As a foodie, this pains me to see. You cannot cook anything good in a rice maker anymore than you can a microwave except, of course, rice. You cannot cook anything good with a bouillon cube (at bare minimum, buy some decent frozen stock from your local soup store) regardless of technique. Good food to me is worth the time it takes to make.
On the other hand, I can understand why people choose to optimize other parts of their life in this way. I constantly remind myself that not everyone wants to spend their Sunday making a quiche and an heirloom bean soup to eat for breakfast and lunch all week. Not everyone wants to roast a chicken every week, save the carcasses, then make a stock once a month. That's fine.
But I think everyone should experience it before settling for a life of rice-cooker meals.
Accept that you are a foodie, great. Accept that there are non-foodies too.
We had a discussion here a while back about "living" on a couple hundred dollars a month for food in the Bay Area. That is a very real sort of challenge if you're bootstrapping a company. And if you can "cook" your meals with maybe 15 minutes of chopping some ingredients and throwing them into a cooker and then going away for an hour, that is a good use of your time . And its a lot better for you than Raman.
So sure, you're not going to win an Iron Chef competition with a rice cooker but its a much better way of keeping yourself fed on a budget than eating pre-prepared food.
 One of the huge benefits of rice cookers over other cooking methods is they automatically switch off and go into 'warm' mode, this allows a distracted person to come back in 1 - 4 hrs after starting the 'meal' and eat it nice and hot. If you're coding this is priceless.
I'm pretty sure that's exactly what I said in the penultimate paragraph. I just want people to try real food, both eating and cooking. Then if you want to go back to rice cookers at least you'll know what the alternative was.
When you say it like that, "real food," you imply that food made in a rice cooker is some how not "real". Which it clearly is for the dictionary definition of the word real, so it reads like you've got this whole value judgement thing going on about the definition of "real."
You're not showing acceptance, your trying to educate the people so that they can see the correctness of your world view.
If you accept non-foodie folks, those who eat to live rather than live to eat, then you phrase this thusly;
"Cooking food in a rice cooker is very convenient and as the article states it can keep you fed with nutritious food while minimizing cost and effort, However, when you choose to cook food this way you miss out on opportunities for an even richer food experience which do not require a lot more effort." -- followed by exposition on things your missing out on and how one can achieve them economically.
You see, acceptance in the first part, new information to share in the second. Same message, different connotation. Be nice.
Maybe that illustrates the problem better.
Yes, but effort takes time. Time is a luxury that not everyone can afford.
Don't be silly. Rice cookers are simply another cooking tool, and it's perfectly possible to make lovely and delicious (and, yes, "real") food in one.
The styles available are different than they are with e.g., a frying pan, but the only thing stopping you from making good food in a rice cooker is your own (obvious) preconceptions.
Got a link? Couldn't find anything with HNSearch.
Always happy to see you commenting here, but a suggestion in this case would be to come up with the list of next steps forward for people embarking on cooking rice-cooker style. I already gave one (switch to a better protein than chicken breasts), but there's got to be many more.
If someone was really interested in learning to cook, I'd tell them to get Ruhlman's 20 and Ad Hoc at Home. Both are relatively approachable and explain technique rather than just list off ingredients and instructions. Then work your way up the Thomas Keller chain (Bouchon, then TFL) because not only is he on everyone's short list for best chef in the world, but he puts a huge amount of effort into the books, even down to the typography, which a lot of other great chefs don't. (John Besh's book is great too btw.) He really goes out of his way to explain why he does the things he does.
(Keller's books are all Ruhlman's writing, right?)
I do worship Rulhman though. I also recommend Jennifer McLagan's books for working with nose to tail basics like stock and animal fats.
I usually recommend people visit really good restaurants and seek out books by their favorite chefs. That really got me into Asian cooking through being a fan of the Momofuku restaurants.
Americans are very overweight, and the reason is that they somehow do NOT view food as fuel. If they did see it this way, they would use the right fuel to power the body correctly, and enough but not too much. That's unfortunately not the case.
What I can believe though is that many people who view food as an emotional companion don't have the refined taste that you have, and so they end up eating too much bad food that's also bad for them.
> and the reason is that they somehow do NOT view food as fuel.
