Cooking Dinner in an Unfocused Way, or Ode to the Rice Cooker

I’m a multitasker in the kitchen life. If there are more than five minutes of lag time involved in a cooking task, I’m using it to switch out the laundry or run to the mailbox. That usually is fine until I find another thing that needs doing along the way, like putting away the laundry or pulling a few weeds. Before I know it, I return to the kitchen, and the rice, farro, or other grain is stuck to the bottom of the pot. A rice cooker solves that problem. It turns off automatically when the grains are cooked. It is the multitasker’s friend, read, dream.

Enter my daughter-in-law and her mother.  A few years ago, they taught an Indian cooking class for friends in my kitchen. Every square inch of counter and stovetop space was used for prepping and sautéeing the veggies and meats. Off on the kitchen table, far from the over occupied countertops, sat these two large-capacity rice cookers, quietly and efficiently doing their thing — cooking rice. Unsupervised.

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Here’s what I learned about rice cookers that day:
Rice cookers are foolproof.
Rice cookers do not need a timer: they shut off when the rice is done.
Rice cookers can be plugged in anywhere.
Rice cookers make perfect rice.
Rice cookers come in many sizes.

I still didn’t run out and buy one. If truth be told, I was hanging on to a guilty memory from the time I helped my mother declutter her kitchen. I was ruthless. There was a rice cooker in its original box in the pantry. Mom said she never used it. I stuck it in the Goodwill pile.

After the Indian cooking class, my DIL sweetly gave me a rice cooker for a present. I slowly started using it. One day, I was espousing its benefits to my family, and my mother said something about how she used to have one, but she couldn’t remember what happened to it. She said she was going to look for hers when she got back home. I had an opportunity to fess up, but I didn’t. The things that haunt us …

Meanwhile, I love my rice cooker.

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I’ve learned I can cook all these different types of grains with it. I can even use it to cook steel cut oats in the morning. When cooking grains, I simply follow the instructions on the package and add olive oil and chicken broth or bouillion for flavoring. Sometimes, I add chopped onion and herbs. If the water runs out and the grains are too chewy, I add a little more water and continue cooking.

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How to make perfect white rice in a rice cooker
It took quite a few attempts to come up with a good recipe for perfectly chewy rice. I tested many ratios of water to rice and salt. By accident, I discovered that when I added olive oil to the pot at the onset of cooking, the rice water did not sputter out of the air vent hole and make a mess on the counter. I’m not sure why this is, but I I feel certain it’s related to the reason why, when you add a little butter to the pot when cooking jam, it keeps the boiling preserves from foaming on the surface. If there are any scientists reading this who can explain this phenomenon, please share in the comments.

Ingredients:
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1¾ water
1 chicken bouillon cube, crumbled
1 tablespoon olive oil, canola oil, coconut oil, or butter
1 cup long grain white rice (I like Mahatma Rice)

Pour water into a liquid measuring cup. Crumble in a bouillon cube and stir until dissolved. Pour oil into the base of the pot. Add rice. Add water and bouillon mixture. Make sure all the rice is submerged.

Plug-in the rice cooker. The “warm” button will immediately light up.  Flip to “cook” mode and let it do its thing. It takes about twenty minutes. The cooker will automatically flip from “cook” to “warm” when the rice is done.

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How a rice cooker works:
Rice cookers don’t cook by time, but by temperature. Water boils at 212º (technically, 214º if the water is salted). As long as there is water in the pot, the temperature of the rice cannot rise above the boiling point of water. Thus, the rice will simmer at a steady temperature until all the water is absorbed. Once absorbed, the cooker continues to heat the pot, the temperature in the pot rises, the heat sensor detects a bump up in temperature and cuts off the heating element. The cooker switch automatically flips from “cook” to “warm.”

There is still heat in the pot, and that heat has to go somewhere (see Heat Transfer 101), so the rice continues to cook and soften for about five more minutes. I usually unplug it when it is done.

What I learned about the ingredients while testing recipes:

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Water: If you want crunchier rice, use less water. If you want softer rice, use more. If you add too much water, the grains of rice will split, release starch into the water, and the rice will become sticky and clumpy.

Bouillion Cubes: I generally like to add one cube of bouillon per 1½-two cups of water. I’ve found that amount of bouillon flavors the rice with just the right amount of salt. You could simply add 1 teaspoon of salt instead. Or, none.

