Filipinos eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serve rice desserts, and snacks made with rice. It is therefore not surprising that the most important cooking appliance in Pinoy homes anywhere in the world is the rice cooker, an appliance that takes all the guesswork out of making the perfect pot of steamed rice.
There was a time when learning how to cook rice was a rite of passage for boys and girls all over the country. Before the introduction of rice cookers, this task was not easy to learn, as it involved everything from gathering fuel, starting a fire and fetching water. One also had to know the different varieties of rice and when they were harvested; these were crucial in determining the precise amount of water required to cook each kind properly.
Cooking rice needed one’s time and full attention. One had to stay near the stove to watch the fire and the pot; the heat had to be reduced once the pot started boiling lest all the water boil over, leaving the rice dry and scorched.
Today’s households all use rice cookers, which have taken the guesswork out of heat control and water-to-rice proportion. Rice cookers have become so essential to survival that when they conk out, households are thrown into a turmoil of crisis proportions.
My own rice cookers last more than 10 years minimum. I have two sizes: one for parties, cooks three kilos of rice at a time, and a small unit for daily use which is perfect for one-kilo bags of raw rice.
OBSERVE RICE CAPACITY — Your first consideration when buying a rice cooker will be to decide on capacity. This should be ample capacity to meet your family's needs, keeping in mind that you can do a lot with left-over cooked rice. Rice cooker capacity can be confusing at times since models are advertised with either a raw rice or cooked rice capacity. Raw rice will double in amount when cooked - that's a good thing to keep in mind when confirming a rice cooker's capacity.
Buy the rice cooker that’s suited to your family’s needs. That means a family of four can cook one kilo of rice (four cups) in a 10-cup rice cooker to have enough for two meals.
UNPLUG THE UNIT — The rice cooker automatically shifts to “warm” mode to steam the grains after a few minutes of boiling, and keeps the cooked rice at serving temperature as long as the unit is plugged in.
In our household, we do not abuse this feature; keeping the unit plugged in wastes electricity and produces a burnt crust (tutong) at the bottom of the pot. This crust often just goes to waste and creates a problem when it comes time to clean the pot for the next rice batch.
NOT A SERVING BOWL — The rice cooker will last longer if it is not used as a serving bowl. Scooping rice from the pot while it is inside the rice cooker puts undue pressure on the thermostat control. The resulting wear and tear shortens the life span of the unit’s heating element.
Take the pot out of the rice cooker unit and place it on a flat heat-resistant surface if you prefer not to transfer the cooked rice to a serving bowl.
SIMPLER IS BETTER — There are basically only two styles of electric rice cookers, those that only cook rice (white and brown) and models that have added features including steaming, sauteing, simmering or slow cooking functions, making them very versatile kitchen appliances. Simply put, do you want to only use it to cook rice, or does additional cooking functions appeal to your lifestyle?
Rice cookers are available in two types of cooking pot finishes - easy care stainless steel or nonstick finish that requires more care, but is easier to clean, a variety of exterior finishes and a design with a hinged or removable (separate) lid.
The simpler the unit, the cheaper it is. When you need a rice cooker, buy a rice cooker. The model with a removable lid is cheaper and easier to clean than the more expensive unit with a hinged top.
CLEAN REGULARLY — The inner, removable, pot requires constant cleaning inside and out, which is easy if one leaves a couple of inches of water in the pot overnight or for several hours to soften and loosen grains of cooked rice from the last batch.
It is not advised to use rough cleansers, metal brushes or steel wool to scrape off rice crusts as this would ruin the pot’s surface and result in pitting (metal corrosion).
Pay attention to the exterior bottom of the inner pot, as this is the part that keeps contact with the heating element. Any dent or crust will interfere with proper and even heating, resulting in mushy or uncooked rice.
WHITE RICE ONLY — Unless indicated in the box or accompanying literature, rice cookers are generally designed to cook only steamed milled white rice. Brown and red rice, other milled grains and rice other than steamed will need specific time and pre-soaking or pre-cooking adjustments.
Brown, red and unpolished rice need hours of pre-soaking in water before steaming. Other grain recipes like Paella and Risotto need to be sautéed in traditional pots and pans before being transferred to the rice cooker for final steaming.
MULTI-PURPOSE — Rice cookers are party-friendly. My friends and I have used them during social events to keep chilis, stews and soups piping hot.
One word of caution, though: most viands are acidic, and could eat into the surface coating of most rice cooker pots. Immediately rinse and clean the inner pots to keep damage to a minimum.
By Sol Jose Vanzi