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In praise of rice cookers. September 26, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Every cook has his or her hurdles—things that ought to be easy, but that you just can’t do well to save your life. Mine (besides an unfortunate and occasionally fatal tendency to wander off and start reading when things are in the oven) is cooking rice. Boil water, add rice, right? Wrong, at least in my case. As faithful readers know, I’m extremely texture-sensitive. I don’t want hard rice, soggy rice, gummy rice. I want perfect, fluffy rice, and I want it, reliably, every time. I want, in short, Chinese-restaurant rice.

To make matters worse, our friend Ben and I love rice. We use it as a base for many of our dishes, be they Mexican or Indian, stir-fries or sautees. And we love it as a side dish, too. Take the word of one who knows: Nothing can ruin a meal faster than a panful of soggy or otherwise badly cooked rice. I finally resorted to making a run—or, often, sending poor Ben to make a run—to nearby Chinese restaurants to buy rice. And our friend Ben, after one or two rice runs too many, began agitating for a rice cooker.

Of course, I resisted. First of all, we’re Luddites, and we prefer not to load up on plug-in gadgets of any kind. We already have plenty, thanks. To buy a big pot that just cooked rice seemed stupid.

Then there was the whole aluminum thing. Most rice cookers are made from aluminum, and just as with cast iron, when you cook with an aluminum pan, some of that aluminum migrates into the food (unless, of course, the inside is clad with another metal or enamel, not the case with thin-walled rice cookers). As all of us now know, Alzheimer’s is characterized by a buildup of aluminum in the brain. No one yet knows if this is a cause or effect of the disease, but I’d prefer to do everything in my power to keep what few wits I possess about me, thank you very much. I’d long ago refused my grandmother’s thick, marvelous aluminum cookware, choosing instead my own much-used, much-loved LeCreuset enamelled cast iron pots and pans. 

After ongoing badgering on the part of Ben, I did some online research and discovered that there were a few rice cookers out there with stainless steel rather than aluminum inserts. But aaarrrgghh! Unlike the $20 aluminum models, they cost more like $200—a high price tag for a bowl of rice. Even so, I’d almost decided to start saving up for one when our good friend Cole delivered the coup de grace. I was visiting Cole and his partner, Bruce, in beautiful Charlottesville, Virginia, as I do every Hallowe’en, and complaining about the whole rice situation one night when Cole and I were making dinner in their fabulous kitchen. Cole said, “You know, Bruce and I got one of those stainless rice cookers. But it doesn’t work nearly as well as our old aluminum one.”

Good grief. This little conversation taught me two things at once: First, that in this case, cheaper was actually better; and two, that even accomplished cooks like Cole and Bruce used rice cookers. However, I was still on the fence about the whole aluminum business when our friend Ben finally took matters in hand.

“Come on, we’re going to buy a rice cooker,” he announced, grabbing the car keys with one hand and my arm with the other.

“But, Ben! What about the aluminum?!”

“Look, we’ve all got to die from something, right? And besides, what do you think those Chinese restaurants cook their rice in?”

Oh.

We went to a nearby department store and bought an Aroma rice cooker for a whopping $19.95. We have used it several times a week ever since. We now have perfect rice, every time, to accompany whatever dish I care to concoct. If I’m cooking a meal that involves rice for our Friday Night Supper Club, I’ll even pack up the rice cooker and take it along with the other ingredients. So far, my memory doesn’t seem to be suffering.

Last night, I decided to be brave and attempt to create a Chinese dish for our friend Rudy. I’d beeen thinking about it ever since our local CSA began offering Asian eggplant. Eggplant with garlic sauce is one of our friend Ben’s and my favorite dishes when we go to Chinese restaurants, being sweet and spicy at the same time, a nice complement to salty-spicy dishes and, of course, to rice. When it’s done well, the eggplant is practically caramelized, with no bitterness or mushiness. I was dying to try to make some version of this at home.

I’d already created a warming Chinese-style soup that I could make ahead of time in the Crock-Pot (aka slow cooker), so I made that in the morning before heading out to Curves, then enjoyed the gingery fragrance until it was time to get serious about cooking dinner. Fortunately, Rudy loved both dishes, so I’ll share them with you here. You could doubtless do a one-pan version of the main dish if you’re adept with a wok, but I made it with ordinary pots and pans, so if you don’t have a wok, don’t let that stop you. I made my soup in the Crock-Pot, but you could certainly make it in a heavy pot on the stove, as well.