Rice: Rice and other grains like flour, oats, corn, and barley are the mature, dormant seeds of grassesBrown rice is the whole kernel of the rice seed minus its inedible fibrous husk. Most of the nutrients in rice are found in this outer brown (also known as bran) layer.

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Alternatively, white rice, or the endosperm portion of the grain, is pure carbohydrate meant to provide the seed with energy for sprouting purposes. When white rice is milled, the brown bran layer is polished off, but with the bran go the nutrients. To be nutritionally complete again, white rice is often “enriched” with nutrients that are sprayed on. If you wash enriched white rice, you’re going to lose those nutrients. Don’t wash “enriched” white rice.

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As an FYI, I have come to love this trio of rice medleys from Trader Joe’s. Of the three, the Brown Rice Medley is probably my favorite simply because I like the pop of the Daikon Radish Seeds when you chew on them. My goddaughter, Leigh, and I were recently talking about easy, elegant meals to prepare for entertaining and this rice, served as a side dish, would definitely fit the bill. I love that in addition to being delicious, theses rice medleys all add interesting color and texture to the dinner plate.

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To prepare them in the rice cooker, I add 6 cups of water (a little less if you want the rice to be chewier), 3 chicken bouillion cubes, about 3 tablespoons of EVO, and the entire bag of rice. When the rice is finished cooking and flips to “warm” I uncover the pot and unplug the rice cooker to keep the rice from fluffing up anymore.

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Serve with:
Brooks’s Pork Tenderloin with the Most Amazing Marinade
Lemony Grilled Chicken Breasts
Mom’s Marinated and Grilled Lamb
Easy Roasted Salmon with Olive Oil and Garlic Pepper

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© 2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

16 thoughts on “Cooking Dinner in an Unfocused Way, or Ode to the Rice Cooker

  1. Love this info, Judy! I do have a small rice cooker, and was kind of afraid of it like I was the nice pressure cooker I gave to Goodwill ☹️. Will give it another try! Cindy

    Sent from my iPhone

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    1. Oh, yes, please do. Since I’ve written this article, I’ve heard equally from devoted fans of the rice cooker and people who gave theirs away, unused, because they didn’t realize how versatile it was. Thanks for writing!

  2. Judy, I HATE kitchen appliances that only do one thing — and then clutter the place the rest of the time. BUT we got a rice cooker before we were married and I wouldnt be a cook without it… And at 40 years young it still works. I also confess I have been guilty because I didnt know how the silly thing worked til I read your post. Thanks for this and all your other posts! Craig

    1. Craig!! When I saw your name come up, my first thought was, Yay, here’s my engineer! He’s going to know how oil keeps heated bubbles from creating sputter and foam:-)
      Glad to hear of another cook who likes the rice cooker! Judy

  3. I want to come hang out in your kitchen for a couple of days. I always learn something here, and can only imagine what I’d learn in person! I am still using an aluminum stovetop rice cooker (water in the bottom part, water and rice in the top part) I got with a couple of Comet Rice boxtops about a hundred years ago. It works great, but certainly won’t turn itself off.

    1. But it makes great rice and the rice probably doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan if you are late turning the heat off. Which could happen with all that YOU do, too!! Mimi, I would love to hang out with you in the kitchen! Judy

  4. For some odd reason, I can’t make consistently good rice anymore. Frazer’s been bugging me to get a rice cooker, and I am always highly offended (and still producing glumpy rice)! But after reading your latest blog post, my new rice cooker will be delivered to my doorstep this afternoon!

  5. I have heard nothing but great things about rice cookers, and I’m going to remember this post. But I think if I was going to try to squeeze one more thing into my kitchen, it would be a pressure cooker/canner. I must try to figure out some miraculous way of making more room for things…I’ve already got a Precarious Pile of Pyrex Pots, and those are the ones I use daily!

    By the way, Judy, in case you are surprised by this wave of comments, I’ve been very limited in my blogging lately – both reading and writing. So happy to catch up with you today 🙂

    1. You are the second person today to mention wanting a pressure cooker/canner before a rice cooker. I’ll have to look into what exactly they are. PS I am happy to catch up with you, too. Stay safe during the storm that is coming your way.

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