So how do restaurants achieve lovely, fluffy rice and you always end up with a gluggy bowl of goop? They use rice cookers, of course! For a relatively small investment, you can enjoy perfectly cooked rice every time, with minimal effort.
Using the absorption method, rice cookers cook your rice to perfection and take out the guesswork. You just add a measured ratio of rice to water or stock to the bowl, turn it on and it will heat the rice to boiling point. The rice is cooked until all the liquid is absorbed, then the cooker keeps your rice at serving temperature while you prepare the rest of your meal. So timing your stir-fry and rice to be ready together need not be a multitasking nightmare.
Most capacities refer to the quantity of uncooked rice that the rice cooker can hold in one batch. One litre of uncooked rice equals 5 cups and 1.8L equals 10 cups. You can generally assume that the volume of white rice will double once cooked, so a rice cooker with a capacity for 1L will result in 2L, or 10 cups, of cooked rice. Other rices, such as brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and couscous may take longer to cook and also result in a smaller volume once cooked. Each machine will come with a guide on cooking times for each type of rice or grain.
Buying a 10L capacity cooker might sound like a good idea, but if you only need to cook for a small family, this size rice cooker may not give best results for smaller quantities. Likewise, if you do need to cook up a large quantity of rice on occasion, it is not ideal to overfill smaller capacity cooker. Go for the size that suits your needs, as the different capacities are designed to cook specific quantities of rice to perfection.
How many cups per person? Allow about 1 cup of uncooked rice per person. For a family of 4 to 6, a 5-cup cooker is ideal, and an 8 to 10-cup cooker for a larger crowd.
There are several types of materials the cooking bowl can be made of, the most popular being non-stick aluminium. For durability, some cookers have reinforced diamond-coated pans. If you are after a rice cooker that also cooks a variety of other food, the more durable the pan, the better as it will withstand the varying temperatures required for different foods.
Some cookers have dimpled design built into the bottom of the pan’s exterior surface. This increases the surface area for the cooker, allowing the heat to distribute more evenly for even tastier rice.
Not Only a Rice Cooker
Rice cookers can be versatile if you use them to their full potential, and there is a surprising number of possibilities. Not only can you cook all types of rice, such as basmati, jasmine, risotto and wild rice, you can can also cook hard boiled eggs, frittata, slow-cooked pork roast, mac and cheese, beans and chickpeas, soups and stews, paella and even steam meat and vegetables. You can do this while your rice is cooking by just adding the vegetables and/or meat towards the end of the rice cycle. For breakfast, a rice cooker can cook up a nice hot bowl of porridge, perfect fluffy giant pancakes, and poached fruit. If that's impressive, how about dessert? You can cook tapioca pudding, chocolate cake, banana bread and even a quick and simple cheesecake. There are hundreds of rice cooker recipes available online to browse, including the rice cooker recipe section in Panasonic's website TheIdeasKitchen.com.au. .
Controls and Settings
The less expensive rice cookers will have basic controls. You put the rice in, push one button, and it simply cooks at a certain heat for a set number of minutes. This is static logic, and is basic in comparison to digital or fuzzy logic, which offers more functions including presets for different varieties of rice, delaying or scheduling cooking time, keep warm function, LCD cooking time display, ability to monitor and adjust temperature and/or humidity. You will pay more for a more intuitive rice cooker, but your options are greatly widened. With lots more control, you can cook a range of foods well beyond just rice. And with settings such as 'fast cook' and 'crispy rice', you can choose the way your rice is cooked too.
Consider your needs and whether basic controls are enough, or if you fancy a range of possibilities with a fuzzy logic cooker.
Most lids on rice cookers are lockable, jar-style lid to keep the steam in which, makes it much safer. At the top end of the range, there are machines with a vacuum-sealed lid and steam vent. The vacuum seal keeps the steam in, making the cooking process more efficient. It is essentially a pressure cooker designed for rice.
Some rice cookers have a clear lid, which you may prefer, so that you can see your food's cooking progress.
Other Helpful Features
Rice cookers come with a measuring cup and a rice scoop, making it easier for you to measure the volume of rice and then serve straight from the cooker to the plate. For the rice cookers that can cook porridge too, you'll also find a handy porridge scoop.
More intuitive cookers have several one-touch settings to cook specific foods on a preset temperature and cooking time. You will find a menu guide that comes with your machine to help you choose the best setting for what you want to cook.
Inside the bowl, you will see water level markings to indicate the level of water needed for specific rice quantities. Read your rice cooker's user manual as a guide for rice to water ratios. Each type of rice will absorb a different volume of water, so the water level markings allow you to adjust the water level accordingly.
Steam baskets are included with rice cookers that can also be used as steamers. The basket fits perfectly in the cooker bowl. Read your owner's manual for a guide on the ideal amount of food to steam in one batch.
A removable cord is also a good feature to have on a rice cooker. Once cooking is completed, you may remove the cord and move the machine to a different location, such as somewhere closer to the serving area so that you can keep the rice in the cooker before serving.
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