My Sweet Little Rice Cooker

when i was growing up, and discovered the joys of fried rice at the local chinese restaurant, i wanted to be able to make it at home. to my disappointment the rice turned to mushy clumps when i tried frying it. i thought the chinese had some special secret to having each grain whole and separate. it wasn’t until many years later that i learned that rice for frying needs to be made ahead and allowed to dry overnight in the frig. when i started living on my own, i learned something else about cooking rice. the instructions on the box were wildly inaccurate, calling for enough water to turn the rice mushy and splayed at the ends. i also failed to understand why wild rice that takes about an hour to cook would be packaged together with white rice that only requires maximum 20 minutes, thereby resulting either in overcooking the white rice or undercooking the wild. after many years, i finally perfected rice from uncle ben’s to basmati, from brown to wild, from sushi to butanese red. but my number one favorite way to make rice is what i call dirty rice.

someone once posed a question to food scientist and cookbook author (and—what is the term for someone born on the same day—well there should be one—birthday mate?) bob wolke who has a most delightful column in the washington post. the question was: “what do you do with the brown stuck on bits on the bottom of the pan that result from roasting a chicken.” it was bob’s answer that endeared him to me for life: “if you don’t know what to do with them, you don’t deserve to have them—so send them to me!” of course he went on graciously to explain their virtues—an explanation i did not require since as a food lover of intense concentrated flavors, i’ve always known what to do with them. if i can resist picking them off with my fingers and eating them on the spot, i accumulate them, using a little boiling water to dissolve any remnants, and refrigerate them or freeze them. when firm, i scrape off most of the fat from the surface and add them to the water when cooking rice.

The browned bits from one chicken are perfect for four servings of rice. since these drippings are salted, i use a touch less salt in the rice and adjust after cooking if necessary. having thus perfected my rice cookery, i was somewhat shocked to discover many years ago, that my then new sister-in-law mia hayashi, fourth generation japanese american, used an electric rice cooker. she explained to me that her mother had given one to her and all her siblings because rice is a staple in the japanese diet and the rice cooker makes such perfect rice with little effort, what’s more, it can be programmed to start cooking hours ahead and keeps the rice at perfect serving temperature as well. of course i had to have one. my first rice cooker made enough rice for about 12 servings and took up lots of counter top real estate. at first i thought the cooker was defective because a fine brown crust formed in spots at the bottom of the rice but on complaining to my knowledgeable friend david shamah, learned that this is the most prized part of the rice (see note below on reheating rice). i probably would have kept this rice cooker forever but last year, at the las vegas housewares show, a petit, beautifully shaped zojirushi rice cooker (it’s the 3 cup micom rice cooker and warmer, stainless steel #NS-LACU5XA) caught my attention in a “just have to have it” kind of way. my justification was that i could retire the big one to the country where there’s more room and have the new little one in the city. it is perfect for rice for 2 but can also make enough for 6. i’m so glad i succumbed to temptation. unlike my old rice cooker, the stay warm function holds even after opening it more than once. the markings on the inside of the sturdy, nicely weighted non-stick container are easy to read and indicate ideal water level for different types of rice including sushi, white rice and brown rice. the instruction book wisely suggests altering the water quantity slightly depending on the age of the rice being cooked. surely this is for the american audience as when i asked my friend hiroko how long sushi rice keeps her reply was that she had no idea because in japan one only uses rice from the current harvest. interestingly this is the opposite of basmati rice—the only rice in the world that on cooking grows lengthwise rather than widthwise. in india it is customary to buy enough basmati at the birth of a child to be able to serve it at his or her wedding! to add to the little Zo’s charm, it plays a sweet reprogrammable little tune when it starts cooking and another when it stops. i feel like i have a new playmate in the kitchen—well actually dining room—it’s too pretty to hide.

Brown Basmati Rice in a Rice Cooker

Serves: 2

brown basmati rice: 1/2 cup/3.2 ounces/90 grams water: 1 cup/8 fluid ounce salt: scant 1/2 teaspoon

Place the rice in a strainer and rinse it with cold water until the water runs clear. In the rice cooker, stir together the rice, water, and salt. Cover and allow it to soak for at least 1/2 hour. Cook until done--about 1 hour 20 minutes. Fluff and cover with a paper towel (i do this only for brown rice which tends to be a little moist immediately after cooking even when cooked to perfection in the middle). Close the lid cover and let it sit on keep warm for a minimum of 5 minutes. Optional additions added before cooking: 1 teaspoon butter and 1 to 2 tablespoons of browned bits from a roast Note: For white basmati rice use only 3/4 cup/6 fluid ounce water. Also allow it to soak at least 1/2 hour but it’s fine to use the quick cook setting which will take well under an hour. Special Tip for Reheating Rice i adore leftover rice as it gives me the opportunity to reheat it and get more crunchy crusty grains. depending on the amount of leftover you have, heat a little butter, preferably clarified, in a sauté pan or heavy saucepan. add the rice and cover tightly. turn the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes or until the bottom of the rice is lightly browned and all the rice is heated through.