Cheap Eats

Deep Mysteries of The Rice Cooker: Poverty, Tuna Rice, and The Evils of Solid Albacore

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,

    wait 15

    minutes with the lid off and the cooker set to "warm." Air is a

    brilliant dessicant.

  • A word on water: One cup of unadorned jasmine rice requires

    one-point-six cups of water. One cup of unadorned basmati requires

    one-point-five cups. 

  • 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

    actual groceries.

  • 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.

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Brandon K. Thorp