This Rice Cooker Saves Me So Much Time When Making Dinner for My Family
Can I take a moment to share my family's love of rice with you? Rice is a staple in our house each week. Our "rice" drawer is filled to the brim with all sorts of varieties—white rice, brown rice, long grain, short grain, sushi rice, arborio rice, jasmine rice, basmati. Rice goes with so many of our favorite meals and cuisines: curries, stir-fries, sushi, simmered with broth and veggies for chicken soup, or mixed with spices and beans for arroz con gandules, a Puerto Rican dish I grew up eating. For a quick lunch, we top leftover white rice with kimchi (or in my son's case, ketchup). More often than not, we'll have rice as a side for fried tofu, roast chicken or grilled fish for an easy weeknight dinner.
For a busy family, one of the biggest issues with cooking rice during the week is time—well, lack of it. It's true that rice can take a while to cook, but that's where a good rice cooker comes in. Rice cookers allow you set it and forget while you tend to other things—whether it's making the rest of your meal, folding laundry or just relaxing on the couch for a "me minute" with a glass of wine. Rice cookers usually have a sensor to know when the rice is done and will switch off or to a keep-warm function until you're ready to eat, so you don't have to worry about pots overflowing on the stove or food burning in the pan.
When I know rice is on the menu, the first thing I'll do when I start cooking dinner is get the rice going. That way I know it will be ready whenever dinner is done. Getting the rice in the cooker takes less than five minutes, and most of that is for rinsing the rice. Really, if you can scoop rice and pour water, you can make rice in a rice cooker.
But not all rice cookers are created equal! My first rice cooker was a very basic model that I inherited in my kitchen when my husband and I moved in together. I used it for over 10 years at least a couple of times a week, even though it had two major drawbacks that really bugged me. While it was cooking, the steam vent hole would spit out a sticky mess of rice splatters all over the floor. Also, no matter what adjustments I made, the rice always stuck to the pan—making it really difficult to get the rice out (not to mention, it was a real pain to wash).
I finally decided I needed a new rice cooker, but I wasn't sure where to start.
Rice Cooker vs. Instant Pot
My biggest question was "Should I get a rice cooker or an Instant Pot?" I needed an expert opinion, so I consulted Breana Lai Killeen, M.P.H., RD, EatingWell's Test Kitchen & editorial operations manager. "I'm a rice cooker lover," she said. "A Zojirushi has been in every kitchen of my life. The Instant Pot does cook rice pretty well, so would be a good choice if you're an occasional rice eater. That said, if you don't think you'll want to pressure-cook, or if you don't want a large-ish appliance and you eat rice all the time, stick with a rice cooker." I already have a slow cooker and didn't think I would use any of the other Instant Pot features, so I decided on the Zojirushi Rice Cooker with 5 1/2-cup capacity (Williams Sonoma, $180). It has changed my rice-cooking life and I've never looked back.
Zojirushi Rice Cooker Features I Love
- For starters, it comes with a removable easy-to-clean steam vent cap that keeps steam from splattering all over my kitchen. Now I don't need to worry about scalding my arm or pulling the mop out every time I cook.
- The rice doesn't stick to the pan! This makes it really easy to serve the rice, and cleanup is a cinch. I like to hand-wash the parts, because I'm very protective of my rice cooker and it's so easy to clean, but it's good to know that the removable inner cooking pan is also dishwasher-safe.
- No rice-to-water ratios to memorize. The Zojirushi Rice Cooker comes with a scoop for measuring rice. Add the number of scoops you want to the bowl and then fill with water to the number on the side of the bowl that corresponds with the number of scoops you used. Seriously, you can't mess it up!
- It makes the perfect rice. This should go without saying, but this rice cooker makes perfectly cooked, fluffy rice every time. It has a sensor to know the rice is done and will adjust the time and temperature automatically. When it's done, it switches to Warm automatically until you're ready to eat.
- Among design features I didn't know I needed, but now can't live without: a retractable power cord and a musical timer. The power cord retracts neatly into the appliance, which makes for tidy, more organized stowing. (Why don't all kitchen appliances have this feature??) And a timer that plays you a melody when it's ready? Yes, you can choose the beep setting if that's not your thing, but I like my rice cooker to sing to me when it's done cooking. It's such a pleasant sensory moment when the rest of the house is mayhem.
- Other features worth noting: This rice cooker also comes with a rice paddle and steaming basket, and it has several functions for white/sushi, mixed, porridge, sweet, brown, quick-cooking, steam and even cake. I have not tried making a cake in my rice cooker ... yet.
Some Cons to Consider:
- At $180 retail, it's kind of pricy. You could try shopping around for a deal or wait till it goes on sale. But if you make rice as much as I do, it's worth it.
- A small detail, but a little annoying: the measuring cup that comes with the rice cooker doesn't fit in the machine with the steam basket inside, so you need to store it separately.
This week after skateboard camp, my 7-year-old came up to me and asked me to make rice for lunch, since we had no leftovers in the fridge. Rice. For Lunch. On a workday! Who does that? Me, that's who. Instead of getting all worked up and stressed out and saying no, I replied, "Sure! Let me just push a button and lunch will be ready when it sings to you." This machine has turned me into a yes person. How cool is that?