In need of rice cooker introduction
I'm considering purchasing an inexpensive rice cooker so my husband can have rice with meats that I cook in the slow cooker. I know absolutely nothing about it except that it will cook rice! Ideally I am looking for an appliance that will feed a family of 4 as a side dish. Where should I start? What do I need to know before purchasing?
You should know that the words "inexpensive" and "rice cooker" means you should be using a standard pot on the stove. It is clearly not worth spending $30 on a rice cooker... that is only worth $30. They do NOT perform well. Don't buy one. Measure out liquid (water) measure out rice, and cook it according to the directions. If you can boil water, you can cook rice. Literally.
If you're really serious about rice, cook it and eat it often, including different kinds of rice (brown vs. white on occasion) look at spending $130+ on a cooker with fuzzy logic. This an an appliance where you absolutely get what you pay for. The more expensive models often make better rice than the standard pot-on-stove method but you need to eat a lot of rice to justify the purchase.
re: Shaw Oliver
yes a more expensive fuzzy logic rice cooker has more options and is more adaptable. I use one myself. however before i got one i used an inexpensive model for years, and it made very good rice.
so if you can afford a better one, by all means get it. if you cannot afford it, by all means, get a cheap one. eventually, you can trade up if you want to
re: Shaw Oliver
>>"It is clearly not worth spending $30 on a rice cooker... that is only worth $30. They do NOT perform well."<<
Sorry, but that's simply incorrect. The vast majority of rice cookers in the world are basic on/off models, and tens of millions of people - including myself - use them every day. I promise we're not all just clueless; we use these cookers because they do their job very nicely, thank you.
I've used the expensive neuro-fuzzy-logic models and can't stand them. The results are fine, especially when cooking brown rice. It's just that they take FOREVER. The last computerized model I used took three times as long as my basic model to make a batch of plain white rice.
Sure, I can cook rice on the stove, and did for most of my life. But the cooker is easier and more consistent. No waiting for the water to boil, no setting a timer, no hassle at all - just dump in rice and water and hit the button. And it's pretty hard to drag the stove out to the patio when you're having rice with dinner but don't want to heat up the house.
To the OP - if your family members aren't massive rice eaters, a 3-cup cooker (eg, the Zojirushi NHS-06) should be big enough. But I'd go for a 6-cup model (eg, the Zojirushi NHS-10). It works fine for smaller quantities, and you have the option of making more when you're feeding extra mouths or want leftovers for fried rice.
Thanks Alan for getting us back to the subject. I would like a rice cooker because I am not often home in the evenings. My husband is, but he is supervising homework and children. Also, he prefers rice over pasta and I could eat pasta everyday. I can't rationalize having several pots going at one time for one dinner.
Is there anything specific that I should be looking for in a rice cooker? Lining, timers, etc? What is the most important thing to know about these appliances? Thanks.
For an inexpensive rice cooker, there is not a lot to look for. You certainly want to have the correct size. A 3-5 cup size is probably a good for you. Nonstick surface is good too, but it is so common these days. You definitely want the cooker has an automatic warm mode.shut off mode. In other words, the rice cooker will switch from cook mode to the warm mode (or shut down mode) when the rice is done. This makes life much easier. Again, this is a very common feature these days.
I'm a big fan of the KISS approach. A removable insert (preferably non-stick) and a mechanical on/off switch are all you really need. You don't need a timer - the cooker shuts off automatically when the rice is done.
A clear glass lid is useful for the times you want to check how things are coming along. It's a bad idea to open the machine to peek.
A keep-warm feature can be helpful. Most basic cookers automatically switch to this setting when plugged in and revert to it when cooking is complete. But be aware that if you keep the rice warming for very long, the bottom will begin to start to get crisp and brown. Some folks think this is the best stuff in the pot, while others want consistently soft white rice. If you're in the latter camp, you can always override the warming function by pulling the plug when you hear the cooker switch off, but it's one more thing to do.
One other thing - a rice cooker "cup" isn't the same size as a US measuring cup. Use the cup that comes with the cooker, or figure out what its volume is if you're going to measure with something else. Then again, the measurements for the cooker are just guidelines anyway; you'll want to use trial and error to find the rice/water ratio best suited to the kind of rice you're cooking and your personal preferences.
