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My Desert Island Kitchen Item Is This Supersmart Rice Cooker

Transform the pantry staple into ultra-satisfying meals.

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When cooking in quarantine, I live by a few simple rules: It has to be fast, easy, and affordable. While the Internet has been embracing beans as the number-one go-to, I’ve shifted my focus almost entirely to rice. A giant 10-pound bag of rice could last months and be gussied up in dozens of ways, ranging from a base grain for a bowl layered with colorful veggies to a heartier chicken soup to a comforting dessert.

But the problem with rice is getting it right. For years, I chased the dream texture: fluffy, tender-but-toothsome, with just a hint of stickiness. It happened about once in every five pots of rice I made, and the others were lackluster; either it was too mushy, too hard, or gummy.

I had heard the legend of Zojirushi for years and finally got my own machine. The Japanese company is basically the Cadillac of rice cookers, with precise technology called Micom (micro computerized) Fuzzy Logic, which allows the cooker to “think” for itself and make fine adjustments to temperature and heating time to cook perfect rice every time. I think of my unit, the NS-TSC10 ($179 for the 5.5-cup model), as a tiny robot that fixes my mistakes if I mess up the rice-to-water ratio or a little extra moisture sneaks in when I rinse the rice. (Which, by the way, you should always do to get rid of extra starch and prevent clumping and gumminess.) 

I’ll cook a pot in the morning if I want to eat some with eggs (scrambled with a little soy sauce and scallions and topped with furikake seasoning), and let it keep warm all day for a scoop at lunch with sautéed vegetables or curry. Sometimes I’ll scoop rice into a hot skillet and let it get crispy, then top with sashimi-grade tuna and spicy mayonnaise for a sushi bowl, or mix with lots of herby greens for a crunchy rice salad. Hot tip: You can also make excellent fried rice with any vegetables that are starting to wilt in your crisper, or simmer that rice into porridge (like Chinese congee or Korean juk) for the ultimate hug-in-dish-form. 

Courtesy of Crate & Barrel

Though these are all excellent ways to use rice, the cooker doesn’t stop at one grain. It can handle quinoa, farro, steel-cut oats, brown rice, wild rice, and mixed grains with different water ratios. My unit even has a cake setting for the fluffiest cheesecake, and a steamer basket to make tender-crisp vegetables and succulent salmon fillets (just remember to give it a good wash afterward) while cooking grains or on their own. I love my Zojirushi so much that when I sheltered in place in upstate New York almost a month ago, I got one for my parents so I wouldn’t have to struggle with rice on the stove again. They’re converts, and I know that no matter where I live, it will always take permanent residence in my kitchen. It’s just the rice thing to do.

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