Useful gadgets

Useful Gadgets

Like the books, these are ranked by how often I use them. Your mileage may vary…

  • Rice cookers: I have two, and I use them both for different purposes. No matter what kind you get, though, make sure you get one with a non-stick rice pan. It’s just not worth owning one that’s aluminum and takes forever to clean when you can get one that’s nonstick-lined and cleans in thirty seconds, for about a $5 (or less) difference in price.

    3-cup rice cooker
    : This one is the $20 push-button kind I’ve
    owned and loved and used for several years. I can also use it as a steamer
    for sekihan – celebration-style red beans and rice – though usually
    when I’m going to the trouble to make sekihan, I’m doing a big enough
    batch that I use my two-layer bamboo steamer instead. (You actually
    can’t do sekihan steaming with the more expensive rice cookers. Of course,
    you also can’t make things like rice pudding in the inexpensive ones.
    So it’s a trade-off.)

    Micom 3-cup rice cooker
    : This one is the close-to-$200-but-bought-for-$100-at-Amazon
    programmable-with-a-timer kind I got when I got tired of coming home
    from work and having to wait an additional hour or two before I could
    eat. This is the one I use on a daily to weekly basis, because I can
    wash the rice and put it in the pot, tell it when I want the rice to
    be done, and leave for hours. It’ll also keep the rice warm for several
    hours if I work late. And it makes fabulous rice pudding when I follow
    the directions in the Ultimate
    Rice Cooker Cookbook

    I’ve also given away rice cookers. The first rice cooker I owned was a push-button three-cup Salton, theoretically like the Panasonic, except that the Panasonic has non-stick coating and the Salton was aluminum. That meant that I never used the Salton because it took four times as long to clean the thing as it did to make the rice, and it never seemed to come all the way clean. I gave it away just to get rid of it. The second rice cooker was a five-cup non-stick Panasonic, which I loved to bits after the trauma of the Salton, but it was just too big for a single person; it was fabulous for when I cooked for a bunch of people, but I couldn’t make a small enough batch of rice for just myself. So then I gave the 5-cup one to some friends and got the 3-cup version; a couple years later I got the expensive one, so now I have both ends of the spectrum covered (I can make a small batch for myself, or two big batches at the same time for lots of people.)

  • Hot
    : I use this little guy more than I use my microwave. A
    cup or two of hot tea in less than two minutes, without scalding yourself
    on the hot mug handle as you try to gingerly maneuver it out of your
    nukebox. It’s also great for a quick bowl of miso, hot tea, soup stock,
    you name it. All it does is heat water, but it does that quite nicely.
    I have one at home and I love it so much my parents gave me another
    for Christmas so I could have one at work too. (I work in a building
    the size of a city block, and the lunchroom with the microwave is at
    the other end of the city block… so I really love my new office buddy.)

  • Other miscellaneous useful things, also listed with most-frequently-used at the top and least-frequently at the bottom:
    • Some rice paddles
      (they’re cheap and built for the job; a wooden spoon’s too small, a serving spoon’s too big, and anything metal can scratch your non-stick rice cooker — and you did pay attention and get a non-stick one, right?)

    • Some non-stick cookware
    • A Chinese cleaver
      (nothing works better on squash or daikon)

    • A heat-resistant spatula or two
      (for things that verge on candy-making, like teriyaki and tatsukuri)

    • Freezer-and-microwave-safe plastic containers
      (for storing individual servings of precooked rice and vegetables)

    • Coffee and tea cups that you’ve premeasured
      (so that you know for example that one level coffee cup is the same as one level cooking cup and one level tea cup is three quarters of a cooking cup or one rice cooker cup- because you can never have too many measuring cups handy, and it saves stopping to wash in the middle)

    • Collection of empty glass jars
      (for storing long-term-ish refrigerator-destined things that started out in plastic sacks that have been cut open)

    • Teapot
      (bigger than the Hot Shot and heats water to a boil faster than an open pot; since I’m single, most of the time the Hot Shot makes enough hot water for me. If you have several people around for dinner, the teapot will be more useful than the Hot Shot for you.)

    • Casserole dish
      (for cooling sushi rice quickly in something that’s not metal – and cheaper than the $80 to $120 wooden tubs they sell for the purpose)

    • Non-stick rectangular tamago

      (you can make tamagoyaki in a round pan but it’ll look floppy; it’s a lot easier to make good solid consistent tamagoyaki in an actual rectangular pan. Am-ko often has them for under $20 with a slightly sloped far end that makes rolling easier, but Am-ko doesn’t have a website so I can’t link to them.)

    • Fondue pot for shabu-shabu
    • Little tabletop grill for quick indoor cooking of at-the-table grillables (also great for indoor S’mores)
    • Hibachi for more substantial and outdoor cooking
    • Electric skillet for simplified sukiyaki-making
      (we just don’t all have household firepits and dangling cast iron nabe hanging around anymore)

    • Deep fryer with closing lid to allow tempura without terror