And we weren’t prepared for this. Being born in the eighties fostered a certain apathy and expectation of the boom to continue, of heaps of commodities and only so much time to consume them.
Instead it’s the end of the month and after rent and too many small luxuries, I have barely two pennies to rub together. Renting in central London comes at a hefty price and my job in media subsidizes its “take it up the ass” minimum wage only with free lubricant (booze). This cheap buyoff works like a charm in our binge-drinking nation. The memory enema that is booze is the only panacea we post-student hobos have. At least porridge lines the stomach.
But Britain redeems itself as I wander home through the corridors of my building; my nose is accosted with the beautiful Asian and Middle Eastern aromas that permeate its walls at dinnertime. Transparent sustenance maybe, but it invades me with nostalgia for travelling. Oscar Wilde once said that, “a man who lives within his means suffers from a lack of imagination” but I find that living within my meager means sparks mine.
And when faced with an uninspiring ingredient, my mind wanders to strange places to find inspiration - or not so strange, as in this case. I had a mind blank over oats. But then remembered some of the recipes people had divulged to me over the years, whether intentionally or not. From these people I found the spark for my inspiration that oats could not ignite. So here are their recipes, tweaked (made palatable) by me.
Smoked Mackerel with parsley porridge and pumpkin
This is a very strange recipe, from a very strange girl. English, tall, aristocratic waith with long peroxide blonde hair puffed out like candyfloss. I met her of all places in China, on a lovely paid-for holiday for Oxbridge types, a scam in Chinese education-consumerism, but with good heart. You see if you put people passionate about learning in front of a group of eager students we cant help ourselves. We devised how to twist the lesson plans, from ‘super heroes’ to Nietzsche’s Ubermensch, ‘over man,’ unintentionally making the scam actually genuine. I’m not sure what the 16 year olds made of it…
Anyway, this is the only savory porridge recipe that’s ever been suggested to me. Most people would reel in horror at the mention of mackerel porridge, but I saw potential, from the unlikely tastebuds of one person who dared to really push the boundaries. I’ve challenged myself to somehow make it work. I believed it could, and it does. Smoked Mackerel is intense, with a deep fishy saltiness and creamy fattiness. It needs clean flavors to cut through its intensity, like fresh parsley and tart blackcurrants. I’ve rounded this dichotomy of flavors by serving it with peppery rocket and soothing pumpkin puree. A congee with a difference, which we actually tried in China and no one liked.
1 garlic clove
3 small shallots
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp of Dijon mustard
handful of rocket leaves
handful of fresh parsley
25g of cream cheese
1. Blend together all of the above ingredients until you have a smooth green coloured butter. Refrigerate.
2. place 40g (per person) of oats in a pan and cover with milk, simmer gently and when the porridge is nearly done add the parsely butter.
3. flash fry one smoked mackerel fillet per person.
4. Make a pumpkin puree by blending chunks of pumpkin with a pinch cumin and cayenne pepper to taste.
5. Assemble the three elements of the dish and serve.
Matcha tea, raspberry and chocolate motchis
Every so often I come across a certain type of person. Seemingly unexpected but oddly symptomatic of some deep discontent, or at least emo-style discontent. Any guesses? It’s people who love Japanese culture. And I mean love it. This love comes in varying degrees, from a love of karaoke, sushi and anime all the way to deep intellectual examination of its culture, usually starting at ‘the Art of War’ and ending as some enduring philosophical psyche stamp. Such a one was the guy who, before my eyes, managed to transform porridge into something like onigiri and motchi, with that same doughy, chewy texture. All he did was leave it in the microwave for too long. Although he still claims it was intentional. I’ll take it as a sign of fate, that something of himself imbued itself into the recipe with a slight of hand. I decided to use matcha tea in this recipe because of our many highly caffeinated adventures on the stuff. (seriously try it)
1. Take a bowlful of porridge and put in as little water as possible to just cover it.
2. Microwave for 1 min or until the porridge is very thick and sticky. Take spoonfuls of the mixture and use your hands to roll into balls.
3. I then made a chocolate soup our of melted chocolate diluted with milk until the desired consistency and placed the porridge balls on top of it.
4. I sprinkled them with sweetened matcha tea and served with raspberry jelly.
Orange and Chrysanthemum set porridge
This recipe is inspired by someone I have never met. One of those people you brush up against in the tide of life, but never see or know. A person made out of mediation on an object. In this case it was some used pots and pans I lifted from a bin. I’m not above a bit of freeganism when the time calls for it. I was living in a building surrounded by international students leaving this isle behind and discarding their debris. What was once practical necessities was now erroneous baggage, to be picked up by some other person in need. My whole kitchen was fitted out this way. I even found a huge unopened bag of chrysanthemum tea, which I’ve only ever had in china before. I knew this lightly floral and earthy scent would go well with porridge in a dessert, more sophisticated in reality than its humble ingredients would suggest.
750 ml milk
225 g oats
3 tbsp chrysanthemum tea
150 g sugar
3 tbsp rose water
1. Gently warm the milk in a medium-sized saucepan on the hob.
2. In a separate larger saucepan cook the porridge and chrysanthemum tea for about a minute, stirring until the oats become translucent.
3. Halfway through the cooking time, stir in the sugar and two leaves of gelatine.
4. Then remove the saucepan from the heat and add the rosewater. Leave to cool slightly.
5. Line four individual pudding moulds with cling film. Then carefully fill with the porridge mix, patting down to ensure there are no gaps. Cover with more cling film and chill until completely set - this should take about 2 hours.
6. To serve, carefully turn the puddings onto plates and decorate with some dried chrysanthemum petals and coulis.
And so, In an attempt to transform porridge into something more palatable, I’ve used all my innovation to take it’s earthy Scottish heritage and combine it with the flavors of more exotic places, where flavor isn’t somewhat ironic and may actually awaken your nose and taste buds from their salt & butter stupor.