I've written here before that the one indispensable tool of any
moneyless mammal is a rice cooker. I even provided a recipe for low-cost
rice cooker deliciousness. But in my months of protracted
broke-assness, I've come to realize that my previous comments were
facile. The rice cooker is a machine of great subtlety, a source of both joy and sorrow -- and, on occasion, wisdom. You learn a lot eating 90% of your meals from a rice cooker while living on a $20-per-week food budget for the better part of a year.
Here, then, are a few of the Deep Mysteries of rice cookerdom.
- Brown rice, wild rice, all the manifold varieties of non-white-rice
may, in theory, be healthier and tastier than their pale cousins, but
poor people should avoid them. Precisely because they are so flavorful,
they will disgust you over the long haul. You try to mix it up -- add a
little mackerel in brine, a few sardines -- and discover that the
duskier rices do not mix well with canned goods. Buy a ten pound bag of
any brown rice, and you'll be hiding the stuff deep in the cupboard
before you've made more than week's worth of meals.
- White rice is magnificent. Forget its alleged blandness, its
documented absence of nutrients. White rice is a canvas, a foil, an
agreeable friend up for anything.
- There are hundreds of varieties of white rice available in the United
States. Jasmine and basmati are the superior ones. Both are long-grain,
and neither is especially sticky -- though jasmine can become
semi-sticky if overwhelmed with water in the cooker. Jasmine, of course,
originates in Thailand, basmati in India, and both are grown everywhere
nowadays. And though they are different -- basmati has the finer
granular articulation; jasmine is heartier -- they may be used
interchangeably in recipes, for what is delicious with one is equally
delicious with the other.
- Of the basmati rices, Super Basmati Shaheen is the best. It comes from
Pakistan, and feels more substantial when chewed than other basmatis.
But it's hard to get. Almost as good and rather easier to find in
American supermarkets is "Indian Basmati Muzza Rice, Long Grain, Grade
A," from the Al-Ryan company. It comes in 40 kg bags -- or, if you
prefer, 88 lbs. I've eaten through two such bags.
- Jasmines are
heartier in all respects than basmatis, and Carolina Jasmine Rice is
heartier than other jasmines. This isn't necessarily a good thing. But
it's economical -- eat a cup of Carolina Jasmine and you feel almost
like you've eaten a meal. No need for seconds for at least 40 minutes.
- Both basmati and jasmine rices readily absorb the flavor of anything
near them. In Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand,
the street food known as "chicken rice" makes use of the extraordinary
absorbancy of jasmine. Add a little stock to your rice cooker, a little
MSG (or salt, if you prefer), and bam -- tummy-filling deliciousness for
something less than ten cents. No needs for added ingredients.
- But be careful, for the presence of salt in a rice cooker has a weird
tendency to create clumps and dry patches in the resulting rice. Cooking
with stock is fine; cooking with bouillon will ruin everything. If you
must use a bouillon cube, turn it into stock on the stove before adding
it to your rice cooker.
- When intending to add pure salt to your rice cooker, wait until after your rice is cooked, and then stir it in. Adding beforehand leads to dry, undercooked rice. I don't know why.
- Especially when you intend to muck about with salty things, it's okay
to add too much water to your cooker. If the resulting rice is too wet,
minutes with the lid off and the cooker set to "warm." Air is a
- A word on water: One cup of unadorned jasmine rice requires
one-point-six cups of water. One cup of unadorned basmati requires
- Man cannot live by rice alone.
- Nor can he live by rice and tuna alone, but it's a near thing. Canned
tuna and jasmine/basmati is a meal by almost any standard, and you'll
never get sick of it. Unless you're using solid albacore tune in water,
which very often loses its flavor in the can and ends up tasting like
stale chickenparts. Gross, gross, gross. One such can of solid albacore
so disgusted me that I went off rice and tuna for a week, and had to buy
- But you can never go wrong with "chunk light" tuna in oil. It always tastes like fish.
- Remember: Bumblebee is dolphin-safe.
- All this is for naught if you don't have access to Sriracha sauce.
Sriracha sauce + tuna + rice = delicious street food. Tuna + rice just
tastes like poverty on a plate.
- My roommates are long-term unemployed, and managed to secure $250 per
month in food stamps. If you've got roommates who are eligible for a
food stamp program, convince them to participate. Then steal their
- Tomatoes are useless if you've got a rice cooker. Ditto cucumbers,
radishes, celery, and most kinds of greens. But if your rice cooker has a
steamer attachment, which it probably does, then mushrooms, red and
green peppers, chilies, and especially Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and
snowpeas must become your very good friends.
- Because if you don't have access to such things, and a lot of them, you're going to need a lot of Miralax.