Dan Blackman, the owner of Room 10 Espresso in the Sydney suburb of Potts Point, makes a batch of rice porridge at his cafe every morning. ''I soak brown and red rice together with white and red quinoa, which I mix to make a porridge,'' he says. He serves it with stewed rhubarb, rosewater and yoghurt. He has also developed a breakfast dukkah made of almonds, pistachios and spices, which he sprinkles on top of the dish. ''The porridge is really popular; we serve it cold through summer, but in winter we serve it warm.''
Stodgy old porridge has had a shot in the arm this winter. More glamorous versions, using a variety of grains and methods, are on breakfast menus and kitchen tables throughout Sydney.
''Winter and porridge are a marriage made in heaven,'' says Holly Davis, a cooking teacher and wholefoods specialist.
''Well-made porridge, soaked first then cooked to smooth creaminess, is gratifying. I eat mine with butter and cream and a few grains of crisp sea salt.''
Davis uses a recipe that mixes biodynamic rolled oats and whole oats (groats) with water and lemon juice. She says the recipe is similar to the way oat porridge was made traditionally. ''In Scotland and Ireland, oats were made seasonally. They were cooked in bulk and poured into the bottom drawer of a kitchen dresser lined with metal and then paper,'' she says. What was required for the day was cut out and heated for breakfast.
Sally Tulloch of Farmer Jo at 45 Hutchinson Street, Surry Hills, knows the story. Her Scottish mother-in-law told the tale of the porridge in the drawer and it inspired Tulloch to develop a porridge slice, which she serves at her cafe and sells wholesale.
''I liked the novelty of having a slab of porridge in the fridge,'' Tulloch says. ''We put the love in at the beginning, making the porridge creamy and flavourful, and then you just bring it alive with some heat and milk or cream.'' She combines dehydrated pink lady apples, spiced dried figs and roasted almonds with spices and steel-cut oats to make her slice. She is also working on a buckwheat and quinoa version.
Nutritionist Catherine Saxelby says oats are a good start to the day, but other grains should be considered. ''Eating a variety of grains is just as important as eating a variety of fruit and vegetables,'' she says.
Soaking the grains overnight is important for good porridge says Amanda Powell, an in-house nutritionist at Honest to Goodness. The wholefoods retailer at 6-8 George Place, Artarmon, has created its own porridge blend for winter with rolled oats, polenta, rolled triticale (a wheat-rye hybrid) and linseed.
Powell recommends soaking porridge grains overnight in water with a squeeze of lemon juice added, which she says makes them more digestible. ''It also improves the texture of the grains, by softening them and shortening the cooking time,'' she says.
Wholefoods and health-food shops stock a range of grains that can be used for porridge. ''Quinoa makes a great porridge,'' Powell says. ''It's is our biggest seller.'' She recommends making a batch of quinoa porridge at the weekend and reheating it during the week for a quick breakfast. ''White quinoa takes on any flavour, and is really high in protein so it's great for vegetarians,'' she says.
Pamela Branagan, the chef and store manager at health food shop About Life at 605 Darling Street, Rozelle, and 31-37 Oxford Street, Bondi Junction, agrees. ''Quinoa is all the rage, it makes terrific porridge.'' A coconut quinoa porridge is served at both About Life cafes. Made using coconut milk and cinnamon, it is served hot with banana and walnuts and is sprinkled with chia seeds.
Branagan suggests grains including amaranth, spelt, buckwheat and rice as a base for porridge. ''All of them can be cooked like rice, using the absorption method, then flavoured using nuts, fruits, cinnamon and any kind of milk,'' she says.
Breakfast for dinner
Not exclusively a morning food, Heston Blumenthal's snail porridge, made from snail stock and porridge oats, is perhaps the most famous savoury version served in a restaurant.
At Duke Bistro in Darlinghurst, chef Nik Hill is experimenting with rye as a base for porridge. ''We wanted to make something that was a bit homely at this time of year,'' he says. The rye comes from the local home-brew shop. ''We buy malt for our desserts there and when I came across the rye, I thought it'd be a good base for a risotto-like porridge.'' Hill cooks the whole rye with celery stock. ''It holds its sourness,'' he says. Cooking it using the traditional porridge absorption method, Hill adds parmesan and herbs, and serves the porridge with deboned confit chicken wings.
This gluten-free recipe can be made a day ahead.
1 cup quinoa
3 cups water
2 cups coconut milk
4 tbsp walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped
Agave nectar or honey to sweeten, to your taste
2 tbsp grated or shredded coconut
2 tbsp chia seeds
2 tsp cinnamon
Rinse quinoa under cold water and drain. Bring water to the boil in a saucepan and add quinoa. Cook for about 15 minutes, until water is absorbed and grains are fluffy. Cool, add coconut milk and refrigerate overnight. When ready to eat, reheat quinoa and coconut milk in a saucepan, stirring occasionally. Add chopped banana and half the walnuts. Add agave nectar or honey and stir. When hot, pour into a serving bowl. Top with remaining walnuts, grated coconut and chia seeds, and sprinkle with cinnamon.
From About Life
Double the quantities to make enough porridge for several days. It reheats well as long as the heat is low and extra milk or water are added to the cold porridge.
1/2 cup biodynamic rolled oats
1/2 cup whole oats (groats)
3 cups filtered water
2 pinches sea salt
Extra milk or water as required
In the evening, mix rolled and whole oats and cover with filtered water. Squeeze in lemon juice and cover with lid. Leave on bench overnight. In the morning, combine salt and soaked oats. Bring to a gentle simmer. Stir well using a spurtle* or wooden spoon. Cook 30-40 minutes, adding extra water or milk as required, so you can easily stir. Cook until oats are collapsingly soft and creamy. Serve with a dollop of cream, creme fraiche or sour cream, or a knob of organic butter and toasted nuts and seeds.
Serves about 6
From Holly Davis
*A spurtle is a a wooden tool with a turned end, traditionally used for stirring porridge.