The little appliance squatting on top of the fridge in my first apartment in Japan seemed complicated and difficult. I didn’t choose the blue, marshmallow-like creature. I bought the contents of the apartment from the previous teacher who had lived there.
On the first day, I eyeballed the cooker. It stared forlornly over my shoulder at the window. I popped open the lid to peek inside. Yikes! The bowl looked like someone had mistaken it for one half of an electric mixer set. I didn’t need to cook rice yet and I definitely needed a new bowl.
I had some rice cooker experience. I learned to make rice in Thailand. The house I shared with four other volunteers had an enormous cooker. We filled that beast every day. Layer rice on the bottom and add water. To measure, stick your first finger into the pot and touch the bottom. If the water line comes to your big knuckle, you have enough. Close the lid, plug it in, press the on button, and wait for heavenly wafts of Thai rice to fill the living room! I still had much to learn about cooking rice but I ate well for three months.
Back in Japan, I was not eating well from my cooking. After unexplained beeping, too many options, and rice that was still floating after an hour of “cooking”, I brought in help. My manager showed me how to use one setting, which was all I needed. Who knew that rice cookers could make porridge, brown rice and even upside down cheesecake?!
After three countries, seven rice cookers and eight years plus of trying to make edible rice, here are my five basic rules.
Rice Cooker Rules
1. Keep your intestines happy
When I was in Thailand, we always left rice in the cooker. I thought this was the right thing to do and a convenient storage method. I continued this in Japan and Canada. Hitoshi put rice away but let me do my thing – I can be stubborn.
In Japan, I saw my mother-in-law put rice in containers after a meal and then in the fridge. I thought she was efficient! It wasn’t until last year that I learned why. Bacteria can grow in rice and cause food poisoning. Egads! I can’t believe I hadn’t harmed me or someone else with my lack of food safety. (I hope the rice bowl graphic on the New Zealand site is not a prediction. Standing hashi straight up in rice is only done at funerals!)
2. Your cooker may have a secret or two
My blue blob rice cooker was a mystery. I examined it carefully, observing a little more each time I used it. I concluded that the lid had two parts.
After a few months, I tested my theory. I pulled and eventually yanked off the slightly wobbly inner lid. I shrieked and jumped back. Inside was a wet, dripping, creamy sludge clinging to the second lid. After I finished gagging, I furiously scrubbed both lids and vowed to check them after every use.
On our current cooker, there is no extra inner lid but a lot of gunk sticks there, especially with brown rice. Goo also clings to the vent. Keep both parts clean for healthy eating!
3. The plastic cup is important
I noticed that the measuring cup that came with my first rice cooker was smaller than a one-cup measure in Canada. I assumed that this was because it was a traditional Japanese measure or it was following the norm that most things in Japan were size small. Hitoshi helped me with this and it is the former!
The plastic cup’s volume matches the water lines on the inside of the pot, if your cooker has them. Using another cup will mess up the ratio of rice to water and leave you with rice that is likely disappointing. While I don’t level the cup with a knife, make sure it is full. I haven’t noticed a difference if I’m over or under by a bit.
If you don’t have the cup or you inherited a cooker without one, the 100 Yen stores in Japan sell them. Outside of Japan, try Asian food stores or be creative! I discovered that our rice cooker cup equals approximately 1/2 cup plus 1/3 cup using standard North American measures.
4. This little paddle went to market
A rice cooker out of the box comes with a plastic paddle. I love the convenient little pocket(s) on the outside of some cookers to store it! The paddle makes it easy to stir and serve rice.
Our paddle is knobbly like a reversed golf ball so rice tends to stick to it. My parents’ is flat. Hitoshi’s family has several paddles and their surfaces are somewhere in between. 100 Yen stores in Japan sell replacements, also in bamboo and wood. I’ve seen them at local Asian stores in Canada or if you’re handy, try making your own!
5. Turn it on!
When I asked Hitoshi for feedback on this post, he gave me this tip. Yes, more than once I have forgotten to press the START button. Sorry, honey!
What rules do you have for making rice? Have you had any rice cooker disasters or surprises?