 

             Silence’s Ginger Snap Soup

1 large sweet onion, diced

1 or 2 leeks, halved and sliced (white and light green parts only) 

2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

1 large carton veggie stock (every brand I’ve tried is good)

1 carton super-firm diced tofu

sliced mushrooms, mixed (as in button and shiitake mushrooms), about 1 cup sliced or more to taste

1/2 cup wild rice mix

1 T ginger paste

1 T ginger chutney

1 T fresh ginger root, minced, or more to taste

2 T red miso, or more to taste

1 T Thai curry powder

hot sauce (we like Pickapeppa), to taste

Real Salt, Trocamare, or Herbamare, to taste

extra-virgin olive oil for sauteeing

Saute all ingredients except green onions, rice, and veggie stock in olive oil. (Add diced tofu just before taking sauteed ingredients off heat.) Add saute to slow cooker with veggie stock and rice. Cook on low 6-8 hours. Top each bowl with sliced green onion before serving.

 

               “Chinese” Eggplant and Rice

4 Asian eggplants, sliced

1 head broccoli, stem sliced and florets separated

small box button mushrooms, quartered

1 large or 2 medium sweet onions, diced

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 T minced fresh ginger root

1 large red bell pepper, diced

1-2 T Chinese five-spice mix

Real Salt, Trocamare, or Herbamare to taste

soy sauce, orange-ginger sauce, or General Tso’s sauce, to taste

olive or canola oil for sauteeing

Sautee garlic and onion in oil in a heavy pan. Meanwhile, steam eggplant and broccoli until just tender; set aside. When onions have clarified, add ginger, mushrooms, Chinese spice, and salt; cook until mushrooms have cooked down. Add red pepper, stirring for a couple of minutes, then add steamed eggplant and broccoli, stirring to mix. Turn heat very low and cover pan.

Just before serving, add soy sauce, orange-ginger sauce, or General Tso’s sauce to taste, stirring to coat all ingredients. (I used the orange-ginger sauce, available at our local grocery, when I made this. Don’t use more than a couple of tablespoons of whichever sauce you choose to start; once it’s heated through, taste it and add more as needed.) Allow the sauce to heat through, then serve over rice.

I hope you enjoy them. Let me know what you think!

             ‘Til next time,

                    Silence

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Comments»

1. Rowena - September 26, 2008

Ok, the question just begs to be asked here — what about Uncle Ben’s white rice where you only need a regular pot to cook it? [Go ahead and fly lice, I mean rice, at me if you will. ;-)]

Growing up in the land of aloha where japanes rice is KING, there were those who had rice cookers and those who did not. My mom stopped using the automatic cookers when she read about the connection to Alzheimer’s thing, and began to do it the old-fashioned way in a pot. From what I remember, the general rule was to add enough water to reach the first line of your index finger (with the tip of your finger pointing downward and just touching the surface of the rice). That makes it to…how much is that?…barely an inch? Then you bring the whole thing to a boil, immediately lower the heat and cook, covered, for 20 minutes.

I suppose there are variables to this but it always seemed to work unless we A) neglected to keep an eye on the pot until it boiled or B) added too much water because as kids we tended to goof things up (to the ire of my mother).

The best part of this whole post was where it reads…
“Look, we’ve all got to die from something, right? And besides, what do you think those Chinese restaurants cook their rice in?”
:lol:

I’ll have to try the index-finger thing, Rowena! As for “what do you think those Chinese restaurants cook their rice in,” all I can say is, sometimes I’m really not the brightest bulb on the string…

2. Curmudgeon - September 26, 2008

I grew up eating reice EVERY SINGLE DAY. The very first thing my mom did after breakfast was to plug in the rice cooker–and yes, it was a cheap one. When I moved into my very first apartment, my parents gave me my first rice cooker–a cheap one which lasted over ten years. My second one still works but the little plastic nob on the lid cracked and fell apart. I haven’t been able to find a way to replace the nob. So I’ve been making rice stove-top for the past six months. The rice turns out more or less okay but I’m having a harder time with millet. The rice cooker did a great job cooking millet.

Two words, Curmudgeon: DUCT TAPE. It may not look great, but it will wrap around the screw that held the pastic knob on and give you something to grip to lift the lid off. Of course, if you simply can’t stand that, and you remember who made the rice cooker, you could always contact them and see if they’d send you a replacement knob…

3. Becca - September 26, 2008

Thank you for using complement correctly. Of course, I wouldn’t expect any less from you. It’s still nice to see…

I grew up with my mom cooking rice every night (not kidding) so cooking it has never been an issue for me (thankfully!). We love it here at BrightHaven as well: white, yellow and brown. I need to figure out how to grow it! We are almost in the rice belt here. When we visit my family, James and I always look for the rice fields.