Or they've been fed a lot of lies about how some foods are 'good' and some are 'bad' without regard for context, or the simple fact that caloric intake is vital in weight control.
Statistically? More than 75% of the adult population in the US is overweight, and over 30% are obese.
I'm staying out of the "why" question, regardless.
Which is the only one worth talking about.
Let's see your music collection. As a music snob, I believe you should have to account for my interpretation of your taste.
Apparently you are unfamiliar with Sous-Vide cooking style. I've only recently discovered it, and I have been making the best chicken I've ever tasted.
Sous-Vide (roughly french for under-vacuum), is a technique whereby you vacuum seal the food you wish to cook in a bag (usually proteins, but veggies will work too). You then cook this sealed food in water at the precise temperature you wish the center to be. In other words, I want my chicken to be 148F through out, so I get the water temperature steady at 148F (with chicken in place). You have to cook it for a longer time to be sure it is safe to eat, but man is it worth it. There are charts out there that show the time-vs-temperature relation for safe cooking.
After you have cooked it long enough, you can leave it in the water until guests arrive. Then do the final prep. For me this means heating a pan to about 400F with oil and seasoning and then quickly searing the chicken. Or sometimes I'll shred the chicken for a caserole.
I do this on a gas stove top, which requires practice to keep the temperature level, but you can buy a machine to do it for you. High end restaurants use these to perfectly cook a steak, and then do a final sear. Sous-Vide Supreme is one brand I know.
However if you wish to do it yourself, all you need is a simple rice cooker with an on off switch and a PID temperature controller. You can buy a PID controller, or make one yourself with arduino.
It's really a fantastic way to cook. Best food ever. From a rice cooker.
A good poly-science costs what, $700? I did see a cool-looking immersion circulator on Kickstarter for I think under $200 a few months back, I should try to find it again.
And you still need to rip and char at the end for maillard reactions! But yeah, they're bad ass. Easiest way to poach an egg too.
I'm actually not really a sous vide religious convert. But I did put together a setup and, for certain types of food, it's actually really convenient.
Rather expensive, then, for most of the world.
This is silly in the extreme. A rice cooker is just a pot with a built-in heating element and a sensor to tell when the water has boiled off.
Most dishes you can make in one pot, you can make equally well in a rice cooker. (The exception being when you need to carefully control the heat.) Do you really think it's impossible to make a good one-pot meal?
Can you somehow get a maillard reaction to occur in a rice cooker? Or caramelization?
You can use ingredients that already have these. Like I use onions I caramelized before hand and top a lot of my dishes with meat that I browned. You can get some browning in a rice cooker if you need to though. Actually some rice cookers are made specially to do that. The ones that target the Middle Eastern market produce rice with something called a "tadig" which means that the bottom rice has turned crispy and brown- ideally with ghee put in the bottom of the pot before the rice was added. My rice cooker produces that and I typically take it out, break it up, and mix it in with the dish so there are lovely crunchy bits.
Where does one need to live to find soup stores? I've never seen one in a half century of living.
The bottled stock you can get in regular supermarkets is also better than the cubes. I can recommend it.
Real stock does take time, but it's unattended time. The trick is to do it in the oven instead of on your cooktop. A slow oven running all day with some chicken bones and some wings will produce reliably good stock.
I skim once or twice, but really I just roast bones, stick 'em in a pot, cover with water, and leave it in the oven all day.
I roast a lot of chickens; at least 2 a week, but often more; it is my lazy weeknight dinner for the family. This is unrelated to the thread, but if you haven't seen this video, I highly recommend you drop everything and watch it; it is the greatest thing on the Internet:
I bone out every chicken to the legs and roast for 40 minutes or so; it's bulletproof. I've gotten pretty fast at boning out birds.
Locally to me in London, are The Spice Shop (just spices and spice mixes) and Clerkenwell Screws (comprehensive stock of nuts and bolts in all thread pitches, people behind the counter with 50+ years of experience recognizing and sourcing screws).
Made some spaghetti last night, with sauteed onions and mushrooms, with olive oil as sauce. Heated it up today in the microwave, but not long enough, so I just ate it cold, shoveling it into my mouth while reading.
Sometimes I like taking the time to make good food. But most of the time, food is just calories and nutrients.
(I've also had friends tell me that I should become more of a connoisseur of food, or coffee, or wine - but then, I'd never be able to enjoy the food/coffee/wine that I do now because it would taste like crap by comparison.)
