|Cooking rice in a pot on the stove is as universal as heating an aluminum foil pan of Jiffy Pop popcorn. These days, popcorn comes seasoned inside paper bags that are zapped in the microwave, and rice is cooked by rice cookers in practically every household that consume rice on a regular basis. Of course, if you're a big fan of Uncle Ben's, then read no further, but if you prefer the taste of perfectly cooked short grain rice or if you're cooking for a large family, then you'll need the convenience of a rice cooker.
With such a huge variety of rice cookers on the market today, do you know what to look for before you purchase one? There are several features in a rice cooker that will make preparing, cooking and clean up quick and timesaving. One good feature to look for is a removable non-stick cooking pot to make cleaning easier, and one with water level lines on the interior will take the guess work out of how much water to add with the rice. Another feature is a lid that has a small hole for steam to vent. This will eliminate the rumba dance when steam pushes up against the lid to escape through the edges. A glass lid or a lid with a small glass window allows one to see what is going on inside the pot without lifting the lid (which shouldn't be done anyway while the rice is cooking.) If the rice cooker has a detachable cord, storage and clean up is a little neater and hassle-free, but usually the cord is short enough to not get in the way. Virtually all rice cookers include a measuring cup to measure the amount of uncooked rice to be cooked, and some will include a plastic or wooden rice paddle to scoop out the rice from the pot.
Now that you are familiar with some basic features that you may want in a rice cooker, what machine should you buy? The number of functions on the cooker and the type of cooking you plan to do, whether simple rice cooking for two to elaborate meals for a party or a large family, will determine the cost, size and type of machine to satisfy your needs. Basically, there are four types of rice cookers on the market: cook and shut-off, cook and keep warm, fuzzy logic, and induction heating fuzzy logic.
The simplest type of rice cooker is the cook and shut-off variety. When the cooker has completed its cooking cycle, the machine will turn itself off. There are no other fancy buttons to push and this machine works great for cooking traditional white rice. Since this type is the most basic of all rice cookers, it is very affordable and usually cost less than $35 dollars. Some of these machines also include a removable steamer rack for steaming vegetables, fish and other foods, and it either sits on the top or on the bottom of the cooking pot. Many appliance makers produce these machines, from lesser-known brands to major companies such as National, Sanyo, Aroma, and Oster.
A cook and keep-warm rice cooker does everything the cook and shut-off type does, except it has the added feature of keeping the rice warm after it's cooked. Usually, the keep-warm button automatically comes on after the cook button shuts off, and the whole machine needs to be manually shut off by lifting the cooking pot out or unplugging the cord to deactivate the keep-warm cycle. This type of rice cooker works best for those times when rice needs to be cooked but is not served immediately. It is recommended for this machine type that any cooked rice not be kept in the warming mode longer than a few hours as this will dry out the rice and create a rice "crust" on the bottom of the cooking pot. The price of these machines is a little higher than the cook and shut-off variety, but typically cost less than $65 dollars. Most will include one or two removable steamer trays and are made by well-known manufacturers such as Panasonic, Salton, Black & Decker, Farberware, and Oster.
If you want a machine that does more than just cook rice, a fuzzy logic rice cooker may be the right one to choose. This type of cooker has computerized technology that will compensate for inaccurate rice and water measurements as well as offer better heat distribution for more evenly cooked rice. In addition to white rice, this machine also cooks brown rice and sushi rice, and all brands have an automatic keep-warm function. Some other useful features on these fuzzy logic cookers may include a timer for preset cooking, cycles for re-heating and quick cook, a retractable electrical cord, a rice paddle holder, cook settings for the rice texture that's preferred (regular, soft, or hard), and an LCD digital display. With the technology in these cookers, expect to pay anywhere up to $250 dollars. Some better known manufacturers who make fuzzy logic rice cookers include National, Sanyo, and Zojirushi.
The most expensive but the best of all the rice cookers are the induction heating fuzzy logic cookers. These machines have all the features and do everything that the fuzzy logic cookers do, but have a superior heating mechanism for cooking rice with a better taste and texture than all the other cookers. With induction heating in these machines, a greater variety of foods can be cooked, including rice porridge, sticky rice, and mixed variety rice as well as white, brown and sushi rice. Zojirushi and National are well recognized manufacturers of these cookers, and they typically cost well over $250 dollars.
To cook rice in a rice cooker, the measuring cup that comes with the machine should always be used to measure the amount of uncooked rice needed. Although this "cup" doesn't technically measure out to be a full 8 ounces (but approximately 6 ounces), the water level lines on the pot do correspond with the number of cups of rice that is measured from this cup. If you use any other measuring cup, you will need to adjust the amount of water you add into the cooking pot, unless of course, you are cooking with a fuzzy logic or an induction heating fuzzy logic cooker. Most people wash their uncooked rice in cold water before cooking it, and this can be done using the cooker's removable cooking pot, but basically, a quick rinse will do the job to remove any surface residue and still retain the nutrients on the rice pellets. The exterior of the cooking pot should always be wiped dry before placing it inside the cooker. This will prevent damage to the cooking mechanism of the machine. The number of cups of rice to be cooked in the pot is the same number on the water level lines that water should be added to reach. If three cups of uncooked rice are in the pot, water is added to the water level line where three is marked. This will give you perfectly cooked rice every time. During the cooking cycle, the lid should not be opened as this will allow the steam to escape and steam is what cooks the rice. But do you always have to use water to cook rice? No. Generally, water is used but any other liquids can be substituted, which will add flavor to the rice. These can include bouillon, a chicken or vegetable stock, and fruit or vegetable juices diluted with water. If there is cooked rice left, it can be refrigerated for up to one week if it's stored inside a tightly covered container, or in the freezer for about six months stored inside a tightly covered container.
After reviewing the different types of machines that are available and you've decided on the perfect one to buy, where do you go to purchase one? Asian supermarkets, household specialty stores and appliance stores sell many of the rice cookers mentioned here. Nowadays, manufacturers as well as other companies offer rice cookers online, including Mrs. Lin's Kitchen. We offer a choice selection of quality rice cookers in the most requested and popular types to fit any budget. Visit us today and you can have a pot of delicious cooked rice to enjoy tonight!
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