While you may initially look at buying a rice cooker as a scary confirmation of your addiction to Thai food, you will quickly find that using one increases your efficiency and repertoire so much that you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
From jasmine to sticky, sushi to congee, basmati to Japanese short grain, different rice is cooked different ways. Mastering the cooking technique for each variety on the stovetop can be elusive, challenging and time consuming. Cooking rice on the stove takes patience and attention. Furthermore, unlike most other dishes, rice is the soldier, not the star; few people equate cooked rice with artistic culinary self-expression. It’s a great activity to delegate to an electronic device. In countries like Thailand, rice cookers are as common an appliance as toaster ovens are in the US.
It’s important to educate yourself so you purchase the correct rice cooker. Most all models will cook mainstream rice well enough. With more expensive models come life-improving features.
Types of Rice Cookers
There are 3 levels of sophistication across all rice cooker lines:
– More refined design with a better housing and a non-stick pot
– Computer controlled
Basic Rice Cookers
The basic model rice cookers look very utilitarian and have a glass or metal lid that lifts off completely. The pot is likely uncoated or thinly coated aluminum and can be a challenge to wash. These rice cookers work fine for most meals, but a number of manufacturers limit the size of them to 2-5 cups. The basic models normally cost under $30 USD.
Mid-Tier Rice Cookers
The mid-tier model has similar electronics, but adds a number of improvements. Like with the low end model, cooking is simple: there’s one button to push. The lid is normally hinged and has a water catcher so that the condensed steam doesn’t get all over the counter. There’s a carrying handle and a more attractive exterior if you want to put it directly on the table. The pot is normally coated with a more durable non-stick surface and is removable for easy cleaning. The cord is spring-loaded and retracts into the cooker for storage. These models cost in the $70-$100 USD range.
High end Rice Cookers
The major features of the top of the line rice cookers depend on a small computer that controls the cooking. There are three primary benefits:
– selective cooking for different kinds of rice to various levels of doneness, hardness or wetness
– faster cooking times
– scheduled cooking
The computer offers little songs that play at the start or end of cooking. There are also clocks and timers. These rice cookers generally look somewhat more attractive, with cleaner lines and more stylish colors, like cobalt blue or fire-engine red.
Does the rice taste better from these more expensive, computer controlled rice cookers? Are they worth the extra cost? The answer is that it depends on how you like your rice, how discriminating you are and what your life style is. If you want different kinds of rice perfectly cooked or want rice to be done when you get home from work, then this is the rice cooker for you. These models cost up to $250.
With the breadth of models, choosing a rice cooker can range from a splurge to a major investment. If you have any sense that you’ll depend on the rice cooker regularly, you will appreciate the benefits of the middle or highest tier models. Your rice cooker should last for many years, with problems normally stemming from either scratching the non-stick pot or the eventual demise of the electronics. The only other care recommendation we can give is don’t let rice sit in the pot for more than a couple days when the weather is cool, or a day when it’s warm. If mold invades a rice cooker, you’ll need to carefully clean it to make sure it doesn’t spoil future batches. Take care of the pot, enjoy the consistency of fool-proof results and you’ll not need to ever worry about cooking rice again