Ode to a rice cooker

Rice cooker

My culinary workhorse.

I hate to admit this, but I have a thing for kitchen gadgets. I like to talk a big game about how I don’t really care about owning a lot of “stuff,” that it’s experiences that matter to me, but… as soon as I step into the kitchen, my hippy-ish anti-materialistic philosophy kinda flies out the window. My sous-vide circulator, my pressure cooker, my Vitamix, my bullet smoker—they all bring me a lot of joy. And, hell, I’d argue they help me create experiences—delicious dining experiences—and don’t just sit there looking pretty and collecting dust.

The gadget I use the most in my kitchen—once or twice a day!—isn’t as sleekly powerful as the Vitamix or as geekily futuristic as the sous-vide machine. In fact, it’s probably one of the most common kitchen appliances in the world.

It’s my rice cooker.

I picked up my Tiger JAT-A55U for a couple of bucks at a garage sale. Don’t look for it online, it mysteriously doesn’t seem to exist anywhere you can buy it—there are similar models, without the unique oval shape, that do exactly the same things, but my weird little guy seems to be unique. It was about the time I started seriously thinking about my diet, and shortly thereafter I went on an elimination diet.

The rice cooker saved my life when I first went on the elimination diet, and later when I shifted to low-FODMAP eating. One of the most difficult challenges of my new lifestyle was how to fill the gap left by all the bread and pasta I used to eat. My cooker made it incredibly easy to create filling carb-y side dishes for my lunches and dinners—really, it’s the simplest thing in the world to operate.  I had always had a problem with brown rice, and it wasn’t until I started using my cooker, which has a special brown rice setting, that I realized how delicious it could be if prepared properly. I started experimenting with wild rice mixes, pilafs—it was a whole new world for me!

But where my cooker saves my skin every day is at breakfast. I can not get anything meaningful done before I eat my breakfast, and so I’m used to going to bed with at least some idea of what I’m going to eat in the morning. (Waking up with an empty kitchen is basically a personal apocalypse for me). My cooker, like most good models, has a timer setting, which means I can load it up with steel-cut oats the night before, set it to “Porridge” and set my breakfast time, and wake up with a delicious, hot meal. Every time!

There’s a reason I listed the cooker so high in my low-FODMAP tool kit post. It really has become an integral part of my life. That said, I have some tips if you’re in the market for one:

  • Stick with one of the Japanese brands like Tiger or Zojirushi (it’s my dream to own a fancy Zojirushi one day, they’re basically the Cadillacs of cookers). They may be more expensive, but the quality just seems higher.
  • And to that point, expect to spend $100-$200 on your cooker. For how much you’re going to use it, it’s worth it. Avoid cheapo $10 non-programmable cookers that are likely to scorch your rice and won’t cook it evenly.
  • Clean your cooker regularly, particularly the lid, where the steam escapes and where starchy goo occasionally seeps in. Gross, but way grosser if you don’t clean it. Trust me on this one.
  • Experiment! I find my oatmeal and rice requires a little more water than indicated on the package. Every cooker is different, as is every grain.
  • For some extra yum/nutrition, add a spoonful of coconut oil in with your brown rice.
  • And if you want to wake up to the smell of delicious baking banana bread, add some sliced bananas and cinnamon to your oatmeal the night before.

What do you use your rice cooker for ? Let me know below!