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Posted on Feb 27, 2008 | 82 comments

Rice cookers: Not a one trick pony

Rice cookers: Not a one trick pony

Rice cookers can make more than just rice. In college, my Chinese roommates and I used to get around dorm rules against burner cooking in our rooms by making things like ramen and fish ball soup in our rice cookers. And when I lived in Japan in the 90′s, I worked in Japanese consumer electronics companies whose higher-end rice cookers had settings for Chinese rice porridge (congee or jook). But my coworkers didn’t seem to use their rice cookers for anything other than rice, reminding me of Betty Crocker & Morinaga’s failed push to sell cake mix for rice cookers in Japan.

Steaming carrots with rice in a rice cooker

So I was intrigued to come across this tip from a Japanese-language book on how to save energy by steaming slow-cooking vegetables on top of rice in your rice cooker. This is convenient if you already use a rice cooker to prepare rice — you can steam some vegetables for meals at the same time. Along the same lines as multi-boiling, multi-broiling, multi-frying or multi-grilling, this is a handy way to kill two birds with one stone. (Click to read cooking directions…)

Steaming carrots with rice in a rice cooker (finished)Cooking: To cook a whole carrot or other hard vegetable, prepare your rice for cooking as usual and put it in the rice cooker pot with your standard amount of water. Choose a clean metal strainer that’s small enough to fit inside without touching the rice cooker’s inner pot, which would damage the inner pot’s protective coating. Set the strainer right on top of the rice with a whole washed carrot inside, which keeps the vegetable suspended above the rice so that it steams rather than boils. Cook the rice according to your rice cooker directions. When the rice is ready, the whole carrot will be steamed and nutrient loss minimized as the rice absorbs the cooking water. The Japanese book used brown rice, but my three-year-old prefers white rice so that’s what I went with. I did detect a slight vegetal smell to the cooked rice, but it wasn’t unpleasant. The Japanese book also shows how to make a hard-boiled egg by nestling a washed egg right down into the rice and cooking water. I haven’t tried this out as I’m very content with my current method of boiling eggs, but it’s interesting nonetheless. My fancy yet reasonably priced rice cooker came with a steam tray that sits in the top of the rice cooker’s inner pot, so I could have used that instead of the metal strainer. Other high-end rice cookers (see article on Japan’s rice cooker trend) now have settings for cake, slow cooker/soup, brown rice, rice porridge, etc., so there’s no shortage of possibilities for different kinds of cooking in a rice cooker.

Recipes: For other rice cooker recipes, Panasonic/National has a free online cookbook here with tested gourmet-type recipes, has a number, and then there’s always The Ultimate Rice Cooker Cookbook: 250 No-Fail Recipes for Pilafs, Risottos, Polenta, Chilis, Soups, Porridges, Puddings and More, from Start to Finish in Your Rice Cooker. Do you have a favorite rice cooker recipe? Share it or a link in comments!



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  1. My dorm-mates last year kept on leaving the kitchen in a disastrous state (cockroaches crawling out of the sink… you get the idea), so I did all my cooking on my desk in my room in my rice cooker, including pasta, chicken stock, vegetable soup, risotto, even a cake. It’s a terrific invention; I’m not sure how I would’ve survived last year without it.

  2. @49 from melissa: (In case you haven’t subscribed to comments on this post, reader oh_mom posted a reply to your question about residual odor — she uses newspaper stored inside to cut the smell.) I haven’t cooked really stinky things in my good rice cooker, I may bring my old rice cooker upstairs from storage for that if it’s a problem. I haven’t noticed any residual smell from just cooking vegetables, though.

  3. @51 from Macky: Good point on the okra slime factor if it’s cut before cooking. I love okra, but not the slime!

  4. @52 from Alphabet Salad: I’m glad you didn’t use that revolting kitchen! Hooray for clean cooking in your own rice cooker, the saviour of hungry dorm-dwellers!

  5. @53 from Gloria: Glad you’re enjoying the recipe links! Let us know if you make something really stand-out from them — I’d love to hear your feedback!

  6. ohmy!
    my mom used it eventually. the old rice pot was retired. the pot from the ricecooker is now the ricepot!
    but we do have 2 ricecookers on standby. in cases of family parties and mega lunches.
    they’re no longer for display purposes.

    the microwave got that display now!

  7. My father-in-law makes yellow cake in his rice cooker. He uses a boxed cake mix. They eat the cake plain with no icing…just a simple treat with coffee. The cake has a slightly denser texture than if baked in the oven.

