This is seriously one of my favorite things to make. 1) Because it's super-tasty no matter how I make it. 2) Because it's comforting and filling, and I wish I'd known about it when I was growing up so it could always have been my comfort food. 3) Because it's the epitome of Watcha Got Cooking: literally whatever you have will go well in this wonderfulness.
This time I had Steel Cut Oats, Yellow Onions, Dried Shitake, A can of Peas, Frozen carcass meat* from the last time we roasted a turkey, A chicken stock cube, A Beef stock cube, Nubs of yellow and white cheddar, and some Ching Tsai**. So that's what I used.
Make it like so:
- Soak the mushrooms in warm water for an hour or so.
- Use the mushroom juice as part of the stock-- you'll need about six or seven cups. Boil the stock cubes or measure out the stock ahead of time.
- Chop everything before you start.
- Caramelize the onions in olive oil and about an inch and a half of butter. Don't skimp here: this is where a lot of the flavor comes from, so go ahead and let them get really golden.
- Add more butter, maybe a tablespoon, and throw in a cup to a cup and a quarter of steel-cut oats, and cook them until they start smelling toasty. They might open up a bit, but usually they don't, so don't worry about it.
- Add the stock at about a cup at a time, and cook until it's all absorbed and it stops looking drier as it cooks. You'll see what I mean when you do it. Stir ALL THE TIME. Burnt oats are gross and ruin the whole pan. The first few additions, deglaze the pan by scratching at the bottom before the stock gets absorbed.
- Keep adding stock and stirring.
- Add more stock and stir.
- When the last of the stock goes in, cook a while longer until the oats are not chewy anymore. Add any veggies that need to cook down at this point. This is when I threw in the Ching Tsai and the chopped mushrooms.
- Shred up the meat. Add it to the pot with the cheese and whatever other veggies you're adding.
- Cook until everything is the same temperature and all the cheese is mixed in.
- Eat it all up.
Almost everything in this recipe is trade-out-able. Just stick to these basic proportions and the same style of steps and you're fine:
- Fat: I like butter and olive oil. I've also used bacon fat, and thrown the bacon back in at the end. Duck fat would probably be down right decadent.
- 2 alliums: You want it to equal two whole onions in volume, but it doesn't matter what you choose. I've used onions, garlic, shallots, leeks... they're all good.
- 1 to 1 1/4 c grains: I like oats best, but I've done this with buckwheat groats, rice and brown rice, and it's always great. If you make it with corn, it's polenta. I want to try red winter wheat and millet next.
- 6 to 7 cups of stock: Any kind, real or condensed, home made or store bought.
- 1 to 2 canned veggies: I like peas, but anything you have will do. Diced roasted red pepper is good most of the time.
- 1 to 3 fresh veggies: Anything. If it's hard, cook it first, or add it earlier to the pot. Mushrooms count here.
- 1 cup of cheese: Any kind. Mix it up! Really strong cheeses like blue cheese might need to be cut so it doesn't overpower everything.
- 1-2 cups meat or other protein: Chop it up or shred it, and cook it ahead of time.
- Seasoning: If you use things that have salt in them, you probably won't need to salt it, but add pepper and maybe some herbs-- I wouldn't use more than one or two, because you're adding all sorts of other flavors already.
* I know it doesn't sound all that appetizing, but I can easily get two pounds more meat off a carcass that's been eaten down to the bone. You just have to know where the tasty bits are, and be willing to sift through all the skin and cartilage and week tiny bones to find it.
** I'm guessing on the spelling. It's supposed to be Baby Bok Choi, but it's actually not even cabbage at all, it's baby Collard Greens, and I like calling it by the Chinese name.
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