Oatmeal is one of those nutritional bargain foods, a simple grain so full of fiber (that’s much of what it is) that even the overprocessed brand-name instant flavored varieties can’t ruin it entirely, other than dumping in a bunch of salt and strangely spelled preservatives.
But why ruin it and pay so much extra for the privilege of ripping open an “individual serving packet”? Plain unprocessed oatmeal is cheap and easy enough to cook in a microwave–single portions or enough for several–that you don’t have to wait around and stir and wash big pots afterward, and you don’t have to load it with junk. Fruit and/or cinnamon and/or a spoonful of sugar will do. Flat or “rolled” oats are easiest, but you can also cook steel-cut (unflattened) oats in a microwave, and it can save your nerves if you don’t like to stand around stirring.
Microwaved oatmeal (rolled oat version)
Pour 1/4 cup dry rolled oats per serving into a pyrex mixing bowl (figure up to about 4-5 servings in a 2.5 qt. bowl to avoid boilover). Add water to cover by about 1 cm–maybe as much as 1/2 inch above the oats for 4-5 servings. Microwave on HIGH uncovered 4 minutes. Keep an eye on it–if it starts to edge up to the rim, stop it, open the door, stir, and continue. If it’s not as cooked as you like, stir and give it another minute (for the larger quantities). Once it’s cooked, add a bit of milk or yogurt. You can add raisins, chopped apple, dried cranberries or apricots, etc. to the raw oats before cooking, but you should stop the oven once or twice in the middle of the time to stir so everything cooks evenly. The bowl is a heck of a lot easier to clean afterward, especially if you rinse it out right away.
If you’re doing just one serving, you can do it in a microwaveable coffee mug for a minute or two, stirring between, but you have to keep a closer eye on it to avoid boilover. Don’t go nowhere (she said ungrammatically.)
Microwaving Steel-Cut Oats
This is where the time savings kind of kicks in. Steel-cut oats are terrific if you have guests in the winter and are making a big brunch and throwing all kinds of fixings on the table to go with the oatmeal. But normally, a pot of steel-cut oats on the stovetop costs 45 minutes and a lot of stirring and standing around. This can lead to frustration–not so great with guests in the house. Doing it in a microwave takes a little advance planning, because it won’t cook straight the way rolled oats will, but it works very well with a lot less pain and suffering for you, the chef.
The trick to microwaving steel-cut oats is to soak the grain overnight first–hence the advance planning. Put the amount of oats you need into a big pyrex bowl and cover by about an inch with water. Cover the bowl and let the oats soak overnight in the fridge or on your counter. In the morning, most of the water should be absorbed and the grain should be swollen and splitting. Add enough water to cover by half an inch and microwave on HIGH for 4 minutes covered–stir and let it sit a minute or two, then check the doneness, and microwave another few minutes if it seems undercooked, adding more water or milk first if it seems too dry–it might take as much as 3-4 more minutes, but go by 1-minute intervals. Letting it sit a minute or two in between lets the hot oats absorb the liquid.