Normal things usually don't take more than 20 minutes of attention. Stews are excellent: you just throw everything in and let the stove do the work and you have food for multiple days. Going further you have foods that you probably wouldn't cook for yourself but you can cook when you have people over for dinner. Stuff like tiramisu or chocolate mousse don't take more than 20 minutes to prepare. Making your own mayonnaise takes 2 minutes, and you can make it a bit different for example by replacing the vinegar with lime juice (excellent with fish). Then there are things that do take a bit more time (sushi, ravioli and pizza for example), but even this doesn't take more than 30-40 minutes (of course there exists things that take a long time to cook, but that's not necessary for serving a tasty meal).
Assuming you have access to this, which foodies implicitly assume you do.
Look up 'food deserts' sometime:
If you don't have access to garlic, you don't have access to food. You are no longer debating the merits of different techniques. Garlic is universal; it's an integral part of peasant food in Mexico, South America, Africa, and of course all of Asia. Garlic is not a luxury item.
I wouldn't care so much except you used the one food item gourmet cooking shares with all cooking around the world across every economic class everywhere to do it with, and I just couldn't handle it.
No, I did not. You're the one who brought up privilege.
> all cooking around the world across every economic class everywhere
Traditional cooking, maybe, but that is less and less relevant to what the underclasses actually eat in the First World these days, and food deserts explain why.
It was sinfully delicious. Probably took a year off my life though.
According to XKCD, all you have to do is pick up 2,629,742 pennies (individually) and you'll have your year back!
you see this with all kinds of things - americans can't simply go for a walk, they have to be wearing the right specialised shoes; they can't simply read a book they have to be using an e-reader with a special package that provides the latest volume from their bookclub; they can't simply cook a meal they have to be a foodie that obsesses over the latest source of truffles; they can't...
obviously this is all caricature and cliche, but you yourself criticise others for being "very american" before acting out the same ritual.
In addition to not making any logical sense, pointlessly sniping at Matt doesn't add anything to the conversation. It would have been easy to disagree with him without doing that.
With western style stews though I think browning is an important step: I did a shin of beef stew in the slow cooker over the weekend in a hurry and it wasn't as good as if I'd have browned the meat first.
I'm a little weak on what the actual definition of a stew is, but rendang is chunks of beef that's cooked for a long time in a little liquid, so I guess that's close enough!
A stew is a braise where the meat is cut smaller, as if for a sautee, and where there is more liquid than meat.
The same cooking process is at play in both: long, low, slow, water-modulated breakdown of collagen into gelatin, with the liquid absorbing flavor and proteins from the meat and also melding all the flavors from all the ingredients, producing either a sauce or a soup in which to serve the meat.
I totally believe there are cultures that don't routinely brown meat before stewing, but they don't include Mexican, French, Italian, Spanish, Indian, Thai, or Chinese. Look up a beef curry recipe in David Thomas' Thai Food book, or a beef tendon stew recipe in a Chinese cookbook, or a lamb curry recipe in an Southern Indian cookbook.
Browning meat in a stew serves the same purpose that the fond serves in a pan sauce in French cooking. The maillard process creates objectively delicious meat flavors, which are then absorbed into the liquid.
I absolutely believe you that there are authentic dishes that don't rely on browning for flavor. I'm just curious what they are.
I say this now with as much politeness as I can muster, when it comes to stews, you simply have no idea what you're talking about. And I say this as somebody who's mixed cultural household comes from two very old, very strong stew making cultures with a combined stew making experience in our cultural memory going back somewhere between 5-8 thousand years.
(And I was just about to reply to you with some kind words about your passion for your fancy computer controlled crockpot)
Unfortunately, this is a topic that I do think I know something about.
Let's just say that tonight, as a point of fact, I ate a tremendous pork belly and cabbage stew that is never cooked by braising the pork. Tomorrow or over the weekend I'll probably eat a different one, where the protein (pork or beef) can be braised or not to taste -- but typically isn't. On Christmas I know that we'll be eating another bean and pork stew that has no tradition of braising.
The fact that you think stew meat must be braised shows the magnitude by which you simply don't have a clue.
Ready for something that'll blow your mind? Tens of millions of people eat incredible stews every day that don't even have a mammal as the protein!
