Risotto! Or is it RisOATo?

If you’ve read some of my other posts, I’m sure you’ve seen that from time to time I like to try swapping out ingredients for some of the more healthy suggestions you see floating around out there. Sometimes they work out well and other times, not so much. I’m not one that immediately buys into the hype that goes along with these recipe swap ideas. Karen isn’t either as you can tell from a recent Q&A post where I asked her “does mashed cauliflower really taste just like mashed potatoes?” Her answer was a very clear “no!” I have to agree with her. That doesn’t mean that mashed cauliflower can’t be enjoyable, it simply means that it’s not mashed potatoes!

Recently I made some steel cut oats for breakfast – if you like oatmeal and haven’t had them yet, you should give them a try. They taste just like rolled oats, but are less processed so they have a more firm texture that is similar to rice. I’m not a doctor or nutritionist, but I like to learn more about the ingredients I work with and I have long known about the many benefits of oats – the less processed the oat, the better! I won’t go into a long list, but if you google steel cut oats, dozens of results will be returned to you extolling their many virtues.

Recently on one site I saw a simple statement that said “steel cut oats make a great risotto.” The statement appealed to me because it was just that – a statement. It didn’t promise me anything like telling me it would taste just like rice or that once I tried it, I would never want rice again or that not only does it taste great, but it can also be used to clean my countertops! There wasn’t some magical recipe offered either – again, just a simple statement for you to take or leave if you wish. I have made risotto many times and decided that I wanted to give this idea a try, so I simply swapped the Arborio rice for steel cut oats and prepared it the way I always do.

When people think about making risotto, they often walk away because they may have heard that it’s a difficult process. I used to think that too until I finally gave it a try. After my first attempt I learned the truth – it isn’t really difficult if you follow three simple rules:

  1. Have time – The process takes awhile.
  2. Have patience – This goes hand in hand with having time. If you try to rush it along on a high heat, the cooking liquid will evaporate too quickly instead of being absorbed by the grain you use which will result in the grain being undercooked.
  3. Keep your cooking liquid hot – This is important! Liquid is added slowly to the grain when cooking risotto. Putting in cold liquid will not only slow down the cooking process, it will also make the liquid steam up quickly upon contact with the hot pan, causing some of it to evaporate – you want the liquid to go into the grain, not the air!

Steel Cut Oat Risotto

  • 4 cups chicken broth or stock (I prefer stock for a richer flavor)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup steel cut oats
  • 1/3 cup dry wine – red or white both work well. I used red this time.
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup cooked peas – you can leave them out if you don’t like peas, or swap them for something else. SautĂ©ed mushrooms come to mind…

Heat the chicken broth or stock in a pot until it just begins to boil, then turn the heat all the way down to keep it simmering very gently.

In a large skillet (or saucepan if you prefer a deeper pot) melt the butter. When melted, add the oats and toss them around to coat them. Cook the oats in the butter for a minute or two to toast them a bit and then reduce the heat to medium.

Add the wine to the oats and stir well. Continue cooking for a few minutes until most of the wine has evaporated, then lower the heat again to a level high enough for simmering.

Here is where the time and patience comes in. Add one ladle full (approximately half of a cup) of your simmering broth or stock to the oats in the skillet and allow it to simmer slowly, stirring occasionally. When most of the broth has been absorbed by the oats – about 3 to 4 minutes – add another ladle of broth. Repeat the process above until you have used all of the broth. When done, the oats should be cooked, but still a bit firm and chewy.

Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste and then mix in the cooked peas and serve hot.

Risotto makes a great side dish, but it can easily hold its own as the main course!

The time had come for the taste test, so we dove in. Much to my surprise, I truly didn’t taste anything like the flavor you would get when oats are served for breakfast. The flavor was full and delicious and it really did turn out for me (my wife agreed) to be one of those instances where you really couldn’t tell much difference when using the oats instead of Arborio rice. Texture wise, it was also very similar – the biggest difference I noticed was that the oats were a touch more firm than Arborio rice.

For us, the rice for oats swap was a success. I would readily go ahead and make the oat version interchangeably with the rice version. As you can tell from my comments at the start of this post, I don’t make that statement lightly…. When I want mashed potatoes, I don’t use cauliflower!

If you give this recipe a try, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

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