It has sustained generations of Scots, and the image of the hardy Scot is, I’m convinced, entirely founded on oatmeal as a food. And it is a most delicious substance, whether fine cut, medium, coarse, or, my favourite, pinhead. Oatmeal is low on the glycaemic index, which means that it is slowly absorbed by the body, providing a gradual release of energy. Oatmeal is high in fibre – indeed, it has been top of the list of recommended foods to be eaten daily to prevent bowel cancer, and it absorbs cholesterol – so it wins all round as a health-food which is also tasty.
I love porridge but my husband Godfrey loathes it – and him a Scot! But he loves raw oatmeal, so that is what he has for breakfast, with fruit and maple syrup. I love oatmeal raw or cooked, and it is extremely useful. For example, the pinhead variety makes the best of all coatings for filleted fish or chicken, or as a crust for racks of lamb. And for those who are allergic to gluten, oatmeal makes delicious flapjacks – I should state here, to prevent a reproving letter winging its way to me from the correspondent who told me that most gluten allergy sufferers are also allergic to oatmeal – that in my experience very many can and do eat oatmeal.
The slightly nutty flavour of pinhead oatmeal is also enhanced when dry-fried before use. And when it is made into the stuffing, the first recipe today, it is delicious. This particular stuffing is good in chicken or pheasant.
Pinhead oatmeal stuffing for a chicken weighing 3½lbs/1.8kgs
6oz/170g pinhead oatmeal
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, each skinned, halved and finely diced
2 sticks of celery, peeled with a potato peeler and sliced finely
1 level teaspoon salt, about 15 grinds of black pepper
finely grated rind of 2 lemons – wash them well and dry them before grating, to remove the preservative
sprig of thyme, about 2in/5cm, the tiny leaves stripped from the woody stalks, the stalks thrown away
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped parsley
In a wide sauté pan over a moderately high heat dry-fry the pinhead oatmeal, shaking the pan several times, for 4-5 minutes, then tip it on to a plate to cool.
In the same pan, add the olive oil and the finely diced onions and sliced celery, and cook, stirring from time to time, for about 5 minutes – the onions should look transparent. Season with salt and black pepper, add the finely grated lemon rind, and the toasted (dry-fried) oatmeal, the thyme leaves and chopped parsley, and mix all together thoroughly. This can be done 24 hours in advance of stuffing and roasting the bird. It is dry, but don’t worry, it’s meant to be. Stuff it into the chicken, cramming it in, and roast the bird. The juices from the roasting chicken moisten the stuffing, but I think it is so much better without any egg added to the stuffing, to bind it, because I find it then becomes stodgy on spooning from the roasted bird onto the plates, alongside the carved chicken. As the chicken roasts, the flavours of the stuffing permeate the chicken flesh.
Apple crumble with oatmeal fudge crumble
For the apple base
2 tablespoons water
4oz/110g soft brown sugar
2lb/900g cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped
3oz/85g plump sultanas
finely grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange – both well washed and dried before grating
For the crumble
4oz/110g Demerara sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
4oz/110g pinhead oatmeal
3oz/85g rolled or porridge oats
Make the apple base by putting the water and soft brown sugar into a saucepan over moderate heat, and stir until the sugar dissolves in the heat. Then add the apples, sultanas and grated lemon and orange rinds, stir well and cover the pan with its lid. Cook on gentle to moderate heat until the apples fall to a soft mush, about 10-15 minutes. Stir well, and tip into an ovenproof dish. This can be done 24 hours in advance.
To make the crumble
In a wide-based saucepan melt the butter and stir in the Demerara sugar, and the vanilla. Stir in the salt and both types of oatmeal. Cook on a moderate heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Spoon it over the apple mixture, making an even layer of crumble. Bake in a moderate heat, 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, for 25-30 minutes – the crumble top should look golden brown. This is good served with either crème fraiche, or vanilla whipped cream, or vanilla ice-cream, or custard – or two of these.
Herb and walnut oatmeal crust for racks of lamb
Inevitably, some of the crust falls off the racks as they roast, but most stays on and if you slow roast the meat, the crust that slips off and fries in the roasting lamb fat is utterly delicious.
2 racks of lamb, each with 6 chops, to allow 2 chops per person
For the crust
1 onion, skinned and very finely diced
2 tablespoons olive oil
6oz/170g pinhead oatmeal
2oz/55g walnuts, chopped quite finely
1 level teaspoon salt and 10-15 grinds of black pepper
sprig of rosemary about 4in/10cm in length
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped mint leaves
In a wide-based pan fry the finely diced onion in the olive oil for 3-4 minutes, then stir in the oatmeal, chopped walnuts, salt and black pepper. Stir and fry for 5 more minutes, then take the pan off the heat and cool the contents. Strip the rosemary leaves from the stalks and chop them. Add the chopped rosemary, parsley and mint to the oatmeal mixture, and mix well.
Lay a sheet of baking parchment on a roasting tin (this makes washing-up so much easier) and put the lamb racks onto this. Press the crust mixture evenly over each rack, then roast in a moderate heat, 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 1½ hours. Reduce the heat to 150C/300F/Gas Mark 3 and roast for a further 30 minutes. The lamb fat should have melted into the oatmeal crust, and the meat be almost forkable from the bones.
If you prefer pink lamb, put the racks in to roast at a higher temperature, 200C/400F/ Gas Mark 6 for 30-35 minutes, but trim off some of the fat with a sharp knife before pressing the oatmeal crust onto the lamb racks before roasting.