Recently, my 94-year-old neighbour in France – the wife of a former diplomat and a woman of very specific tastes – charged me with a very important task: tracking down a tin of her favourite porridge, John McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal.
“It’s expensive,” she said, “and very difficult to find.” She was correct on both counts. I’d never heard of McCann’s, even if it had been selling superior porridge oats for over 150 years. Nor did I understand the significance of “steel cut”.
But curious to see what the fuss was all about – it is billed as “the finest oatmeal in the world” – I combed the food halls of leading London department stores and gourmet food specialists in pursuit of this top-notch porridge. Finally, I bought two 793g tins (£8.95 each) from the Harvey Nichols website.
Full disclosure: until this point, my favourite kind of porridge (please don’t judge me) was a bowl of chocolate-flavoured Ready Brek. But I figured that, at the very least, McCann’s gloriously old-fashioned gold, white and navy tin would look good on the kitchen shelf.
Steel-cut oats, I discovered, are wholegrain, high in fibre and nutritionally superior to the rolled variety, which has been steamed, softened and rolled in order to make it quicker to cook. Steel-cut oats require 30 minutes of simmering, but, as I found, have a better texture and a delicious, nutty flavour. They are especially good sweetened with a little maple syrup and sprinkled with some chopped walnuts.
The health gurus, I’m sure, would look more approvingly on my bowl of slow-cooked McCann’s oats than the quick-fix chocolate-flavoured kind. My neighbour, meanwhile, was delighted that I’d tracked down her favourite midnight snack.