It's true! This magical device isn't just capable of cooking delicious rice; it can also be used to bake bread, make porridge, cook a mean chilli, a chunky frittata, and even chocolate cake. It's an ingenious way to prepare delicious food on a budget, with the added bonus that you won't make a huge mess in the process.
A basic rice cooker is a nonstick metal bowl set inside a plastic-and-metal housing, with the heat source located on the bottom. To cook plain rice is simplicity itself -- add rice, measure water, press start, kick back. The machine brings the mixture to a boil, reduces the heat to simmer, then switches over to a low setting to keep the cooked rice warm and ready for serving. But once you realise that a rice cooker is just an electrically-heated bowl with a sealable lid, the culinary possibilities are endless. Here are five ideas to get you started.
Baking fresh bread in a rice cooker is never going to be a substitute for using an oven. The end result won't have a crust, for one thing, and the texture is kinda spongy. But it's so easy to do with just four ingredients – flour, yeast, salt and water – and no kneading or elaborate preparation required. Once you've mastered this basic recipe, you can move on to a more delicious concoction like bread with cheddar cheese and jalapeno peppers. [Image credit: Knifing, Forking, Spooning]
Truly, the breakfast of champions. Much has been written about the nutritional benefits of porridge; it gives you a proper start to the day by slowly releasing energy that sees you through to lunchtime. And the usual prep method is to cook it gently over a stove or zap it in the microwave, but both require close attention to prevent overcooking. But you can do the same with less effort in a rice cooker. In the nonstick pan mix one cup of oats to three cups of water, with a pinch of salt to taste, and then switch it on. You can also add nuts or dried fruit, if you like. Come back a couple of minutes later and you'll have perfectly-made porridge. [Image credit: TasteSpotting]
The legendary film critic Roger Ebert puts it best, when he outlines the basic principles of making soups and stews in a rice cooker. "Assemble your ingredients. Throw them in the pot. Add enough water to make it soup. Stews. Like soup only with less water, Albert Einstein." It sounds glib, but it really is that simple. There are also more complex dishes like this recipe for black bean chilli, which cheats a little by sautéing the veg before adding to the cooker, but who cares when it tastes this good? [Image credit: Cooking With My Kid]
There's this dish called a frittata, which might sound unfamiliar, but it's nowt more complicated than an oversized omelette. Line the rice cooker’s inner bowl with butter and then pour in four beaten eggs. Mix in anything else you would usually add to an omelette, whether it's mushrooms, peppers, onions, cheese, or herbs. Cook for about 15 minutes or until the top is set and no longer liquid, and then it's ready to serve. If you up-end the bowl, it'll plop out onto your plate like a big yellow frisbee. Mmmm, edible frisbee. [Image credit: JapanTakai!]
The first step is to buy some chocolate cake mix. Mix together all the necessary ingredients, following the instructions on the packet -- it's usually just eggs and milk, folded into the mix. Next, dump the whole lot into the nonstick metal bowl, close the lid, and flip the switch. The whole process will take about two hours, and it's worth the wait. Tip it out onto a plate. If you're feeling fancy, dust with white frosting before serving. While the outside is standard cake, inside will be a gooey river of chocolatey goodness. [Image credit: Heart, Mind & Seoul]
Now remember, all of the above is possible using a cheap, bog-standard rice cooker. But if you fancy using a more elaborate model, it's worth the investment. These babies feature a technology called "fuzzy logic", which gives the appliances the ability to judge when the rice is cooked, and adjust temperatures accordingly. This is most useful when cooking different types of rice, i.e. short-grain brown rice that requires longer cooking times.