    This post is great — it reminded me that our rice cooker has a steamer basket (I just need to find it). I’m looking forward to trying it out!

  8. @59 from Tenae: Does your father-in-law use just regular boxed cake mix, or something formulated specially for rice cookers? Tell me more! :-)

  9. He uses regular ol’ cake mix like Duncan Hines or Betty Crocker. I’m not sure if he follows the exact directions on the box when adding eggs, oil, or whatever — I’ve seen him prepare other storebought items (frozen pie, pizza) without following the directions. He makes up his own methods, I think! BTW I prefer to bake cakes from scratch myself. But I love his rice cooker cake. Anything my in-laws make, I’ll try it.

  10. @61 from Tenae: “Anything my in-laws make, I’ll try it.” I see you’re a very wise woman, Tenae! Family harmony with the in-laws = good.

  11. my rice cooker is a major lifesaver! i’ve been making rice porridge in the rice cooker for my 13-month-old since he was maybe… 7 or 8 months old. over the weekend, i make a big pot of stock by boiling pork bone, and i freeze 2/3 of it. with the remaining 1/3, i throw in 1/2 cup of rice, lots of finely chopped vegetables (whatever i have on hand) and some shredded rotisserie chicken. then i just let it cook. super easy! makes enough to last a couple days.

  12. @63 from elle: Good point, elle! Why waste money on dehydrated “rice cereal” for babies just starting solid foods when you can make something a whole lot tastier (and cheaper, I suspect) on your own? Brava!

  13. I steamed tofu in the basket with my rice last week and it worked just fine! nice and firm but creamy. I’m definately going to do it again – beats frying tofu everytime i have the taste for a veg curry!

  14. @65 from ginger: Steaming tofu wouldn’t have occurred to me — great idea! Thanks for the feedback.

  15. I’m Chinese and my mom makes steamed meat patties (just chopped up pork w/ diced shittake mushrooms and small bits of salted fish in a metal plate. She also does steamed egg plain or w/ preserved scallops ( on the bottom in a large enamel soup bowl. It’s delicious.

    My mom used to also steam cake in a wok w/ some water in a large soup dish/plate. It was quite dense and I don’t think she used cake mix. I will ask her but honestly, I think the cake was pretty horrible.

  16. @67 from Chinamerican: Ooh, steamed meat or egg sounds fantastic. I think I’ve had steamed egg with shrimp before, but now I’ve got a craving for that steamed meat patty… Thanks for throwing that in the mix; I appreciate it.

  17. I have nestled eggs, you can do up to 3, in the rice in the rice cooker. I have also mixed in chopped potatoes/yams or frozen veggies like peas and carrots. Just use the same amount of water you would do if you weren’t cooking with extra stuff. the eggs cook like any hardboiled eggs.

  18. @69 from Janie: How big is your rice cooker? I’d think that the pot size would be your limiting factor for how many eggs you can do at once. Thanks for the input on the other veggies as well, Janie!

  19. We’ve always made custard in our rice cooker. 3 eggs and a quart of milk, a bit of sugar and some vanilla. It comes out loverly.

  20. These are some really great ideas! Rice porridge sounds sooo good!!

  21. Rice cookers are a must have for anyone who is vegan/vegetarian. We follow the rule of a grain, beans and a vegetable to make a complete protein at my house and this can so easily be done with a rice cooker. We found one at a thrift store for 4 bucks. It had a small rack for steaming and a small cup for measuring out rice. Our roommate bought the same one and then we had two, so we almost never used to stove or microwave.

  22. Great to read that rice cookers have so many options! I’m looking to buy one soon and have a question which i can’t really seem to find the answer to. Perhaps someone here can help me. Is it worth buying a more expensive rice cooker that comes with a steam basket that fits into it or is it possible to use any steam basket inside a rice cooker? If so, is there anything i should watch out for?

  23. @75 from Fred: You can use any steam baskets inside rice cookers, but if the pot of your rice cooker is nonstick be sure that any metal steamer basket you put inside is smaller and doesn’t touch the sides (don’t want to scratch the nonstick coating). As for what kind of rice cooker you should buy, think about how much you think you’ll use it. In general terms I’d advise getting a rice cooker with a tight lid that locks down onto the base instead of just sitting on top. This allows the rice to really steam and cook evenly, and you shouldn’t have burned bits on the bottom of the pot when you’re done. I’ve had better results with the slightly more fancy models, but this may be personal preference.

