Monday, July 2, 2012

Stuff I Like: Zojirushi rice cooker

I'm an anti-kitchen gadget, anti-clutter cook, but every so often I find something that truly makes my cooking life easier. One appliance I can't live without is my VitaMix blender. The other is my Zojirushi rice cooker (which shares the nickname "Little Zo" with my baby cat).

A rice cooker? But isn't that a unitasking, counter-hogging gadget? That's what I thought at first, but after messing up many batches of rice, I decided to take the plunge. I can't cook rice on the stove to save my life. Believe me, I've tried. Since I grew up in a home with a rice cooker and the requisite 25-lb. bag of rice in the pantry, it wasn't that big a stretch to add a rice cooker to my own kitchen. I decided to splurge on a Zojirushi after having been burned (no pun intended) by cheap-o rice cookers.

Boy, am I glad I did. Not only does it make perfect rice every time, it also makes the best steel-cut oatmeal I've ever had. And that's only the beginning.

Movie critic Roger Ebert, of all people, inspired me to think beyond plain rice and shoot for entire meals. Little Zo is not only a rice cooker, but a perfect slow cooker replacement for a small or single person household. I can make just enough for dinner and leftovers for the next day's lunch without heating up the kitchen or dirtying more than one pan. By switching the veggies, proteins, and sauces (I'm a fan of Lee Kum Kee and House of Tsang sauces), I can make a wide variety of dishes without much effort. When it comes to cooking, I'm all about being lazy.

Here's a dish I made last week. Sorry about the vague instructions. I don't measure, and I'm still figuring when I should add ingredients so they don't overcook.

Chinese rice (serves 2)
2 chicken breast tenderloins, cut into pieces
a drizzle of sesame oil
a glug or two of oyster sauce
rice and water for 2 servings (according to rice cooker directions)
2-3 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in warm water for 1 hour and sliced (save the water for cooking rice)
a splash of soy sauce
1 small Chinese sausage (lap cheong), sliced
1 slice ginger, minced
2 green onions, chopped
6-8 baby bok choy

Mix together the chicken, sesame oil, and oyster sauce and marinate in the fridge.

While the chicken is marinating, put the rice, water, mushroom soaking water (if using), and soy sauce into the rice cooker and cook until most of the water is gone, about 30-40 minutes (or more if using brown rice).

Add the chicken, mushrooms, chinese sausage, and ginger. Cook for another 10-15 minutes or until the rice is nearly finished. Toss in the green onions and baby bok choy and steam until done.

(Note: my rice cooker switches to a countdown setting when the rice is almost done cooking. I toss in more delicate/leafy vegetables at this time. Sturdier vegetables, like broccoli or carrots, can go in with the meat. It'll take some trial and error to get acquainted with your particular rice cooker's quirks.)