It's about time I wrote about the most heavily used tool in our entire kitchen: our rice cooker.
If you don't already own one of these, consider getting one. Rice cookers are 100% idiot-proof, and making rice with them is such a snap that you'll want to have rice with practically every meal.
Have you ever bungled a batch of rice made in a pan, or worse, suffered through eating a batch of Uncle Ben's? With a rice cooker, there's absolutely no risk of having the rice come out poorly: just dump in a measured amount of rice (they even give you a little plastic measuring cup) and then fill the dish with the corresponding amount of water.
And there's no need to watch the clock either--the rice cooker will shut itself off automatically when the rice is ready. Flick the switch, go do something else, and before you know it, you'll have perfect, delicious rice waiting for you.
The rice cooker is also a great tool for multitasking. Fire it up and you've just bought yourself 20 minutes of time to work on other food prep. That's parallel processing at its best and it can make you a faster, more efficient cook. In fact, my Chicken Mole recipe, once you get the hang of it, can be made in exactly the amount of time it takes to fire up a batch of rice in your rice cooker. That can't be just a coincidence--it has to be fate.
Here's yet another advantage: if you have leftover rice after a meal, not to worry. The rice cooker pan is a perfect storage container. Just put the lid back on and put the whole thing in your fridge. You won't have any extra storage containers to wash, and you can use the remaining day-old rice for a quick mini-batch of fried rice.
A Laughably Cheap and Easy Side Dish
How about using your rice cooker for a mindlessly easy side dish? Flavor the rice with some cayenne pepper and a bouillon cube or two, or try a little olive oil, a couple of pressed garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper. Just drop your spices into the rice cooker along with the rice and water, and in just 20 minutes, you'll have delicious side dish with almost no effort.
What to Buy
What's the best kind of rice cooker to buy? My advice is the same as I give for crockpots: go for simple. If you see a rice cooker with fancy dials and knobs and all sorts of settings, put it down and slowly back away. Instead, get the kind with exactly one switch that lets you choose between on, off and warm. I've linked to a good example of such a rice cooker below.
Retailers always offer an overly-complicated version of even the simplest tool in order to capture the so-called high end customer. Avoid the $183 computerized rice neuralizer, and stick with the $29 simple version* that actually won't break. Don't get needlessly separated from your money.
Even after the recent price increases we've seen across many foods, rice remains an inexpensive staple that complements almost any dish. And eating rice with your meals can be a meaningful money-saver. Here at Casual Kitchen for example, we eat many of our favorite laughably cheap recipes like Groundnut Stew, Crockpot Chili or Garden Gumbo on top of an extra serving of rice. Doing this helps us get at least 30% more mileage out of the typical meal. Not only do many of our recipes go from being laughably cheap to being preposterously cheap, we get an extra side benefit of not having to cook quite as often!
Thus, a $29 rice cooker can bring you and your family some compelling economic benefits. Those extra servings leave you with more food for other meals, extra leftovers to bring to work for lunch, and of course more money saved at the grocery store. Under my "30% more mileage" assumption above, just a month or two of regular use should be enough to recover the full cost of a reasonably priced rice cooker.
So if you don't own a rice cooker already, consider getting one! Make this tool one of your critical few.
How to Apply the 80/20 Rule to Cooking
How to Make Fried Rice
How to Make a Mole Sauce: Intense, Exotic and Surprisingly Easy to Make
Eight Tips to Make Cooking At Home Laughably Cheap: The Economics of Cooking, Part 2
The Rice Cooker: Addendum
* Full disclosure: if you enter Amazon via a link on my blog and buy something, I'll get a small commission on that purchase. Please think of it as my "tip jar"--and thanks so much to readers for all of your support.