It wasn’t till living in France that I realised just how strongly I feel about porridge. If you’ve worked in kitchens before then you’ll know how precious the staff or family meal is.
The family meal is the chance to stop, refuel and above all else, bond with your kitchen crew. As a private chef I either work completely alone or alongside a host. My host ensures that the food gets out hot, that glasses are always topped up, tea towels clean and that I’m alerted to that rogue bit of spinach between my front teeth. My host turns the flurry of a kitchen into a synchronised dance, makes work manageable and literally saves my arse. The way I know most to show my gratitude is to make sure that they are fed well, especially at godforsaken hours of early breakfasts.
One of my favourite hosts to work alongside is a woman named Peggy who lives up to every French stereotype. Peggy is aloof, thin, smokes a lot, confident and so intimidatingly glamorous that she makes men stutter and women envious. I love her. Knowing that Peggy isn’t partial to fatty hollandaise, exotic Shakshuka or too much baguette I offered her a bowl of what I was having. Creamy porridge oats, roasted figs, a drizzle of honey and some chopped nuts.
“Non. You can keep you food for orses.”
Peggy rides horses and categorically was not interested in eating food that she only buys for her steeds. Porridge is not a French thing. Porridge is evocative of neck scratching chunky-knit jumpers, slippers, frosty mornings and the windswept Highlands. Porridge also happens to be the perfect morning fuel before a day on the mountain as an expat that often misses the mundane of home, like an illustration of a strapping Scotsman on a box of oats in the supermarket. As it gets harder to roll out of bed on cold mornings, it’s time to feed our souls with all things warm and comforting by perfecting the perfect bowl of porridge.
Tips on how to get perfect porridge:
- Start with a good blank canvas in the the form of good quality oats. I steer away from instant oats and use old fashioned, otherwise known as rolled oats or steel-cut oats. Old fashioned oats are flat and flakey and absorb milk/ water faster than steel-cut oats which are chewier and heartier.
- My preferred ratio of oats to liquid is 1:3 and I find that 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of water gets the perfect creamy consistency which isn’t overly-sickly.
- One big mug of oats will serve 4. So 1 big mug of oats, 2 cups of milk and 1 cup of water is what you need for a family of 4.
- Soaking your oats overnight isn’t necessary but if you’re not a morning person then it’s a habit that you should get into. Soaking overnight speeds up the cooking time and means that you’ve essentially got breakfast waiting for you in the fridge. You can eat them cold as soaking helps the starches break down, meaning your body is able to utilise the oat’s nutrients much more efficiently. If you prefer a bit bowl of warm porridge then you can cooked the soaked oats – the result because of the soaking is an extra creamy consistency.
- Toast your oats in a dry pan for a couple of minutes before you soak or start cooking them. This isn’t necessary either but adds a nutty, toasty depth of flavour to your porridge which is perfect on cold mornings. After toasting simply add your liquid and cook as you usually would.
- Don’t forget salt! Even if you plan on sweetening your porridge with jam, honey or sugar, salt will season your porridge and exaggerate your other flavourings and toppings. Just a pinch stirred in at the end is all you need.
- Tend to your porridge like a needy baby. Keep stirring until it comes together a s a smooth, creamy pot of comfort.
- Experiment with both sweet and savoury toppings. Think, grated apple & cinnamon, honey & banana, poached egg & avocado, jam & yoghurt , roasted tomatoes & parmesan, roasted figs and pecan, mango & toasted coconut, almond butter and pear. Here are some home-made jams and toppers that you could try.
Earl Grey Poached Plums
The smell of these plums poaching in the fragrant flavours of Earl Grey could quite easily be made into a festive candle and will certainly add cosy vibes to your home and tummy.
Mango & Lime Curd
A tropical twist on the more traditional lemon curd – makes a good filling in a layer cake, in a pie or on toast.
Damson & Star Anise Jam
This is a great way to preserve the taste of early Autumn for months to come.
Apricot & Vanilla Bean Jam
This is everything that’s good about French jam – not too set, definitely not too sweet and the perfect accompaniment for good bread.
Roasted, Sticky Figs
These roasted, sticky figs are everything. By everything I mean they are both sweet and savoury, sinfully good and go with just about everything and anything.
Roasted grapes make a great accompaniment to meat, on salads, on toast or on top of yoghurt.