If I hear one more person passionately describe how healthy their oatmeal is, I’ll start to shake. While everyone should feed themselves as they see fit, I don’t know why oatmeal has been adopted into the bland-but-nutritious diet—sorry, I mean wellness—food darling. To me, oatmeal is the stick-to-your-ribs breakfast my mother encouraged me to eat before walking to school in the winter. It was creamy and thick, dotted with raisins and brown sugar, sometimes topped with a float of half-and-half if we happened to have an open carton in the fridge. While I’m all for sweets at breakfast, the real reason those bowls of oatmeal were so good was the richness. Which is why when I’m looking for comfort, I make brown butter oatmeal. When left to bubble in a hot pan, butter takes on a brunette hue and a nutty scent. It coats whatever it’s cooked with in a golden blanket, and you should try it in your oatmeal.
Drop 3 tablespoons unsalted butter into a small saucepan. Melt the butter over medium heat. Once the butter is completely melted, keep a close eye on it as it begins to foam, then loudly bubble, then produce golden-brown flecks. Just when it starts to smell like toasted nuts, pour the butter out of the pan into a heat-proof bowl.
Wipe the pan with a paper towel and throw in 1 cup rolled oats. If you want to up the toasty-factor of your meal, toast the oats in the pan over medium-low heat, stirring every 30 seconds or so, until the oats smell like a grainier version of the butter. If you’re not into this, move on.
Cover the oats with 1 cup water and 1 cup milk of your choice. Add ½ teaspoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Bring the mixture to a boil, over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low. Simmer the oatmeal, stirring every 4 minutes or so with a spatula, until the oats break down and the mixture becomes thick. If you notice the oatmeal sticking to the pan or starting to look dry, add more water one moderate splash at a time.
When the oatmeal is pale and creamy, fold in the prepared brown butter. Serve with a bit of syrup or brown sugar, some fresh berries, and/or a shower of toasted pumpkin seeds.