I love versatile appliances that can cook a variety of foods to minimise the number of kitchen gadgets I need. So I wanted to find out whether or not I could (and should) replace my slow cooker with a rice cooker.
Having tested using a rice cooker instead of a slow cooker for a number of different dishes I found that while a rice cooker can be used as slow cooker it will require some additional attention and manipulation. Unlike slow cookers where the cooking experience is very much ‘set it and forget it’.
To decide whether replacing your slow cooker with a rice cooker is the right choice for you it’s first important to understand the differences between the two appliances.
What Is A Rice Cooker
In simple terms, a rice cooker is a device that cooks rice in a uniform manner every time.
Using a rice cooker takes the pain out of preparing rice, which makes up a significant proportion of our diet, and allows you to take a hands-off approach to cooking your perfect rice-based meal.
The most basic devices will boil rice at the perfect temperature for the right amount of time. Sensors allow them to raise or lower the temperature automatically if it is falling outside of a set temperature range, preventing it from overcooking and congealing.
For that perfect fluffy texture even a basic machine will ensure it is cooked at the optimum range, of approximately 63-67C.
Lots of rice cookers come packed with a measuring cup or scoop, to make sure you don’t over-saturate the water with rice granules, ranging from 3 cup to 5.5 cup measurements.
Want a device that can cater for different grain types, such as polenta, oatmeal, and brown rice? Most machines are set up to support this.
Want flexibility when timing the cooking process? Most models have a ‘keep-warm’ option, allowing you to keep rice warm for up to 12 hours on some devices! When deciding which device to buy, think about the purpose you want it to serve.
A large device is naturally better at cooking large portions, but will most likely struggle to get small portions perfect; plus you will have the issue of deciding which machine best fits your kitchen size.
What Is A Slow Cooker
A slow cooker is an all-in-one unit that is used to simmer at a comparatively low temperature, allowing slow-cook dishes to be left unattended for long periods of time.
Typically a slow cooker would be used to make dishes such as stews, hot-pots, soups, some sauces, and dips. Using a slow cooker can literally allow you to start cooking your evening meal in the morning, go to work, and continue to make your meal on your return if you so choose.
The basic design has been around since the 1950s, and typically consists of an oval (or perfectly circular) ceramic or porcelain pot with a case containing an electronic heating element.
The design of a slow cooker is such that a low-pressure seal is formed, maintaining an internal pressure close to normal atmospheric levels.
This removes the risks inherent in pressure cookers, which are liable to suffer from rapid pressure release. Most versions have some form of temperature control, using either pre-set temperatures (low, med, high) or a dialled range. Some also incorporate a ‘keep warm’ option.
To use a slow cooker, put your ingredients and liquid into the pot. Suggested liquid bases include wine, stock, water, or whatever your recipe calls for. Replace the lid, and turn the device on having selected a heat setting.
If you can set a timer, do so at this point. Some devices have to be turned off and on manually, with more advanced models utilising timers to do so automatically.
Inside, your device will be acting a bit like its own cloud ecosystem. Steam will hit the lid, condense like a cloud, run down the sides and back into the liquid in the pot. This ensures the pressure is maintained equally, and that flavours are kept constantly moving throughout your broth.
How To Use A Rice Cooker As A Slow Cooker
When you think of the staple dishes a slow cooker is used for, the most common are soups and stews. Luckily, you will find these to be the simplest dishes to make in a rice cooker;
For a stew, chop your ingredients, weight them out, and place them into the pot. Add water, stock, or wine to the pot to the desired level. Be careful not to overfill the liquid; a bubbling mess on the kitchen does not a fun evening make!
For your first attempt set a low temperature and if possible, set a timer for as long as you want. Check the pot regularly for progress, and when you are content that the dish looks right, give it a taste. This is where experimentation comes in, as your desired results will depend entirely on your own tastes.
For soup, the process is very similar, and is arguably easier. Simply prepare your ingredients and throw them in with your base liquid. Set the machine, monitor, and serve once the soup has achieved the taste and consistency you desire.
Feeling adventurous? To improve any stew, soup, or even rice-based dishes, try steaming the meat or vegetables beforehand in the rice cooker.
Steam fish for approximately 15 minutes, chicken and beef for around 20 minutes, and beef for 22-25 minutes using the steaming tray (if your device came with one). Most vegetables can be steamed for between 5-25 minutes for the perfect effect.
Once cooked, remove the meat, add it to the broth below, and combine the rest of your ingredients in the pot. The water will have absorbed the essence of the meat or vegetables and will enhance the flavour of your entire meal.