  24. Thanks for the info and advice Biggie! I will consider this when I go buy one next weekend. Looking forward to it :)

  25. sometimes with left over rice in the rice cooker the next day, i just add some water and press cook, it doesn’t take as long as when you first cook it. when finished, i mix the rice with the plastic spoon and tada revived rice!

  26. i have a medium size rice cooker i guess from black and decker. I’ve had it for a few years now, maybe 3yrs. being puerto rican i eat a lot of rice so even though its just me i use it a lot. i never heard of using your rice cooker to steam veggies til recently and i want to try it but my rice cooker didn’t come with a steamer basket. i’m not sure how i can create one. in the pix above it looks like a regular handless metal strainer but it also appears to be in the water and i was under the impression to steam veggies they weren’t supposed to touch the water. can someone explain this to me further? thanx

  27. I’m a newbie to this website. We just got a 10 cup Panasonic rice cooker that has a setting for cake, but the recipe calls for a smaller pkg. than the usual 18+ oz. cake mix pkg. The amount of water listed seems very small for the rest of the ingredients. Could it be correct?!? My husband is all fired up to try making a cake in the rice cooker….I don’t want to disappoint! Any help out there?
    (Have an older smaller cooker also, and have always make rice or pudding. Thanks for the ideas on also cooking veggies, chicken, etc. with the rice!)

  28. Hi Biggie-I love your blog!
    Actually I make an entire Japanese-style dinner for my husband and my 4-yr old son in my rice cooker. I make a chawanmushi mixture and pour on top of shiitake mushrooms sliced in the bottom of a Japanese-style teacup (covered with aluminum foil), and nestle the cup into the uncooked rice so that the bottom of the cup is on the bottom of the rice cooker pot.
    Then I put raw ground pork or chicken into plastic wrap, along with some seasonings to give it a “soboro” flavor. I wrap it really well, and it goes on top of the rice.
    Then a third packet of diced carrots and frozen chopped spinach also goes in on top of the rice.
    Once the rice is cooked, all 3 side dishes are done – all I have to do is add a soup and pickles and I’ve got the Big 4 ingredients to a Japanese meal/bento (+1) done! (Of course you’d eliminate the chawanmushi for a bento, since it won’t pack well.)
    I saw this on “Oogon Densetsu Setsuyaku Seikatsu” awhile back, and thought it was ingenious. I haven’t found any Japanese cookbooks that feature whole dinners cooked in a single rice cooker yet, though there are many that feature single dishes put in to cook with the rice.

  29. @81 from carlyjcais: I love the idea of an entire meal made in the rice cooker, but am a bit wary of cooking in plastic wrap from a food safety (and chemical leeching) perspective. Maybe parchment paper instead?

    Now you’ve got me craving chawanmushi… Hmm, make myself or eat out?

  30. I’m on my 3rd ricecooker in about 50 years.The latest has fuzzy logic and is amazing.

    About ten years ago I bought a cast and machined rather than pressed aluminum stovetop rice cooker/steamer in a thrift store. Stamped on the riveted handles is “Made in Japan” the lid handle/knob has a “mark”. I can find zero,zip,nada about this cooker anywhere. Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer probably doesn’t help much but I thought maybe you could point me in the right direction to find out more about this cooker. None of the Japanese stores in your list seem to have websites but they do seem to sell non-electric stovetop cookers..I am stumped..



  31. I have a very basic rice cooker, just has a swiych for warm, cook or unplug to completely shut off.. No steam basket, no varied settings for different kind of rice! But I can throw in the usual rice and water, and some frozen sausages, and they’re cooked quite through when it’s done without getting dry. I’ve thrown in chicken breasts, they come out quite tender; tonight I learned that if I use sweet wild rice everything else in the pot will turn dark purple (including the carrots, onions, and peas!)

    It’s fun to think of differernt things to try and cook with the rice. Sweet potato works, onions, carrots and other root vegtables like turnips and parsnips. Sausages and chicken work. Had never heard of doing eggs this way- will definitey try!

    Thank you!

  32. This is a great post! I am looking around for rice cooker recipes as I’m about to invest in one (I used to have one but I had to give it back to an ex-boyfriend! waah!) and I’d like to learn some tasty, simple and economic one-person recipes!

    Can anyone recommend a good recipe book for Japanese recipes, even if it is in Japanese please? I can see there are a lot of books on various international recipes, but I will be living in Japan and I need to use the ingredients that are easily available!

    Also, a great recipe recommendation for a congee would be perfect… just the thing for when you are poorly and need some comfort food.

    Oh… and kimchee recipes! yum yum!

    OK, I am getting greedy now so I’d better stop, but just to say that this blog is fabulous, thank you!

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