Skirlie – fast savoury oats

by admin on June 1, 2009 · 43 comments

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Skirlie is an old-fashioned savoury oat dish from Scotland made with oats and onions cooked in butter or dripping.  I’ve been experimenting with this again recently made with olive oil, fresh herbs and a few extra veggies.  It’s ridiculously easy to make, healthy and far easier to wash up than porridge.

Skirlie has a different texture to porridge; it’s a little moist but also chewy, more like the consistency of cooked brown rice. Ergo, if you aren’t keen on porridge in all its gloopiness you may find that you enjoy skirlie. Likewise die hard porridge fans may find it takes a few mouthfuls to get used to.

That gelatinous wobble of properly made porridge comes from the beta glucan in the oats, a type of soluble fibre that becomes jelly-like when moist.  Large amounts of this soluble fibre is root of many of those health benefits ascribed to oats.  It can keep you feeling full through an ability to swell up dramatically when moist and also because it causes the energy from the oats to be released very slowly into your bloodstream (oats are low GI) .  Soluble fibre also seems to assist your body in getting rid of excess cholesterol, helping to protect against cardiovascular disease (and in case you wanted to know but didn’t like to ask, yes soluble fibre helps to keep you regular too).  Skirlie contains just as much of this beta glucan as porridge, it’s just that it is less physically apparent than in porrdige because the dish contains so much less liquid.  Instead all of that that expansion of the oats will happen inside your stomach instead making skirlie a fairly filling prospect.


Oats love the temperate UK climate, growing over the winter months with about half of the crop going for human consumption and half for animal feed (there’s more info on UK arable crops from DEFRA if you’re interested).

Like so many vegetarian dishes, top it with a poached egg and you have a complete meal (brunch perhaps?). I also use skirlie as a side dish to oily fish or roast chicken (it’s even better with meals that have a little gravy or sauce alongside).  You could also try using it as a stuffing or stirring it into mash.  The flavourings and vegetables you use can be swopped and changed, for example on other days I’ve made skirlie with orange zest, lemon thyme and skinny ribbons of leek.

skirlie with poached egg

Recipe for Spring skirlie

I use a non-stick pan, with enough room to stir the spinach in which can take up a lot of space before it wilts down.

Serves 2 - 3 as a side dish

100g, about a cup, of rolled oats (also called old-fashioned oats, oatflakes and flaked oats)
2 tbsp olive oil
4 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 large handfuls baby spinach, washed and roughly shredded
Hot water
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the spring onion and cook for for five minutes, taking care not to burn.

Add the thyme leaves.  Reduce the heat and stir in the oats.  Cook on a low heat for five minutes.  The oats will absorb the oil and develop a toasty flavour.

Add a small splash of hot water and continue cooking for a couple more minutes .  The oats should soften slightly but keep their shape. Add a little more water if desired.

Stir in the spinach and warm until the spinach has wilted into the oats.

Serve immediately, ideally in warmed bowls.

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