I can’t sleep, so I thought I would elaborate on an answer for someone who asked, a couple weeks ago, what kind of rice cooker they should get. I owned four at the time, and currently own five. I figure I can give an informal perspective on rice cookery.
I cook rice regularly, and let me tell you, with a rice cooker it’s way easier than making your own bread. And faster. Possibly healthier, though it depends on how much butter you dump into rice—I don’t put any in, because I usually put something on top of the rice when it’s served, so butter is kind of superfluous. Any rice cooker automatically shuts off or goes into warming mode once the rice is done, and they automatically detect this. Cooking rice on the stove tends to be a hit-and-miss affair if you’re not experienced and/or not watching the pot. And of course, most college dorms don’t have extensive kitchens, so cooking rice on the stove is less feasible than cooking rice in a rice cooker.
Another nice thing is that plenty of rice cookers come with steaming trays, which turns your rice cooker into a multi-function appliance that can easily serve up one-pot meals, or simply steam stuff without indulging in the $$$ a dedicated electric steamer would require. It’s very convenient to steam marinated chicken breasts, strips of beef/pork, or veggies along with your rice (although you really have to time veggies well; broccoli and brussel sprouts get ewwww if steamed too long).
First things first: this is the awesome book to get if you’re going to go beyond just cooking rice as a base for meals: The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, which has a great introduction to rice cookers in general, and a ton of great recipes that actually work, ranging from appetizers to one-pot meals to desserts. For the first-timers or for more experienced folks, this is a wonderful book to have.
(Also probably makes a great holiday gift for someone you know with a rice cooker.)
Let’s move onto the cookers themselves.
There are two main types of rice cookers: the on/off rice cooker that many Westerners are familiar with, and the fuzzy logic rice cooker, which is the choice of many Japanese, and for very good reasons.
The on/off rice cooker is the cheapest, simplest, and can steam stuff. On/off rice cookers tend to be more fragile, and usually die after a few years, depending on the brand and how much you use them. Not surprising. Some models just turn off when the rice is done, and some go into a warm mode. Expect to spend anywhere from $30 to $60 on this type of cooker.
The fuzzy logic rice cooker is more expensive, usually in the triple digit range, a little bit more complicated (but not by much), and can’t steam but can do things like time rice to cook in time for you to wake up and make moist rice porridge without needing oversight. And of course they all have a warm mode. Fuzzy logic rice cookers last for quite some time, even under heavy usage, to the point where their little lithium batteries may run out—but that’s just for their internal clocks; if the battery runs out, you just have to reset the time when you plug them in.
Both kinds of rice cookers come in various sizes, from teeny 3-cup models (I’ve even seen a 1-cup model, though that’s very rare) to more average 6-cup and 10-cup models, to ginormous 40-cuppers. Generally it doesn’t really matter how big the cooker is, as long as the amount of rice you’re cooking will fit in it; a 10-cup beast will cook one cup of rice just as well as a 3-cup. (A 40-cup rice cooker, though, is… stretching it.)
For the trade-off of unwieldiness, large rice cookers allow you to use more of the recipes in The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, which is why I have three on/off models and two fuzzy logic models. A 10-cup cooker can steam more things, and is quite convenient that way. Most people in the West probably want a 10-cup on/off; college students in dorms really should get a 6-cup or perhaps even a 3-cup if they’re really cramped. Rice porridge is not terribly popular here, but fuzzy logics are still amazing due to their timing feature, also quite useful for busy people (and probably make good holiday gifts).
Every rice cooker comes with a rice spatula and a rice measuring cup, and most come with a steaming tray (plastic, non-polycarbonate, or metal). Follow the instructions about the rice measuring cup—unless you’re using the plain rice guidance recipes from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, which leads to the best results, particularly since the cookbook covers different types of rice. (I usually get Kohuko Rose brand, which is a short-grain rice readily available in stores like Safeway; long-grain rice is more familiar to Western markets).