I think you focus way too much on very specific stew traditions and really need to get away and try some other traditions.
Not every stew is Goulash.
But either method can be good techniques for starting many kinds of stews. It's just that there exist in the set of stews, stews for which the protein is not braised or stewed.
A stew is a long slow cook of something with a large amount of liquid.
"You think all stew meat must be braised" doesn't even parse.
I feel confident that I've refuted your "you simply don't know what you're talking about" comment upthread, so we don't have to keep talking about this. Again, unfortunately, unlike typography, graphic design, con law, or functional programming, this is not one of the topics I have opinions about that I think I know little about.
Thai style, the various China styles? Indian?
Green red yellow?
Yes. No, not familiar. Yes, of course.
Yes yes yes.
Got a halal butcher near? They might have mutton. I was in the same boat as you until I found out that a muslim butcher a couple of suburbs away sells it. (Actually,it is what we call "two-tooth", hogget, instead of mutton, but better than nothing.)
After spending time in Asia and getting a taste for glutinous rice , I now steam my rice in a bamboo steamer (which adds to the flavor): http://www.cookasianfood.com/asian-food/how-to-make-sticky-r...
Highly recommended (both this type of rice and steaming your rice in bamboo)!
Ebert unfortunately gives the wrong impression of the cuisine you can make with a rice cooker. He's a vegan and he can't eat, what do you expect? The reality is that rice cooker cuisine in Asian has come out of situations where people didn't have access to normal cooking appliances, but also could not start fires without burning down their dwellings. I learned about this in grad school where our dwellings were similar.
It made me appreciate different types of rice, broths, the technique of steaming (a good rice cooker should come with an attached steamer)...what could be more foodie than that? I bet I can rival your cooking with just a rich cooker. I can make luscious steamed turbot with a parmesan asparagus risotto, steamed spicy Vietnamese sausage and silky coddled eggs over a lemon-grass infused rice, and hearty congee with miso and wild mushrooms. I use homemade stocks as bases for all of these. I make them in my crock pot, they don't take very long either.
My rice cooker meals are better than the meals served at many restaurants. And to be honest, I use my own restaurant budget on meals that cost as much as $300 a person, which leaves not so much for day to day food. But damn if I'm going to eat crappy food. Rice cooker? Makes cheap, easy, and delicious meals if you have the skills. I would definitely not recommend Ebert's cooking advice or cookbook though.
I'm inclined to think that this is subjective and just one man's opinion, but artistic types have been defending their subjective opinions in objective terms for a long time. For example designers talk about hierarchy, organization, affordances, even though design is artistic.
I'm curious to hear if you have something to say along these lines.
First off, I'm defining "good food" rather strictly. Something you'd see in a chef-owned restaurant, where the chef either went to culinary school or worked in prestigious restaurants. (Cooking, like programming, can be learned without school.) I'm not saying they have to have a Michelin star, but they have to be making a real effort to make good food, so not Olive Garden. Most of the people who disagree with me simply don't like my definition of good food (and perhaps find it snobbish) which is totally fine.
So imagine you took a list of everything on those menus, and started filtering out anything using a technique a rice cooker is incapable of. I suppose my statement might not be literally true, there might still be SOMETHING left on the list, but we'd be talking less than a percent.
There are a number of things you just can't do (I think) in a rice cooker that you do at least one of in pretty much every dish you'd see at such a restaurant. You can't cook something at more than one temperature, for instance. You can't cook at any temperature above or below 100 celsius. You can't get a Maillard reaction (the browning of a steak or toast and it's associated flavors) or caramelization to happen. Right there you've knocked out almost everything cooked that you'll see on such a menu.
You can't roast or sear or sautee anything. A rice cooker cooks only with conduction in a wet environment. (I'm assuming convection occurs too when there's still enough liquid in the pot.) It's too hot to simmer and too cold to braise.
Even one pot dishes (and anything that isn't a one pot dish, which is the vast majority of the food I've described, is out by definition unless you have numerous rice cookers) usually take multiple steps. For instance toss the chicken in to brown, remove, sweat some onions, toss in some peppers, put in some plum tomatoes and white wine, raise the heat a little to deglaze and burn off the alcohol, lower the heat, add the chicken back in, braise. Etc. (Season the chicken with salt and a little piment d'esplette in the beginning and you've got poulet basquaise! You're welcome HN.)
