What’s the first thing you should buy when you want to seriously cook Asian food. Not a wok, not a cleaver. It’s a rice cooker.
Why? I know how to steam rice on a stovetop just fine. But it doesn’t go right every time. When the rest of your meal is ready and you find you’ve overcooked the rice or worse, do you really want to keep other people waiting while you try it again?
A decent home rice cooker* these days costs around $US50 and if you cook Asian food often, it’s the best fifty bucks you’ll spend for the kitchen.
I’ve had a few over the years and, yes, they can have their little idiosyncrasies. For instance, our current rice cooker doesn’t do a great job unless there are two cups of rice or more. It’s just a matter of figuring out those idiosyncrasies and consistently adapting to them.
Thankfully with the exact measurement that you use to make rice, it’s easy to adapt and adjust, say, if you rice ends up a little dry and you need to add a little extra water than the instructions say.
I know some people who claim that rice is better cooked on a stovetop, but I’ll just refer them to David Thompson’s Nahm, the best Thai restaurant in the world, where every night four industrial-sized rice steamers sit on a table just inside the kitchen doors.
If a rice cooker is good enough for David Thompson, then it’s good enough for me. But of course, being David Thompson, he soaks his jasmine rice in water and jasmine flowers to give it a more, well, jasmine flavour.
My rice steamer has other uses too. A medium-sized 10 cup steamer, it’s large enough to perform other tasks.
What else can you do with a rice cooker?
If the rice cooker has a steaming tray, you can steam eggs and get them perfectly soft- or hard-boiled — perfect every time.
You can steam dumplings and bao on the tray.
And — a little trick I learnt at a cooking course recently — you can also make sticky rice on the tray!
The best bit about using a rice cooker, is that it’s one less thing to think about when making Asian food.
Just put the rice cooker on 20 minutes before completing your cooking and let it do its magic.
And that extra rice we cook every time? See my upcoming post for a leftovers recipe that will have you deliberately cooking too much rice.
*Of course you can spend more on a top quality rice cooker such as this 15-cup Cuisinart rice cooker ($127), which is ideal for big families or big parties, but we find the $50 cooker meets our needs.