How to make the ultimate morning porridge – The Guardian

Cook your oats slowly and keep them moving, our panel agrees – but what to put on top is a matter of heated debate …
What’s the best way to make porridge?
Jane, Derby
Porridge, as Goldilocks can attest, is a deeply personal thing, so it can take a few goes to get it “just right”. For Jeremy Lee, chef-patron of Quo Vadis in London and author of Cooking: Simply and Well, for One or Many, the perfect bowl is a “soft, yielding, meltingly soothing brew” with a “soft, dropping consistency”, which he achieves with his mum’s recipe. Soak one cup of pinhead oats (“Not the big flakes: I don’t like those”) overnight in water, then gently heat them in three cups of water and simmer “quietly”, stirring all the while with a pinch of salt, until they’re cooked to your desired consistency.
Another fully fledged member of the porridge (and coarse oatmeal) fan club is the Guardian’s perfectionist Felicity Cloake. “I went to the World Porridge Championships, and they won’t use rolled oats, which are the ones you generally find in supermarkets,” she says. “They’re steamed and flattened, so cook more quickly, but they’ve a less interesting flavour and texture.” Cloake toasts her oats first, “to bring out the flavour”, then heats them in half-and-half milk and water, salting midway. Rishi Anand, head of research and development for Dishoom, however, prefers oat milk: “If you want your oats to be creamier, add them after the milk has simmered; and if you want them to keep their shape, add them with the cold milk.”
Whichever way you go, however, just be sure to cook those oats slowly and keep them moving, perhaps with a spurtle (a bespoke Scottish wooden kitchen tool), depending on who you ask. “It does allow you to get into the edges of the pan, so nothing gets left behind,” Cloake says, “but I don’t think it’s necessary.” Lee, meanwhile, disagrees: “A spoon will bruise the oats, which is when you get that sticky, sloppy gruel. Porridge needs to be stirred gently, like custard.”
Porridge, of course, doesn’t have to stop with oats; different grains are used all over the world. “The version we make has a whole range of lovely things from Hodmedod’s [purveyors of UK-grown pulses],” says Nia Burr, chef and co-owner of north London cafe Esters, whose porridge includes 50% oats, 20% barley flakes, 20% malted wheat flakes and 10% quinoa. “Be careful with the ratios, though, because quinoa can make it gummy.”
Then there are the toppings. “Dad taught us how to eat it,” Lee recalls. “Crumble soft, dark brown sugar on top, cover with a plate and leave for five minutes.” Once the sugar has dissolved, grab a spoon. “Lift [the porridge] up and spoon [it] through a bowl of cold cream and milk. It’s lovely.” Cloake is also one for brown sugar, although, “for a fruitcake vibe”, has been known to add candied peel, nutmeg and sweet spices. Burr goes for brown butter, flaked almonds, or hazelnut butter, while Anand’s go-tos include roast pistachios, dried dates, roughly mashed banana or mango, or coconut milk powder, “for a nice, coconutty flavour and creaminess”.
Fruit compotes (apple or stone fruit, say) are another option, but Lee doesn’t have much truck with them: “I’m far too presbyterian. Better by far is to have your bowl of porridge, then follow that with a pudding of fruit and yoghurt.”
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