Definitely examine the construction. If it's too light in weight, don't buy it. I bought a cheap Black and Decker one years ago, and it was very thinly constructed. From day one, the rice on the bottom would always get brown and crispy (and not in a desirable way, as with Persian cooking!). I do still use it occasionally. We just don't eat the bottom layer. When I want my rice to turn out well, I make it on the stove, but I will certainly be shelling out for a Zojirushi sometime soon. I just have to pay for my kitchen expansion first!
I eat rice as a staple but I am not a connoisseur. By this I mean I've been eating rice once a week all my life, but never had a fuzzy logic or a famous Zojirushi machine. Throughout my life I've watched all my family with a simple rice cooker on their kitchen bench. I personally have gone through the following a tiny 3 cup machine, a 10 cup machine with metal inner (I think it was aluminium - eek!), making rice over the stove, making rice in the microwave. Here's some thoughts for what it is worth.
It may be helpful to know that rice cooker functionality can be dead simple. I believe the basic ones work this way. They have a thermostat. You put in the recommended amount of water and rice grains. The machine monitors the rice/water mixture until the water have been absorbed. When this happens, the temperature gets above 100 Celsius (212 F), the machine knows that all the water has been evaporated and the rice is done.. It switches off. Voila, boiled rice!
Of course there are other factors. I don't know know the fuzzy ones work, but I've read they make fluffier, better rice. Probably some variation of the above.
However, given how simple the basic function is, I'm not sure it is always true to say that the cheaper rice cookers will always function badly. Fuzzy ones may make fantastic rice (I'll have to try it one day.) But my simple ones make the same rice as in a pot over the stove, plus I don't have to watch it.
I did try to rig up something on my stove once with a pot and an instant read thermometer set to pick up temperature in excess of water boiling point. Should work in theory, but I couldn't get it to work in practise. My rice started burning and the thermometer (brand new and calibrated) still stayed at boiling point.
Given the above, IMO there aren't that many factors to consider. These are important to me:
(1) Volume / Size. For what you've described, something between 4 and 6 cups would be a good compromise - per alanbarnes' comments. As for larger, I've read that cooking too little rice in a machine can give poor results. But I regularly cooked 4 cups in my 10 cup machine and it seemed to work fine. It did take up unnecessary space.
(2) "Keep warm" functionality. Per alanbarnes' comment, rice cooker doesn't work on timer. He's also desribed the "keep warm" thing most eloquently. I will add that I personally don't like this, as I think the rice tastes less fresh. Now, a function that will turn the cooker on at a set time would be useful, so you could have rice ready when you got home. But I just used to put a timer switch in the plug outlet.
(3) Steamer functionality - Any rice cooker can function as a steamer - my mother regularly put a stainless steel "rack" IN the rice cooker and a metal plate with meat or fish on the rack. However, many nowadays have a special "pan" with holes that sits ON the lip of the rice cooker and then the cover goes on top of the steamer pan. I find this useful so I don't have to reach into the hot pot to extract my steaming meat or vegetables.
(4) Attached or detached cover. Most of my family has a rice cooker with attached cover that sticks to the machine body by way of a hinge. Convenient, you don't have to find a place to put the hot cover, easy to wipe clean. These covers also "lock" onto the rice cooker in use, so it is perhaps safer. These usually have 2 metal pans attached to the lid, that can be detached for washing. There is also a vent on the back to let out the steam. I prefer the detached cover. Pros are that if I want to put the rice pot in the fridge, I can use the lid. Disadvantage, these don't sit tight as tight on the pot - so the steam comes out soft of all over the place instead of through a specific steam vent. Of course, attached cover is mutually exclusive with the separate steam pan mentioned in Factor (3).
(5) Pot liner or lining. I've put this factor last. But to me it is actually the most important dimension. The plastic-like non-stick lining can peel. This obviously brings up concerns of machine longevity and personal health. So I go for reputable brands my parents, aunts and uncles use and trust. National, Sanyo and Panasonic have always featured in our kitchens. My last 10 cup had a metal inner. Suprisingly, I found it didn't stick too badly. As long as I emptied out the rice from the pot after dinner. Occasionally I had to soak the pot overnight but that's about it. Then I found out it was aluminum. So know I'm waiting for one of my trusted brands to make a stainless steel pot. But I understand that Zojirushi and Tiger are variously revered on CH.
