Cheap Eats

How a Rice Cooker Saved Me From a Lifetime of Prostitution

Cooking is hard, or so I was brought up to believe. I wasn't told this but rather deduced it from two facts: My family was full of people who'd spent decades cooking for one another, and almost none of them seemed to be very good at it. So what was...
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Cooking is hard, or so I was brought up to believe. I wasn't told this but rather deduced it from two facts: My family was full of people who'd spent decades cooking for one another, and almost none of them seemed to be very good at it. So what was the point? If a lifetime spent grimly oozing sweat over cast-iron cookery and tending to grease blisters might result in no more than my great-grandma's juiceless pot roasts, why even try? Might as well order in.

"You're just wasting money!" my mum would say. But she was wrong. My few experiments with cooking -- most of which involved risotto, because risotto cooks slowly enough that the chef is never required to deploy any quick reflexes and is therefore able to consult Google whenever stymied

by a recipe -- suggested that, no, cooking is at least as expensive as

eating out. To make my risotto dinners, I bought rice, white wine,

stock, asparagus, herbs, lemons, Italian sausage, mushrooms. For an

appetizer, a hunk of decent cheese and a baguette. For a salad, some

arugula, a different cheese, another lemon, nuts, a vinaigrette. Good

beer was necessary. Strong IPA for me, a witbier for the boyfriend.


$80 or so, a blown afternoon, and a mangled kitchen: Two or three

people had eaten a not-very-good dinner. No one was interested in


Were there cheaper things to cook? Of course. One may

fry Spam. One may scramble eggs. One may eat sandwiches. There are

burgers. There are hot dogs. There are soups and salads and frozen


But none of these things, at least in my kitchen, were

both nutrish and delish, and most were neither. Anyway, eating the same

cold cuts for days on end is boring. Wondering whether the veggies in

the fridge are just-past or just-prepast their prime does not make for

happy noshing. And the most daunting fact of all: Maintaining a

well-stocked, versatile kitchen that can churn out any number of

recombinant meals requires a commitment to daily cooking. I considered

the vats of months-old risotto fossilizing in the fridge and knew I was

not committed.

Then, calamity. Early this year, I switched

careers and found myself almost penniless. For the first time in my

life, dining out was not an option. Risotto was not an option. Where

once I had spent $80 on my ridiculous dinners, I was suddenly forced to

plan a week's worth of dinners and lunches and breakfasts and lummers

and brunches and suppreakfasts... for $40. If I hadn't had new roommates

at the time, I would probably have taken to Craigslist to trade sex for

sushi. Happily, I did have new roommates. Seven other youngish, poorish

folk, most of whom had been raised by American parents in far-flung

countries. Most of them had grown up in Southeast Asia.

As a result, they went nowhere without a rice cooker.


vast swaths of the world, the rice cooker is the center of the kitchen.

There are megacities in which millions of households are full of the

smells of cooking basmati and jasmine rices, in all their dozens of

subtle varietals, every waking hour of every day of the year. If you're

expecting visitors, they get rice. If there are unexpected visitors,

they get rice too. If you're munchy, if you're bored, if you're too lazy

to plan a more elaborate meal or even if you've planned a

super-elaborate five-courser, you're gonna eat rice, rice, rice.

That's how our household works now too.


was nervous about the rice cooker. I'd never made a meal that didn't

turn out gross. But there was no need for nerves. Our very-basic model, a

Rival 10-Cup Rice Cooker, which resembles a hot pot with a clear glass

lid, works like this: Pour in one part rice and one-and-a-half-parts

water, hit the cooker's "cook" switch, and walk away. The rice cooker

boils the water slowly, heating it from three sides. The rice soaks up

the liquid. Eventually, big, milky bubbles form inside the cooker. Then

they pop, and you're left with a big mound of evenly cooked, velvety

rice deliciousness.

To a cup of rice, one might sensibly add

Sriracha sauce and a little soy, along with a can of tuna or salmon.

It's a delicious meal. It costs about $2. And it can't be done


Our rice cooker came with an attachment, meant to be

inserted between the cooker and the lid, in which vegetables, dumplings,

fillets, and just about anything else may be gently steamed. This

steaming too is unscrewuppable, and almost any combination of jasmine

rice and vegetable makes for a hearty, nutritious, perfectly tasty, and

ridonkulously cheap meal.

I make more money now than I did six

months ago, praise Jeebus, but I'm not spending much of it. I'm in love

with my rice cooker. Here's a recipe.

    1 cup jasmine rice
    1.5 cups water
    1 cup Brussels sprouts
    1 salmon fillet
    1 tbsp cayenne pepper
    1 tbsp scallions, chopped
    1 tsp butter
    Sriracha sauce


water and rice in rice cooker. Coat salmon fillet with butter. Remove

outer leaves of sprouts. Cut them in half. Sprinkle cayenne pepper over

halved sprouts and salmon fillet. Place salmon and sprouts in steamer

attachment. Close rice cooker. Hit "cook." Walk away. Read a book. Check

email. When cooker is finished, remove steamer attachment. Combine

scallions and sprouts with rice. Stir. Serve salmon fillet atop mount of

rice. Serves 1.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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