to your preference. Although honestly, it's hard to screw this up.

Combine it all in your cooking bowl. Toss in a quarter teaspoon each of ground cinnamon and ground ginger because we’re adults and we use spices. If you don't have ginger handy, other candidates are cloves or maybe nutmeg.

You can also add a pinch or two of salt now if you want. Salt slows down the cooking process of oats, but since we're cooking for 8 or so hours it really doesn't matter. I usually pass, though; the cinnamon and ginger will be doing a lot for you already.

Fill up your crock pot about halfway with water. Put your cooking bowl in the water bath. As long as the water level comes up reasonably high around your cooking bowl, you'll be ok.

But not TOO high! Now is the time to test whether or not you can get your cooking bowl out of there while wearing oven mitts without spilling or displacing so much that your water bath overflows into your oatmeal. That'll ruin your morning.

Throw the lid on the crock pot, set it on low, come back in 8 or 9 hours, give it a stir, and eat it all up.

You'll note that I don't have an “after” picture here because I ate it all up. All this to say that it’s pretty damn tasty.

The above is for 4 “servings” in the usual nutrition label the-hell-do-you-mean-a-half-cup-of-cereal-is-an-entire-serving? meaning of “serving”. The wife and I are big breakfast people, so I usually cook ¾ of the above for two; however, the ratios I’ve listed are nice round numbers that are easy to remember.

An aside about exploding glass bowls

If you're using a glass or ceramic bowl for cooking and if you’ve accidentally lost a “Pyrex” or two to a temperature shocksplosion like I have, you might be worried about your oatmeal getting all explode-y in the middle of the night.

I'm not too concerned.

  1. A slow cooker on low is barely going to raise the water above a simmer; (You could also do this recipe in an oven around 175-200 degrees overnight if you don't mind wasting energy and trust your oven to not go above 212 for an extended period and take everything to a boil)
  2. The water bath is going to slow any temperature transitions way, way, way, way down;
  3. If your bowl floats, you’ve got all that water acting as a buffer;
  4. The slow cooker’s gigantic ceramic bowl is already another buffer.

That’s a lot of things protecting you from temperature shock. If you’re still concerned, stick a dish towel between your cooking bowl and the bottom of the slow cooker. Put that concerned eyebrow down! Even if it could get hot enough in there, it’s soaking wet and surrounded by water! Nothing’s going to catch on fire.

Still, if you manage to blow up a bowl in the middle of the night don't email me about it.

On second thought, DO email me about it. That sounds awesome.

Am I doing it wrong?

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