So what can you do in a rice cooker? Boil stuff, that's it. You rarely in any decent restaurant will be served something that has had nothing done to it but boiling, in fact, I can't think of anything and like I said, I'm a foodie. I travel around a lot and have been to a lot of restaurants.
I probably wouldn't cook a fish in a rice cooker. But I've cooked a meal of chopped and deboned chicken legs, glutinous rice, fresh crushed garlic, salt, fresh crushed pepper, chopped green onions right from my garden, and a few fresh ginger slices in a 10 year old cheapo rice cooker that was a great accompaniment to my butter pan fried basa (dried for a couple hours, then salt and liberal pepper and paprika'd). The butter helps with the Maillard reaction ;)
My chef friend asked for the recipe.
Entire meal prep was probably a total of 15 minutes, active cook time probably less than 15, rice cooker spent an hour or so working on the rice and chicken.
There's literally nothing wrong with boiling meat. It's a perfectly cromulent cooking technique. You just have to know what you are doing. Boiled meat dishes have been royal court food for thousands of years in some places.
The French (God bless 'em) just never got it down.
I second this motion: boiled (at least 2 hours) meat plus an appropriate base (rice, pasta) and sauce along with a steamed or boiled vegetable makes a wonderful and absolutely foolproof meal. Be sure to cook the meat to the point where it just begins to fall apart.
Meat: the cheapest cuts from the local market, with or without bones (the meat will fall off the bone).
Base: rice, any pasta, Ramen noodles prepared as you wish.
Sauces: anything that appeals, from plain soy sauce to Ramen noodle flavor packets to prepared pepper sauces from the local Chinese market (esp. Szechuan pepper sauces).
Indeed a meal fit for a king!
Know anywhere in London that would change my mind?
I think everyone should save chicken bones for stock. They keep in the freezer forever, so even if you don't roast chicken often there's really no excuse not to save it. Homemade stock is so much better than the stuff in cans.
I think it took about three books (Kitchen Confidential and two cookbooks) telling me how much stock from scratch can effect your recipes before it sunk in enough for me to actually do it.
Even if I'm in a pinch and have to used canned or boxed stock, I still try to keep some frozen bones and fresh mirepoix veggies around to infuse some extra flavor.
I used to make a soup every time my parents came over because they loved it that used a lot of chicken stock. Eventually I gave them the recipe and they'd make it at home with bouillon cubes and then call me and ask me why it wasn't as good. To this day they still haven't tried just making their own stock, but I did eventually get them to try the liquid stuff that comes from the store, which is a tad too salty usually but still much better than cubes.
Also, you can make excellent stock from (raw) chicken wings, that cost next to nothing (you don't have to save bones from roast chicken -- although roast chicken is one of the most delicious foods there is).
There's a lot of evidence that ordinary healthy humans need a particular amount of salt each day (adjusted for activity, age, etc), with not much variation. There's some epidemiological studies that show that most humans do end up consuming that amount of salt - i.e. the physiological->psychological feedback loop that triggers the impulse to eat salty things is well-controlled.
Eating both too little and too much salt can lead to very major health problems.
Popular fads on salt in diet changes all the time though; luckily that can't stop our bodies (unlike problems with anorexics; junk food; sugars; etc)
Possible to use together though.
crockpot/slow cooker: more versatile
combination rice cooker and slow cooker: most versatile
But I would say if you're just cooking something quick and cheap for yourself, there's nothing wrong with bouillon cubes. In a sauce it's better than just salt which is probably going to be the alternative.
Once a preference is established, it can stay for a long time because there's a physiological tendency to like food you've eaten (without ill effects) before. There are few social forces strong enough to override that.
In my family, "good food" isn't an option most weeknights. So we either eat out (which is expensive and/or unhealthy) or we make simple crock-pot/ rice cooker recipes, which even my wife can do.
It's not always black & white.
My personal experience disproves this, but, I suppose, my personal experience is now wrong because it contradicts your tastes.
* I assume you are not a professional food scientist or chef, which will make it hard for me to compete with you.
Except this isn't what was asserted. The assertion was that neither rice cookers nor microwaves can make good food except for rice.