I live in Italy, a nation of pasta eaters it is true, but also big time rice consumers. Go into any average Italian kitchen, however, and you are unlikely to find a rice cooker (or any other gadget or appliance for that matter). Italians are keen believers in cooking how Grandma used to and refused to ditch their beloved pots and pans for an easier solution.
Even here, the humble rice cooker is just starting to make an appearance. After all, why struggle cooking rice in a pan when you can simply push a button and focus on the rest of the meal instead?
A rice cooker is one of the simplest gadgets in the kitchen; it is time-saving and therefore essential. Once you have come to terms with the simplicity of the strictly set-it-and-forget-it regime, you will wonder what took you so long to convert!
Ultimately rice cookers are not just about rice either; you can get sophisticated ones that pretty much cook your entire meal, rice cookers that cater for students to large families. There quite literally is a rice cooker for every need and household wish.
How to choose the right rice cooker
Every well-known kitchen appliance manufacturer produces a rice cooker. Some, however, are far better than others, in the end, it all boils down (or steams down!) to cost.
Cheaper versions do a good job of cooking rice, but won’t do anything else. Other, more expensive ones will cook different types of rice, grains and steam your vegetables to boot.
The more expensive rice cookers also sport better details such as a good quality lid that lock, digital timers and a wide range of modes for all exotic cooking requirements.
So let’s take a closer look at some options….
Small and perfectly formed
One of the smallest ones on the market is the Black & Decker RC3303. You don’t get much smaller than this, or more basic. But it does do what it says it says on the tin, cook rice.
A perfect device for those who don’t often make rice or for those who want to make rice for one person – an excellent student rice cooker. Although it holds three cups, it only can make a cup of dry rice at a time, given that you need to add water.
It isn’t perfect of course. For a start it isn’t such a good device for more exotic rice, its lid rattles during cooking and it does tend to spill over the edges and get quite messy in the process.
Lamborghini versus Fiat
If you shoot up to the other end of the rice cooker spectrum, you will find yourself swooning over the Zojirushi. I think this one was developed for rice lovers and aficionados. If the Black & Decker is the Fiat of rice cookers, the Zojirushi is the Lamborghini – no doubt about it.
It both cooks and keeps the rise warm with it’s micro-computerized technology. The inside is coated with stainless steel which makes it simple to clean and there is an easy to read LCD panel right in the front. It has a swish retractable power cord and has a wide range of settings for the likes of sushi, mixed, porridge, cake, and steam. It might even make you a good coffee if you asked nicely!
Steam or Induction
Still, on the topic of the Zojirushi, they have recently introduced an Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker. This is definitely on the costly side of things however they claim that pressurizing the rice makes it healthier in the long run. I know this to be true so I was quite impressed by this!
By putting platinum in the non-stick coating, the cooking water becomes alkaline and breaks down proteins on the rice’s surface which allows the water to penetrate more easily. Obviously, this cooker is going to a consumer who really knows their rice!
On the slightly down side of things pressurizing makes everything take longer. Even simple white rice takes almost an hour. It can take two hours to make a few cups of rice.
Although I was intrigued by the induction heating, this is not your average rice eaters cooker that’s for sure.
Having looked at the polar opposites in choosing the right rice cookers, let’s check out a more mid range one.
Somewhere in between
The Aroma 8 cup digital rice cooker and food steamer fits this description and manages to give you restaurant quality rice every time. Furthermore, it allows you to cook healthy steamed meals through to one pot dishes in record time and at a press of a button.
You can prepare 2 to 8 cups of any variety of cooked rice with this little gem and produce a full meal is a simple matter of cooking the rice on the bottom while you steam the meat and vegetables on the top.
You can flick through your favorite recipes from gumbo to jambalaya and pretend you slaved over a hot stove all day – only your rice cooker will know the simple truth of it!
If we stick with mid-range, then another good one to consider is the Hamilton Beach Digital Simplicity Rice Cooker and Food Steamer. It is reasonably priced and has some extra features you won’t find on cheaper models. For a small kitchen its downside is the fact that it is actually rather large – but then again it does have a 20-cup capacity. Despite this is does a great job of cooking one simple portion of rice too. I particularly like the fact that it has a small plastic steamer basket for steaming veggies.
It has a “quick rice” function that eliminates the soak time required during the standard cooking time, and its overall simplicity means anyone who can push a couple of buttons can get great rice, plus all its options are very functional and work well.
Choosing what’s right
It would be fair to say that there is pretty much a rice cooker out there for everyone. So how do you how you choose the right rice cooker? The two main things you need to consider when choosing is how are you going to use your rice cooker? Think about how often you will use it, for how many people and whether you just want to make rice, or you want more.
The other question to ponder is how many people are you usually cooking for and just how adventurous you want to be with your rice based meals?
Once you have sorted that out, you should now feel more confident about how to choose the right rice cooker. Happy browsing!