Oats! You remember those instant oats from your childhood that Grandma said would “stick to your ribs?” Remember how mushy they get? Maybe you don’t have to remember that far back – your last free breakfast at the hotel with those pre-flavored instant packets? Or at the airport? A lot of places try to dress it up with mix-ins, but in the end, it still ends up sodden and gloppy. Disappointing, huh?
Or maybe you have tried the far superior rolled oats, steel-cut, or (my favorite) oat groats. The end result is great! But you have to be patient. Who has up to 45 minutes to cook these longer methods on a weekday when you’re trying to get out the door to work? Guess you can only have your great oats on the weekend and you’ll be stuck with the soggy instant variety during the week.
I first came up with the basic idea when I heard Mark Bittmann on NPR in 2009 talking about oats and how it helped him lose weight and improve his health markers. And it must have been the year of the oat because Jeremy Oldfield and Chow put out a guide on how to make them better:
I wanted steel cut oats and oat groats for breakfast, but with waking up before 6, I couldn’t be bothered with adding the extra time before my workday. Jeremy’s method was really good, but I found that they were scorching sometimes while I was busy multitasking, making coffee and such.
So, I found a recipe for overnight oats in the slow cooker. The recipe called for mixing the water salt and oats directly in the Crockpot and letting it cook overnight. NEVER AGAIN! Not only did it make overly mushy oats, it made a nearly impossible mess to clean up. The oats baked onto the side of the crock and became a mortar tough enough to erect skyscrapers! What a mess! No, no, that wasn’t the answer.
And so, I tried a different way. The Bain Marie, or double boiler. If I could put a bowl inside the slow cooker the water could act as a buffer to prevent scorching and the messy clean-up and maybe make it cook a little slower and prevent overcooking. It worked! What I did was to fill the Crockpot with enough water to go half-up a smaller Pyrex bowl set inside. That Pyrex bowl contained my oats and helped keep it from scorching when it cooked overnight. It was a good technique and worked well enough for me over about 5 years. But one thing always bugged me just a little bit. The oats were just a little softer than I wanted. Nothing too crazy – just a little bit too yielding for me.
Recently, I’ve been really getting into Sous vide cooking. When I was going to make my overnight oats for an early Saturday morning departure, I thought “Why not Sous vide my oats?” I knew that the temperature controller would let me dial in a cooler temperature than what I could do with the antique Crockpot I’ve got, so I gave it a go.
Add 3 cups (709ml) of water and 1 cup (160g) of steel cut oats (or rolled oats, or oat groats) and ¼ tsp salt to a vacuum bag and seal it. Then just drop it in a Sous vide bath set to 155 F (68C) and let it cook overnight. Then just squeeze it out into bowls and mix in whatever you like.
Alternatively, you can certainly use a sealable plastic bag, sealed Mason jar, or my Bain Marie technique I mentioned earlier. Just make sure the moving water doesn’t get above ¾ up your bowl (or you’ll have porridge)! The temperatures here are low enough that you don’t have to worry about chemicals leaching and the plastics used in contemporary bags are considered safe. If you’re really nervous go down the glass bowl or Mason jar route.
A word on mix-ins. You can always go the traditional sweet method with add-ins like brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, nuts, dried fruit, apples, etc. But there is a whole world out there! Jeremy suggested a few great options in his YDIAW video. The first is the Holy Trinity of savory oatmeal: 1 Tablespoon of tahini, 2 Tablespoons of honey, 1 Tablespoon of miso paste – now isn’t that more interesting? If you like sweet, he also suggests banana and coconut milk and cacao nibs could always go in anything! Me? My ideal is a blueberry-rhubarb-ginger sauce or strawberry-rhubarb sauce over top with some heavy cream whipped slightly. Unbeatable! Interested in those recipes? Let me know and we’ll shoot some pictures and get ‘em up!
Tried this recipe? Let us know what you think about it and comment below!
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I love your lower temperature of 155, the other sites say 180, but I was afraid too much water would evaporate at that high temp - 155 worked great. And it's not too adventurous, but I cook mine with chopped dates.
Thanks for trying it, Lisa! I had the same issues with evaporation at the higher temperatures, which is why I settled on 155. Great suggestion on dates as well - some excellent natural sweetness!
I could probably come up with my own versions, but I'm interested in your recipes for the 2 rhubarb toppings.
Great - I'll do a shoot and post when they're in season!
Sounds delicious and I can’t wait to try it. Don’t laugh but I’m old and might sleep longer than 8 hours ha ha!
That's the beauty of Sous vide. You can take a longer time and it'll still turn out great! Please let me know how it turns out for you.