For as long as I can remember, I’ve really loved eating rice. I don’t have data on it or anything, but I would guess that I enjoy it more than the average person. As a kid, the one thing that my favorite dinners — chili, chicken pot pie — had in common was that my parents consistently served them with a side of white rice. I have a very distinct memory of my mom explaining to me that most Chinese takeout restaurants are not in the habit of offering rice as a standard add-on for noodle dishes, and certainly not as a side for fried rice. (Even as a wiser, more rational adult, I maintain that there is nothing wrong with this option.)
Now that you know these somewhat embarrassing rice-related stories about me, it should hardly come as a surprise that my parents gifted me with my very own rice cooker when I was a sophomore in college, and that I was EXCITED ABOUT IT. As a second-year student, I had a basic galley kitchen in my dorm room, and I’d spent the first semester trying to figure out how to use it most effectively. I’d left home with a respectable set of cooking skills and an interest in learning more, and my stepmom — who is the one responsible for almost all of said cooking skills — was always looking for opportunities to help and teach. Knowing that I’d been fascinated with her rice cooker for the past few years, she must have felt pretty confident that the rice cooker would be a successful Christmas present.
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And it was! For as long as I’d been aware of the machinations that went down in the kitchen at home, I’d been curious about the rice cooker. Every time my stepmom used it, it produced the most flawless batch of rice. (I suppose that an appliance that only officially has one job should do that job flawlessly, but it still deeply impressed me.) How was the rice so fluffy? How was it always the right temperature? Why did it seem to even smell better when it was made in the rice cooker? Having made my fair share of attempts at stovetop rice, it was inconceivable to me that a process that was so frustrating manually could be streamlined so beautifully with an appliance that I was told wasn’t even cutting-edge.
I didn’t care how old-school the technology was, though. I was happy to say goodbye to my days of over-boiling and burned rice, and I returned to the dorms for the second semester with my rice cooker ready to go. I could tell we were going to be a great team.
My diet in college consisted of many, many bags of frozen veggie steamers, and I put my shiny new appliance to work, whipping up batches of brown rice at the beginning of every week to mix with whatever vegetables were on the menu. Yes, the fluffy, perfect rice was everything I’d wanted it to be. But it wasn’t long before I started experimenting with the rice cooker. I had recently started hearing about all of these cool, new-to-me grains, especially quinoa and farro, and I was excited to give them a try. The instructions for making these grains on the stovetop seemed to present many of the same frustrations I’d stumbled on when making rice pre-rice cooker. Spoiled by my new favorite appliance, I decided that I could not be expected to deal with those frustrations, so I made my first-ever batches of quinoa and farro directly in the rice cooker. It took me a while to get the water ratios right, but before long, I had it down to a science. And I really loved the results!
By the end of sophomore year, I had (somewhat) successfully cooked other items in my rice cooker: lentils, pasta, polenta, to name a few. It was clear to me that some of these items — namely, pasta — were not necessarily made better by being prepared in the appliance, but the point was that it worked! I had yet to meet a fellow college student in possession of a rice cooker, and it felt like a secret weapon. After finals, I packed up my rice cooker for the summer, knowing it would be coming back junior year.
The rice cooker did, in fact, return to campus junior year, and again senior year. Since then, I’ve owned three different rice cookers, upgrading to slightly nicer models between apartments and to commemorate various life phases. Now, I’m also the proud owner of an Instant Pot and a slow cooker, and while I’m happy to sing their praises, I can honestly say that I still believe it’s the rice cooker that is the best small appliance.
I’m willing to admit that nostalgia has a role to play in this for me, but I also think there’s something to be said about the simplicity of the rice cooker. All of the models that I’ve owned over the years have been substantially smaller than my Instant Pot and Crock-Pot, making them much lighter and easier to navigate from cabinet to counter and back again. There are minimal buttons and switches — likely, just a simple on/off switch or cook/warm buttons. More advanced appliances are fun to learn to use over time, but they also leave plenty of room for error (I speak from experience). It’s really hard to mess something up in the rice cooker. Take it from a girl who used one to make a full batch of rotini pasta in a college dorm.
Related: How To Make Rice in a Rice Cooker
Rice cookers are, in fact, capable of churning out beautifully cooked batches of more than just, well, rice. Even as a non-college student, I use mine several times a week to prepare brown rice, quinoa, farro, polenta, and bulgur wheat. It’s easy to set up and takes all the stress out of side dishes. It also makes me look really good when it comes time to bring a salad to a potluck dinner. (Who knew that quinoa could make a salad seem so fancy?)
I do think that there’s something to be said about the simplicity of the rice cooker. While there always seems to be a trendy new version of the Instant Pot, the rice cooker remains the same … and rice itself remains inexplicably delicious.
Do you agree or disagree? Discuss in the comments below.
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