Living in China means there’s a ton of really good, really cheap food on offer and you definitely have to sample as much as you can while you’re here. But if like me, you love to cook, there’s plenty of new things you can try out in your kitchen too. Kitchens in China are generally a lot smaller than in the West, so you’ll need to do some mental adjustments and just generally be a bit more efficient when cooking. For example, not having a full sized oven like back home means finding useful appliances can be the key here. One of the most versatile appliances I’ve found is, believe it or not, the humble rice cooker. It’s safe to say actually, it’s one of my best friends in the kitchen and that when it comes to rice cookers, there’s more than meets the eye!
Rice cookers are of course known for doing what they do best – cooking rice – but I bet you didn’t know that rice cookers can do so much more than just provide you with an Asian staple. I’ve used my rice cooker to make a whole range of sweet and savory delights – read on to find out more.
The first thing I tried cooking in my rice cooker (other than rice) was a cake. Let’s just say it was less than amazing, but every one since then has been pure deliciousness. Cakes in China are a little different to what you’re used, so it’s nice to be able to prepare a home comfort that you might be missing.
So just how do you produce such scrumptious delights in a mere rice cooker? Easy! Mix your favorite cake recipe as normal, then pour the batter directly into the rice cooker bowl (there’s no need to grease it). If your rice cooker has a ‘cake’ setting, simply press ‘cake’ and wait patiently for about 45 minutes. The ‘rice’ setting will work just as well, but you may need to check on it at about the 35/40 minute mark just in case it dries out. Once the rice cooker has done its thing, turn it off and take the bowl out to cool a little. When the bowl has cooled enough to handle, turn the cake out on a rack (or plate) to cool. If like me, you love a piece of warm cake, tuck in now! Otherwise, wait until it’s completely cool and add the frosting of your choice (then tuck in!).
When searching for things to cook in my rice cooker, I came across an article online claiming you could make bread in there – how crazy is that? Well, as crazy as it sounds, I can assure you it is 100% true (and incredibly tasty!). Again, bread is another thing in China that is a little different from home (way too sweet for me), so being able to bake your own bread will satisfy your craving AND impress your friends!
Now, fair warning, this process is a bit time-consuming, but totally worth the delicious, crunchy reward at the end. You’ll first need to find your favourite bread recipe and prepare as normal (using the rice cooker bowl to proof the dough, with the lid on the cooker, but the cooker not turned on). Once the dough has proofed, set the rice cooker to ‘cake’ and wait the 45 minutes until it’s done. Then you’ll have to flip the dough out and turn it over to cook on the other side (what was the top). Another 45 minutes and you have fresh, delectable bread to chow down on!
Fried rice (without the fry)
If you’re after a healthy version of fried rice that’s still packed with flavor, then the rice cooker version is for you! I regularly whip this up when I’m a little low on time and have plenty of vegetables in the fridge.
Wash your rice in the rice cooker bowl as usual, and place the necessary amount of water on top. Chop your favourite vegetables and add salt, pepper and garlic (option extras include chilli, ginger and stock for even more flavour). Set the rice cooker to the ‘rice’ setting and about 45 minutes later you’ll have a luscious mixed vegetable rice dish ready to eat.
I usually add soy sauce once the rice is cooked and I often place a chicken breast (marinated in some kind of sauce overnight) on top of the rice before setting it to cook.
There you have it! Three super easy dishes that the simple, unassuming rice cooker can produce in no time. For around CNY 200 (a little over USD$30), it’s well worth investing in one of these gems when you come to China.
Have you got a rice cooker? What are your favorite rice cooker recipes? Tell us below.
About the Author:
Photo credit: Riza Nugraha (Flickr) | License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode