Cooking rice is simple, or is it? If it seems so basic and easy, why are there so many automatic rice cookers sold in Japan as well as in all other rice-eating countries? Perhaps the reason why I bought one in the first place is that I tend to burn rice to a crust as I forget the pot on the stove, happily boiling away. And I don't even want to think about how hard it was to clean those pots.
Another reason, that's also true for most people, is that it takes the guesswork out of the right amount of water to use. The new electronic rice steamers have steam vents and thermostatic controls that shut the heat off when the rice is cooked and water has been absorbed. Most rice cookers have inner pots with indicator lines that tell you how much water to add after the measured rice has been placed in them.
The cooking technique is consistent. You can get 20 people to cook rice on the stove and you'll get 20 different results. The grains will vary from a sticky mush to a hard clump. Or you'll find some swimming in water, with mixed degrees of tenderness. Some people will make rice "pebbles" or stone-hard grains, while others will overcook them to death in water, not burnt but burst soft balloons.
The new rice cookers have created such an appeal with their attractive floral designs and sleeker styling that old units are being replaced even though they may still be working. "Although we're still selling the old rice cooker, which has two pots inside (the inner pot to put your rice and the outer pot for water)," said Peter Cheng, president of Mandarin Imports Co. in Chula Vista, "the new ones are easier to use and more beautiful for the kitchen; people like to match their house decor with the different designs."
Cheng is distributing the Tiger Electronic Rice Cooker/Warmer (from $90 for the 4-cup to $150 for the 15-cup), made by Tiger Products in Japan. Decorated with delicate floral bouquets in either pastel pink and lavender or the same combination with accents of yellow and blue, the metal-base pot comes in smooth white. The vacuum-sealing plastic hinged lid has a center handle and a small steam vent. You'll like the non-stick inner pan that sits directly on the cooking heater plate and the thermostat. Lined with Teflon, it cleans easily.
"It's so easy," Cheng explained, "just add your water to the rice and push down the button (found on the side of the base); the rice will automatically cook, turn off and move to the 'keep warm' stage." Another advantage, he added, is that "the unfinished or leftover rice can be put in the refrigerator and reheated back in the cooker."
Tiger also has a 10-cup model with a timer that can be programmed for advanced cooking up to 12 hours. All units come with a plastic rice scooper and holder, a measuring cup and detachable cord set.
New Bread Maker
Next to the rice cooker in sales ever since it was introduced last year in Japan is the automatic bread baker. This phenomenal electronic bread machine has fascinated everyone since it arrived in this country, and it may well be the most interesting kitchen appliance of the year. The lasting impression created by our first taste of the one-pound bread made in this high-tech machine was its delicious crisp crust and tender fine and moist crumbs. The bread would be gone in a few minutes so there was always an excuse to make another batch.
And the process was indeed easy and less messy. The National Home Appliance Bread Bakery ($299) utilizes a microprocessor computer so that the user can make a one-pound loaf in about four hours. A similar model carries the Panasonic brand name. First, the kneading blade is set in the nonstick squarish pan. Ingredients are thrown in except for the yeast, which goes into a yeast dispenser on top. Press the outside switch to start the mixing. After several minutes, you'll hear sounds of kneading, followed by quiet moments. The dough will rise automatically and assume the shape of the canister with a rounded golden brown top.
The clever Japanese inventor did not stop the design function there. If you want your bread at a later time, you can program the timer up to 13 hours in advance, say overnight, and wake up to the fragrant smell of fresh bread in the morning.
The machine's microcomputerized sensors monitor the baking process so that a wide range of breads, from ordinary white to raisin, whole-wheat or nut breads, can be made. A separate dough setting can be used to prepare other breads like rolls or croissants, which can be shaped outside after the kneading process, then baked in your own oven. The digital display reveals the remaining time and the current stage of operation.
For added convenience, cartons of bread mixes are now available for these bread machines.
The Tiger electronic rice cooker/warmer is available at Mandarin Imports (Carson City and Chula Vista). Similar cookers may be found at Ginza stores (Los Angeles) and most Oriental markets.
The National Home Appliance Bread Bakery is available at Williams Sonoma and Yaohan Market (Los Angeles).
Panasonic Bread Bakery is available at Bullock's.