As for that recipe: looks delicious!

Thanks, Becca! Hmmm. Now you’ve given me an idea. I have two half-barrel plastic water gardens and one shallower one (maybe a “quarter-barrel”?) here that I’ve always used for ornamentals. I wonder if that shallow container would grow a stand of rice? Wouldn’t that be exciting! Or, even more amazing, wild rice. Gee, I think I’ll see if the wild rice in my wild rice mix will sprout. If so, another fun project for next year!!!

4. Daphne Gould - September 26, 2008

I love rice cookers. Mine is aluminum but has some kind of non stick coating on it. Most of those are bad for you too. I’ve replaced all my non stick pans in the kitchen, but not the rice cooker.

I used to think it weird to have a rice cooker. Then I went on an elimination diet. The main part at the beginning was rice. Plus mine has a steamer on top so I could throw the little else I could eat on top. It make rice so much better than the rice from the stovetop. So now I’m a convert Though I still make Mexican rice on the stove. Rice that has been sauteed beforehand is a totally different texture and works just as well on the stove.

Ours has the steamer, too, Daphne, but I’ve been afraid to use it in case juices dripped down and flavored the rice. (Coward that I am!) I have sauteed cumin and black mustardseeds in butter and then added them to the rice cooker along with the rice to make a simple Indian rice dish when cooking an Indian feast, and it works beautifully. But yes, we don’t use non-stick pans here, either. Besides potential health threats to us, we have two parrots and a parakeet who live in our kitchen. Ever since I read that nonstick coatings could kill pet birds, they were non-options here. Thank God for LeCreuset! Their surfaces are virtually nonstick but are enamel.

5. Joy - September 26, 2008

Silence .. how am I going to say this without sounding smug .. hum .. I make long grain rice the old way in a stainless steel pot (from a set I bought in Holland) and by some miracle it always turns out perfect .. even hubby brags about my rice. I’m sure this is dumb luck even though it has been happening for years.
I made rice pudding today from left over rice .. and it was darn good too. Do I have a “rice” fairy godmother ?
Joy : )
PS .. I have always wondered about rice cookers .. but so far .. I’m OK with cooking it myself … but just so far !

Lucky you, Joy! And I wish you’d post your rice pudding recipe… yum!!! A perfect treat for the onset of cold weather!

6. deb - September 26, 2008

Silence, that sounds so good.

Try that soup, Deb! You could probably add chicken or turkey if you wanted, too.

7. Cinj - September 26, 2008

Gadgets? I love kitchen gadgets. Anything that makes my life easier is a-ok in my book. Alas I have never ventured to buy a rice cooker yet, I guess we really don’t eat it often enough. I use my slowcooker several times a week though. My knob cracked off the top too so I just use a knife to pull the lid up and a potholder to grab the hot lid. It still works so I’m not about to run out and buy a new one!

Cinj, try Goodwill and Salvation Army. I’ve found slow cooker lids there fairly often for a dollar or less. Often they have great slow cookers, too—I found one just this week at Goodwill, a beautiful new Crock-Pot for something like $14! It was painful to have to pass it up, but my original Crock-Pot is still going strong!

8. Cindy - September 27, 2008

Those recipes sound delicious, I’m going to try them both.
Making rice has never been a problem for me (well sometimes as a kid it would get forgotten on the stove and burn) but other than that, no. In culinary school we had to make perfect pilaf – you start it on the stove top and actually finish it in the oven, and always fluff with a fork. Now I use my rice cooker, it’s over ten years old – plastic, but I’ve always been happy with the results.

Culinary school, Cindy! I’m so jealous!!! What an experience that must have been! It reminds me of one of my heroes, Julia Child. Have you read her autobiography, My Life in France? It’s marvelous!

9. linda - September 27, 2008

Before meeting my husband, I dated a guy who was a wonderful cook. He served rice with almost every dinner he cooked for me, and the rice, always done in a rice cooker, was always perfect.

I on the other hand, have burned more rice than I care to confess. Ever since dating that guy I’ve thought about buying a rice cooker. One of these days I probably will break down and get one.

No rush though, since my husband is the chief chef here, much to my delight, and a darned good one too!

I love rice cooked in a rice cooker, but I love a man who cooks even more!

Ha!!! Good point, Linda! Though in my book, doing the dishes counts for a whole lot, too!


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