A formula for hot cereal success
EC: Make the Porridge You Want to See in the World
Credit: Photo by Caroline Lange

Nursery food. That’s what porridge is—nursery food, like pudding or applesauce. It’s the kind of thing you might eat when you’re very small, sick, or cold. That does not sound at all glamorous, and yet today there are nearly 1.1 million posts on Instagram tagged #porridge. Would you believe it? Grey mush has never been this big, nor so photogenic. Then again, porridge is hardly grey mush any more. “Porridge” might sound a little self-consciously elegant, but it really is the best word for cozy, milky bowls of oats—or rice, millet, barley, buckwheat groats, quinoa, or teff. It is what a bowl of rice is at other meals: a receiving room for all the colorful, sweet, and savory characters lingering in your refrigerator. The result is something very far from boring, and incredibly comforting.

Porridge is also an excellent place to play. The base grain is so neutral and the additional variables relatively limited, so that the result will almost always be delicious. There's also a lot of fun in finding the pairings that express most emphatically oats’ creaminess, rice’s sweetness, or farro’s nuttiness.

Below are a few flavor combinations to get you started—but don’t limit yourself. This is where the play comes in.

A few additional things to note:

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Credit: Photo by Julia_Sudnitskaya via Getty Images

Some things you can cook to porridge-state from raw, but I don’t love the idea of waiting 45-plus minutes for my farro to cook down. I actually think that the porridge is better if you start with cooked farro to which you add more liquid and cook further. This will be true of most longer-cooking grains (like farro, rice, or barley), whereas quick-cooking grains (like oats, quinoa, or groats) can go from zero to porridge just fine.

If you’re pre-cooking the grain before turning it into porridge, there is no need to overcook it. That’s why you’re cooking it again, and you may as well get some additional use out of the grains (perhaps you can turn them into a salad for lunch). I like the “pasta” method for nearly all grains, including rice: Just fill up a pot of water, bring it to a boil, dump in however much grain you’d like, let it cook until just tender, then drain. The cooking time will depend on the grain.

The exception to this is cornmeal, which plays by its own rules. For that, you’ll want a four-to-one ratio of liquid to grain, and it’s really best served right after you make it (though you can reheat it, slowly, in a pot or the microwave, mashing it is you do with a fork or a wooden spoon). Think grits.

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Credit: Photo by Westend61 via Getty Images

When it comes to making the porridge, I like a two-to-one ratio of liquid to grains. So, for example, simmer ⅔ cup liquid with ⅓ cup raw oats—or ⅔ cup liquid with ⅓ cup cooked farro. Stir regularly, over relatively low heat, until the grains are tender and your preferred level of mush.

Go wild! Feel free to combine grains with similar cooking times in the same pot.

Add a little salt. Your canister of oatmeal says it’s optional, but it really isn’t—salt makes everything taste more like itself.

Try these flavor combinations:

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Credit: Photo by Caroline Lange via Getty Images

Oats + oat milk + pinches of cinnamon and nutmeg + cream

Quinoa + whole milk + ginger powder and chopped pears + toasted sunflower seeds + sliced pears and honey

Cornmeal + equal parts buttermilk and water + lemon zest + toasted sliced almonds + blueberries and lemon curd + dollop of yogurt

Farro + a combination of water, apple cider, and milk + pinch cinnamon + toasted pumpkin seeds + sliced apples sautéed with a little maple syrup + salted butter or a drizzle of olive oil

Barley + hemp milk + toasted cashews + sliced banana and toasted cashews + coconut oil and a sprinkle of flakey salt

Rice (brown or white) + coconut milk + toasted sesame seeds + coconut flakes + tahini

Mix of grains or buckwheat groats + almond milk + flax seeds + poppy seeds + roasted fruit or squash + dollop of crème fraîche