We know oats are supposed to be good for you. We know that eating porridge every morning could make you healthier and even extend your life, although I would have to subtract all the time I spent eating porridge before I decided it was worth it. But porridge is by no means the beginning and the end of oats. Here are 17 different ways to use them, and only one of them is a traditional porridge. Feel free to skip it.
First, some technical information: oats come in a bewildering variety of formats – whole, rolled, quick, instant, jumbo, steel-cut, pinhead, oatmeal, gluten-free – but a little simplification is helpful. Steel-cut and pinhead oats are the same thing: the hulled oat groat, chopped into two or three pieces. Rolled oats have been steamed and flattened; quick oats have been either steamed longer or pressed flatter, or both. Jumbo oats are big rolled oats. Anything called porridge oats may well have been steel cut and then rolled. Oatmeal is made from oats ground to various grades. Oats themselves contain no gluten, but unless they are certified and labelled as “gluten-free” they may have been contaminated by wheat or other grains, either in the field or during processing.
Most of the following recipes call for either rolled oats, porridge oats (ie, fragmented rolled oats) or oatmeal, all of which are soft enough to have wider baking applications. That said, Felicity Cloake’s formula for perfect porridge uses equal amounts of pinhead and medium oatmeal. But let’s leave the debate about what constitutes a traditional breakfast porridge behind, in pursuit of things that definitely don’t.
Porridge isn’t the only breakfast you can make with oats. The Pinch of Nom duo Kay Featherstone and Kate Allinson have a simple recipe for oat pancakes, a lighter, healthier alternative to the regular sort. They recommend using Ready Brek – which is a mixture of rolled oats and oat flour – but they say you can just whizz up some rolled oats in a food processor to make them a bit finer.
Oat pancakes. Photograph: Arx0nt/Getty Images
David Atherton’s blueberry baked oatmeal is a sort of packed lunch porridge in muffin form, while Sally McKenney’s more traditional take on muffins uses more flour than oats. In my experience, frozen blueberries work very well for muffins, to the extent that they are generally preferable to fresh.
For something more savoury try pikelets, which, depending on your perspective, are either small, plump pancakes or very thin crumpets. They contain yeast, so the oats and flour may need to soak and prove overnight. Dan Lepard’s parsley pikelets deserve a corner on any full English breakfast plate.
You can make your own granola by mixing rolled oats with a combination of nuts, seeds, dried fruit, oil and maple syrup or honey, as explained in this recipe from Cookie & Kate. Press the mixture flat into a baking tray and bake until you end up with nuggets of crunchy oaten ore. Cookie is a dog, by the way.
Baked oatmeal by David Atherton. Photograph: David Atherton
If that’s too elaborate, Jack Monroe has a much simpler, no-frills version using peanut butter, which will keep in a sealed container for about a month.
For a dairy-free breakfast eat your oat granola with oat milk. If you have ever wondered about the mysterious process by which oats are turned into milk, you can experiment with producing it yourself. Being unschooled in the world of non-dairy milks, I was expecting some kind of alchemy requiring specialist equipment, but the process is both eerily straightforward and incredibly cheap compared with shop-bought oat milk – about 11p for 750ml.
Oats make an excellent coating for fried food, in place of flour, breadcrumbs or cornmeal. They work a treat in this cheat’s chicken katsu curry, so I’m presuming they would work just as well in a more honest katsu curry. They can also be used to coat fish to fry for fish tacos.
Mollusc magic … snail porridge. Photograph: Neil Setchfield/Alamy Stock Photo
A number of savoury porridge recipes exist. One of the best known, at least by name, is Heston Blumenthal’s snail porridge. It’s a bit involved and perhaps not to everyone’s taste, but if you happen to have them lying around, it’s a great way to use up 72 snails. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s savoury porridge with kale and bacon probably has wider appeal, and Yotam Ottolenghi’s savoury porridge combines eggs, oats, garlic and ginger.
Flapjacks may be the most likely avenue for people with oats and time on their hands, but Nigel Slater’s mum’s recipe is a cut above, featuring pistachios and dried fruit.
Cranachan is a traditional Scottish dessert combining the four basic Scottish food groups: oats, raspberries, whisky and cream, although Mary Berry’s take has a very untraditional addition: mascarpone.
Scotch delight … cranachan. Photograph: Eva Ziatkova/Alamy Stock Photo
If it’s tradition you’re after, the Anzac biscuit has great historic significance in Australia and New Zealand. The story is cloudy – they were allegedly baked to send to overseas soldiers during the first world war, but the recipe didn’t emerge until about 1920. It’s pretty much a shallow, round flapjack with the addition of desiccated coconut. The chewier version here is simple and fairly foolproof – although I can’t tell you how authentic it is because I had never tasted one before. They do have something a man of a certain age likes in a biscuit: the whiff of privation. At first, my sons regarded them as some kind of punishment, but the plate was empty by morning.
I can’t imagine what the teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda in the recipe is for – the biscuits come out of the oven flatter than they went in. But you can’t skip it: Australia’s department of veterans’ affairs maintains strict legal control over the use of the word “Anzac”, and makes exceptions for the biscuit only when the traditional recipe is adhered to. For God’s sake, do not experiment.