How to Boil Water: The perfect bowl of oatmeal

The perfect bowl of oatmeal
Set up a tray of add-ins to make your morning meal feel special.
(Hanna Carter / For The Times)

With so many of you having to stay home and cook for the first time — ever or more than you have in a long time — we get that it can be overwhelming to have to cook all your meals from scratch. So we’re here to get you started.

Each weekday, we’re going to post a new skill here and go into detail about how to do it — a resource for cooking basics so you can get food on the table and get through this.

A series of simple tutorials for making some basic recipes at home.

Lesson 4: Perfect Oatmeal


It’s centering to have a morning meal routine when you’re home all the time. Oatmeal is the one dish that makes me feel everything’s going to be OK. It’s as warming as putting on a sweatshirt straight out of the dryer.

You can knock out a bowl in minutes with a microwave packet or you can go full Goldilocks and get it just right.

Texture is key. Whether you’re using rolled/old-fashioned or steel-cut oats, you need to let the grains soften slowly — a process closer to poaching than simmering. It’s the difference between gluey glop and creamy bliss.

Start the grains in a saucepan and cover with cold, filtered water and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a bare simmer over medium heat, stirring now and then. Once the water bubbles steadily, lower the heat so that the mush pops at a slow staccato. Stir just enough to ensure nothing burns on the bottom of the saucepan. Keep cooking until the oats are tender yet chewy and still intact. When you lift the spoon from the pan, the oatmeal should lava-flow back in, not plop — it will continue to thicken as it cools. If it’s too thick at this point, stir in a couple additional tablespoons of water.


A stir-free technique to get equally creamy results with steel-cut oats is to use a slow cooker, InstantPot or rice cooker. Use the lowest heat on the slow cooker, the “less” option on the InstantPot and the “porridge” setting on a rice cooker. If your machine has a timer, adjust it so it’s done cooking 30 minutes before you want to eat.

Before serving, season to taste with salt and stir in butter, cream or milk (or nondairy alternative) until heated through. I like to keep a tray of my favorite pantry add-ins — dried fruits, spices, nuts, seeds — right by where I cook my oats. It makes prep easy but also makes the whole experience feel special. I prefer to stir in dried fruits and spices, ladle into bowls, then top with fresh fruit and nuts. And it’s all just right.

Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Time 10 minutes
Yields Serves 1 to 2