How to Use a Rice Cooker – Level One

If you’ve read last week’s piece about the marvelous Rice Cooker, and it’s done it’s job, then you’re now ready and excited to start preparing fabulous meals in it – everything from soups and stir-fries to the promised fondue.

We’ll get there. But before you can become an extreme rice cooker chef, you have to become familiar with the basics. In this case, logically enough, “the basics” = rice.

In How to Use a Rice Cooker – Level One, we’ll cover how to cook different kinds of rice and even other grains like quinoa, as well as how to use the rice cooker as a steamer and cook veggies and more at the same time! We’ll also cover some important points in the care and keeping of your new rice cooker.

Rice cookers were designed with rice first and foremost in mind. Not only do they cook rice easily and quickly, they also cook better rice than any other method – just ask the millions of Asians who have forgotten how to live without them!

Most rice cookers work in the following way: they slowly heat up the water, boil and steam the rice over a period of about 20 minutes, and then, detecting that the majority of the water has evaporated since the temperature is rising above the boiling point, switch themselves into Keep Warm mode. Some very expensive rice cookers use a method called “Fuzzy Logic” which magically senses all sorts of things about the rice’s readiness to eat, but for the cheap models, this simple temperature switch works wonders.

Goodbye burnt rice and scrubbing out pans – even if you forget about your rice cooker for days at a time, they won’t burn your rice and they wont start a fire. This is why they’re allowed in dorm rooms. If you have a really nice cooker, it will keep the rice safe to eat for up to DAYS at a time. In my cooker, I find that the rice gets sort of mushy after three or four hours, and I wouldn’t eat anything that had been in it longer than overnight. But still, that’s not bad!

Since the rice cooker does all of this work for you, all you really need to do is measure the rice and the water, dump them all in the pot together, and switch the cooker to ‘on’. When the cooker switches itself to ‘keep warm’, wait about 5 minutes, then open the cooker and enjoy the rice!

————————–  Level One FAQ ————————–

How Much Rice and How Much Water?

The old formula says that one cup of dry rice + two cups of water = three cups of cooked rice. In reality, rice cookers are usually more efficient with water than the old open-pan method, so the ratio to keep in mind is more like one cup of rice to one-and-one-quarter cups of water. But rice cookers vary, types of rice vary, and people’s texture preferences vary, so experiment and you’ll find what works best for you. If you rinse your rice first – recommended if you have any doubts about the cleanliness of your rice, as well as if cooking short grained, starchy rices like Japanese or Korean rice – some water will remain after draining, and you can adjust the added water accordingly.

What about Brown Rice?

Cooking brown rice can be a little bit trickier. If your cooker has a brown rice setting, use it. Otherwise, just add more water (start with 2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice), and give yourself a few batches to experiment. Most rice cookers are designed for use with white rice, so while a lot of people have great success making brown rice in them, it can take a little longer to figure out the best way to do so in your cooker.

What about Other Grains?

I have read about using rice cookers to make Amaranth, Quinoa, Millet, and more! The guidelines are similar to those I have recommended for brown rice – start with 2 cups of water to 1 cup of grain, be patient, and experiment until you get it right.

What about Pasta?

If you have easy access to a stovetop, I don’t recommend a rice cooker to make perfect pasta. It’s tricky to get good, al-dente noodles in the lower, slower heat that a rice cooker provides. However, I’ve had excellent luck with noodle side-dishes like the broccoli and cheese noodle mixes that come out of the bags. I’ve used the same instructions that are on the package for use on the stove – and they’ve turned out great! Same goes for Ramen noodles. If a rice cooker is all you have, by all means use it for spaghetti or any other sort of pasta. The result will be edible if not gourmet.

Is Plain Rice the Only Option?

No! Just as with stove-top rice, feel free to get creative. Substitute a flavourful broth for the water, or add in chopped vegetables, mushrooms, or whatever else before you hit the switch or while the rice is cooking.

What about Steaming?

One of my favourite things about rice cookers is how good they are for steaming food. While your rice is cooking, why not put some veggies, or even some thin pieces of fish or meat, over it to be cooked to perfection with no extra time, energy, or space used? Many rice cookers come with a steamer basket for this very purpose, but if yours doesn’t, never fear. You can put quick-to-steam items on top of the rice when its halfway through cooking, or you can get a set of bamboo steamers (try to get a set the same size as your cooker). These steamers can be stacked up to three high on top of the rice cooker – so you can have, for example, meat on the bottom level, carrots on the second, and broccoli on the third, all cooking away together! Besides, bamboo steamers are cheap, lovely, and look really cool when you serve food in them as well.

What precautions should I take?

Rice cookers are impressively safe devices to use. Their temperature switches turn them off before they get hotter than boiling water, and they have anti-fire devices as well. They’re hard to knock over as well. The only real danger I see when making rice is that you should be wary of the hot steam that comes out when you open the lid. Also, use the ‘keep warm’ feature responsibly, and don’t blame your cooker if you get sick eating 4-day-old rice out of it.

And how can I keep my rice cooker in good condition?

If you have a non-stick rice cooker, don’t use metal objects in it to stir or scoop your rice. Removable parts of the cooker can be taken out and washed in a sink or a dishwasher. Also, don’t forget to occasionally wash the whole cooker by unplugging it and wiping it thoroughly with a damp towel and maybe a little bit of soap. Over time, the hot steam and the occasional water bubbling out of the lid will leave a starchy residue on the handles and sides of the cooker, which feel nasty and can be susceptible to mold and bacterial growth if you let it go indefinitely. Rice cookers require almost no maintenence – mine is five years old and still working fine!


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