This last factor is where price plays in my mind. Psychologically speaking, I don't want to go so cheap that I feel the manufacturer must be using sub-standard materials to make my pot liner. And I don't want my rice cooker going kaput after a year.
I would personally go to the nearest Asian supermarket near you and check out the rice-cooker aisles. These shops appear to me to have little shelf-space for too many varieties of electronic devices. So they generally stock what the "regular rice eaters" are using or demanding. This might give you an idea of what are some acceptable options.
You probably know this already, but I'll add that you can cook rice in the microwave. There are special plastic pots in the kitchenware stores that facilitate this. I used to do it in a Pyrex bowl, but it has to be deep enough. Mine overflowed too often (leading to messy cleanups).
I've worked in the food business all my life and have fortunate to meet just about every ethnic group running commercial kitchens for particular ethnic eateries/restaurants....as well as commercial kitchens in country clubs and catering halls. One thing all these places have in common is the ability to make perfect rice through various methods: On the stove top, in the oven, with gas fired rice cookers and the more expensive electric rice cookers.
At home, I use a Rival 4-Cup electric rice cooker I purchased at a discount store over 10 years ago for $10......it's still going strong and still making perfect rice just as good as any of the professional kitchens I have ever eaten rice from. Last year, my nephew purchased his first home. I was nominated to bring some food over for a renovation session, so I proceeded to go to my local ShopRite supermarket to purchase some goods..... while there, I noticed they had a slightly newer version on sale @ 50% off of $19.99.....so I decided to purchase one for him as a small gift as it was only $9.99. Even with his limited cooking skills, he said he makes perfect rice every time just as good as his favorite Chinese and Japanese restaurants.
It's not necessary to spend over $10 to make foolproof perfect rice. These things go, or are on sale all the time. Doing an internet search shows the Rival models are available for less than $20 plus nominal shipping charges, if you need it sooner.
First and foremost: No matter what kind of rice cooker you get, go out and buy yourself a copy of The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann.
Reader's Digest version of what I'm about to expound upon:
-I recommend a 6-cup rice cooker, but you'll be fine with a 3-cup.
-If you don't want to pay too much or also want to steam foods, get a traditional rice cooker.
-If you want to make grains besides white rice (including brown rice, grits, polenta, and oatmeal), you'll be better off shelling out the extra money for a fuzzy logic rice cooker.
There's two different kinds of rice cookers: Traditional thermostat ones, and fuzzy logic ones. From the outside, they both work the same way: You put rice in the cooker using the little cup that comes with it. (If you lose this cup, most rice cookers use a cup that is 3/4 cup by volume.) Generally, I find 1 rice cooker cup of rice serves two people fairly well. Then, however many cups of rice you added, you fill the rice cooker to that line on the pot with water. Then, you plug it in, you push Start, and a short while later your rice is done.
Since you know you don't want to pay much for your rice cooker, you'll likely want a traditional thermostat model. These work as ozinboz said; they boil the rice, and when the thermostat in the cooker goes over 212°, the cooker knows all the water is gone, and turns the heat to a Keep Warm setting, and it rings a bell so you know the rice is done. You can pick up one of these from your local MegaMart for anywhere between about $15 and $40 depending on size.
If you don't mind paying more, you can get yourself a fuzzy logic rice cooker. These have electronic brains to make sure the rice comes out perfect every single time. They do get a little confusing with naming, from Fuzzy Logic to Micom to Neuro Fuzzy. These all mean the same thing, just with different branding. These cookers have timers on them that will get the rice to finish cooking at a specific time, and said timers will play a little song both when you push Start and when it finishes. These will also have multiple settings; most common are settings for brown rice, sushi rice, and porridge (congee; this setting also does very well with other grains such as oatmeal and polenta). The fuzzy logic rice cookers start a little north of $100 for a basic 3-cup model, and for the very top of the line can cost over $400. There is something that the fuzzy logic models cannot do that a traditional rice cooker can, and that is steam foods.
re: JK Grence the Cosmic Jester
Both my Panasonic fuzzy logic rice cookers can steam foods. They even come with a steamer tray insert and a "steam" menu option. Here's one of them: http://www.amazon.com/Panasonic-SR-MS...
I second JK's rice cookbook recommendation. It goes into great detail about various kinds of rice and how to cook them.