A Guide to Rice Cookers
Curious about rice cookers? Here’s the lowdown on this convenient kitchen gadget.
While we all know it’s more than possible to make great rice without a rice cooker— either in the oven or on the stove — there’s something about this unassuming machine that tends to spark our inner chef’s interest.
Devotees describe it as a tool that you’ll treasure once you take the first forkful of fluffy, plump and perfect rice. So good, in fact, that once you give this clever piece of kitchen kit a go, overcooked grains will be officially off the table for good.
With this guide to getting to know the rice cooker, we’ll be arming you with the tips and tricks of whipping up rice so delicious that it will give you a whole new level of love for the nation’s favourite grain. But first, a little history lesson.
How did the rice cooker come to be?
The electric rice cooker was originally conceived by one of the world’s biggest tech companies (back when they were just budding inventors) in the mid-20th century. But it was thanks to the wisdom of one Japanese housewife that changed the art of making rice in an electric cooker forever.
For centuries, the cooking of rice was a task that would often take up a large portion of the day, and one that required constant attention. So when a young engineer, Yoshitada Minami (one of the founders of Panasonic) was tasked by his boss to invent an electrical device that would cook rice without needing to be watched all day, Minami turned to his wife, their household’s primary cook and, therefore, rice connoisseur.
With Minamia’s expert engineering and his wife’s extensive knowledge and experience, the pair invented the “bimetallic strip”, which allowed the pot to turn off once it had reached perfect temperature and humidity. And so, the modern electric rice cooker was born! The couple cracking the code on this missing piece of the puzzle created the blueprint for the kinds of rice cookers you’ll find in home and professional kitchens today.
This innovation transformed the way people cook and enjoy rice forever, but to really appreciate how, let’s look at the difference between this versus cooking on the stove
Knowing the difference
We know the labour of love that goes into stirring rice in a pot on the hob — it’s an art really. But for those times where you wish you could be getting on with other things, a rice cooker is a real friend.
With a rice cooker, you have the benefit of being able to switch it on and walk away, confident that the device will take care of it all. That’s not to say that you have to keep things simple — quite the opposite! With a rice cooker you can get creative, experimenting with different settings and recipes to enhance the flavour of each grain, which brings us nicely onto our favourite tips and tricks.
How does a rice cooker work?
As mentioned, this clever bit of kit takes the leg work (well, arm ache) out of waiting for rice to cook. But how exactly does it do it? In short, it all boils down to a built-in temperature control sensor that lives inside the bowl insert.
Once the correct amount of rice and water has been put into the bowl and the cooking has begun, the heating element fires up, activating the sensor. Then, when the pot reaches the optimal temperature, the water turns to steam and the thermostat turns off, allowing the rice to cook in the steam.
How to use your rice cooker
Each electric rice cooker will have its own unique functions and capabilities, but with this rough method as a guide, you can take your favourite rice dishes into a whole new world of flavour.
First, select the right rice for the right dish, and measure out the amount you need. Be sure to check the capacity your cooker holds, as you don’t want it to overcrowd.
Next, time for a rinse. The key to fluffy, distinct rice is all in the rinsing, so be sure to run your grains through water to remove some of the excess starch that tends to make the rice clumpy. Keep washing and rinsing until the rice grains are visible through the water.
Now put your rice in the cooker, add the water (see our ratio guide below) and a healthy pinch of salt. Then put on the lid, press the relevant button and let it cook! The machine will signal when the rice is done — usually via a light or sound from the machine.
Rice cookers make it all so simple, but for the times you want to dial up the flavour, here are a few hot tips:
TIP 1: For perfect sushi rice the golden rule is all about getting a 1:1.1 (or 1.2) rice to water ratio — a little extra water to allow the grains to get that delicious sticky texture while still maintaining their texture and fluffiness.
TIP 2: For a deliciously simple side rice, follow your usual method according to which grains you’re using, and simply add a knob of butter, plenty of salt and a squeeze of lime once the rice is cooked. This will add a subtle richness that’s perfect with curries and other super saucy dishes.
TIP 3: For easy fragrant and creamy coconut rice, add your rice (we think Jasmine works best), water, coconut milk, salt, and shredded coconut to the rice cooker and let the machine work its magic.
TIP 4: It’s always worth checking on the back of the pack for specific rice cooking advice, but as a rough rule of thumb here is a table of rice to water ratios to help you get perfect rice, whatever the grain…
Rice cooker measurements
- White short grain rice – 1: 1 ¼
- White long grain rice – 1:2
- Brown short grain rice – 1: 2
- Brown long grain rice require – 1: 1 ¾
- Wild Rice – 1:2
- Jasmine Rice – 1: 1 ¾
How to care for your rice cooker
Even with the helping hand of an electric rice cooker, there’s still a little TLC required post-meal. To ease that process, here’s a few hacks that make tidying up less taxing.
First, remove the internal pot and soak it in warm, soapy water to get almost all the grains gone. While that’s happening, take a soapy cloth and wipe down the lid, making sure to remove any soapy residue. Next, take a scouring pad and gently remove any dried-on food from the hotplate once it’s totally cooled. Finally, mix a half and half mixture of white wine vinegar and water and wipe away any leftover food, dirt, or splashbacks with a cloth.
Of course, just as the method of cooking varies machine to machine, as does the cleaning, so always be sure to read the instructions for your specific product.