Here are the models I have, or as close an approximation as possible; I have older on/off models, due to island stores’ stock being a little limited in this area.
This model is newer than the one I own, but it has the same features: cute and little (would fit into the tiny shelf that was my allotment in the college dorm), tough non-stick coated pot, both the cook (on) and the warm feature, and a plastic steaming tray—unusual for 3-cup models because of their size. Often I’ll put in a cup of uncooked rice and put a quickly torn-into-two Chinese-style sausage ((Note: these are incredibly, incredibly unhealthy for you.)) in the tray.
It hasn’t died yet, but I expect it to bite it in the next year or so. That’s been my general experience with American-brand on/off rice cookers. (Zojirushis, on the other hand, last forever.)
Zojirushi 6-Cup Rice Cooker (Pictured above)
This is a great size for single-person meals that you can put leftovers in the fridge for bento lunches the next day. All Zojirushi on/off models—except the 3-cup model, which doesn’t come with a steamer—have metal steaming trays, very fancy. All have the cook/warm modes, but their pots, while non-stick, have a much thinner lining and are far lighter than most other models. Definitely do not use metal utensils in this thing (nylon or silicon, the latter preferred, are okay).
Unlike other rice cookers, you can get replacement pots. I think most other brands are expected to die before you need a replacement pot.
A great size if you want to be able to steam whole chicken breasts, for instance, or entire fish, or meat plus vegetables, and serve a family. I have it because of the larger steaming capabilities, to replace my electronic polycarbonate steamer. Plus you can steam puddings in it.
Back when I lived in an apartment with not a lot of counter space, this was a great cooker, even though it was a Sanyo (Sanyos and Tigers are little cheaper than Zojirushis… and you get what you pay for). It’s too small to have a steaming tray (the Black & Decker 3-cup is quite special that way), but this is a fuzzy logic cooker. It doesn’t exactly steam well. In fact, um, I don’t think it can make bread well either. Sanyo tends to claim a lot more capabilities for their cookers than actually work well.
If you want it for rice or rice porridge or a timer, it’s great. It can come in all sorts of… interesting… colors, as you can already tell by the picture (mine is white and pastel blue).
The pot is also thick and heavy.
Actually, that’s just Zojirushi’s cute way of saying “Fuzzy Logic.” The best rice cooker I have, feature-wise and hardiness-wise. I can make one of the rice pudding recipes from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook ((OMG, so good.)) in it.
It also plays “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” when it’s done cooking. Very vital feature. ((Okay, not really. But it’s so, ah, kawaii.))
The pot is again thinner than pots in other brands of rice cookers.
You know an awesome thing you can make in timed fuzzy logic rice cookers? Steel-cut oats. The dang oats need to soak overnight, because they’re so tough, but the timer in the morning can proceed to cook them in time for you to wake up and eat them. Perfect. Recipe also available in The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook (unlike so many other cookbooks, that’s a very fitting name).
In conclusion, here are my very favorite recipes from The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook:
- Short-Grain White Rice (proper water-to-rice proportions)
- American Long-Grain White Rice (ditto)
- Matthew’s Rice (some of the one-pot recipes require outside preparation of the other ingredients; this is more in the tradition of throw-everything-in-the-pot-already)
- Chinese Sausage and Rice (requires more cutting up than my usual throw-and-go, but worth it)
- Old-Fashioned Steel Cut Oatmeal
- random steamed vegetable ones (includes little recipes for various butters you can freeze in chunks and put on top of the veggies, like the ones that come in the microwave steaming vegetable products in the store’s frozen food section)
- steamed chicken breast and rice with the teriyaki marinade
- Old-Fashioned Rice Pudding
- simplest rice pancakes ever, and savory too
I don’t typically like to, but you can also make risottos, beans, couscous, grits, granola, and more (recipes in The Book as well, lots). Tamales. Dolmas. You get the idea.
… I’m so hungry now. I will snack and then sleep. G’night.