“The interesting thing about the rice cooker is that it’s woefully underutilized in the American household,” Emmy-nominated chef and Culinary and Culture Ambassador for Curiosity StreamChef Nathan Lyon, co-host of Growing A Greener World and host of Good Food America with Nathan Lyon explained during a recent phone conversation over which he lamented the wavering quality standards seen in commonly owned kitchen gadgets. “So toasters, they’re hit or miss and might have certain hotspots,” he continued, “And drip coffee makers? Some are good, some are not. Rice cookers, specifically the one I like, cook rice better than most other household appliances do what they have been designed to do.”
Cooking rice might seem like a no-brainer, as it’s such a plentiful, affordable staple included either on the side or as a base for a main dish with so many varieties of cuisine, but many of us don't yet have the proper equipment to ensure we're achieving an ideal texture or flavor with the readily available and almost universally appealing food.With so many folks exploring the joys of at-home cooking these days, though, it’s time for American consumers to treat the ancient starch (and yes we mean that literally: domesticated rice crops have been discovered in civilizations as far back as 8000 BC) with the respect it commands elsewhere in the world and stop playing stovetop guessing games as to how to get the perfect amount of bite in your rice.
“Even before I was classically trained and worked in different restaurants, I seemed to hear different methodologies and different techniques for making perfect rice. Depending on who you spike with, you know, like, 'down to the knuckle of your pinky,' but we all have different length fingers so that’s not going to work. Or, is this a brown rice or a white rice? Is it short grain rice? My Zojirushi just takes all the guesswork out and actually makes me, I think, a less well-honed chef because it’s so mindless and perfect. As long as you know what rice you have in your hand, the Zojirushi is going to make it come out perfect every time.For example, brown rice would need more liquid than say, a sushi rice or white rice, but the line is already there for you. All you have to do is fill it up to the line with water or whatever liquid you're using, and that's the genius of it all.”
The benefits don’t end there, though, as the attractive design and built-in charms make the machine one that’s fun to use in addition to just being useful. As Chef Nathan describes, the machine has “a little song that starts a little chime that starts when you start it so you feel like you're accomplishing something and all you've done is press a big red button,” followed by a complementary song that plays when your rice is finished.
While cheaper options on the market are available, Chef Nathan raises the point that it’s almost certainly worth it to invest in something that will streamline your cooking experience and add little moments of joy to your routine rather than throw away cash on a lesser quality product. “Am I supposed to dump it out and put it back in the original pot and then cover it with a towel plus a lid?” he asks of other, and as he claims lesser, models’ performance. Especially now, in a time where each task in your routine becomes a vital step in maintaining your emotional wellness, it’s the small details and firm investments that add up to matter in your daily life, even starting with someone as simple as a rice cooker. The chef sums up nicely, “You know, just just forget all of the others, throw all of that false questionable information you've gained over your lifetime and just purchase this because it's a game changer.”
Bonus: If you like what Chef Nathan had to say here, check out our roundup of knife sharpeners where he queued us in on his top choice.
(This piece was last updated on May 12, 2021.)
Zojirushi 5-1/2 Cup Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer in Stainless Steel
Chef Nathan Lyon's end-all, be-all rice cooker is the Zojirushi, seen here in the 5-1/2 Cup Micom Rice Cooker and Warmer in Stainless Steel model.