Rice cookers are a convenient appliance both for those who cook rice regularly and those who seldom cook it. Those who cook rice every day appreciate the set-it-and-forget-it convenience. Those who seldom cook rice often lose the knack of cooking it on the stovetop, so a rice cooker can prevent overcooked or undercooked rice. However, many cooks object to single-use appliances. For those who want versatility, rice cookers can be used for a surprising range of foods from oatmeal to baked potatoes.
Rice Cooker Basics
Rice cookers are relatively simple cooking appliances. They consist of a base unit with an On-Off switch and a cooking pot, which rests inside the base unit. When the On button is pressed, the pot brings the rice to a boil and then reduces temperature, steaming the grain gently until it's done. Then, the cooker keeps the rice warm until it's served. Rice cookers often include a steamer basket for vegetables to improve their versatility. However, many other foods can be prepared with a small degree of ingenuity.
Traditional baked potatoes are roasted in their skins in an oven, or occasionally in the coals of a fire. The outer skin becomes dry and crisp, while the potato inside is steamed by its own moisture. It's important to pierce the potato several times with a fork or paring knife so steam can escape without the potato exploding. This leaves the interior fluffy and dry. Some prefer a soft skin on the potatoes, wrapping them in foil before baking them. Rice cooker "baked" potatoes have a similar appearance.
Rice Cooker Baked Potatoes
To "bake" potatoes in your rice cooker, choose russets or other starchy potatoes. Keep their size as uniform as possible, so they'll bake evenly. Pierce the potatoes and arrange them in the bottom of your rice cooker, then close the lid. Press the On button, and allow the cycle to complete. Depending on your rice cooker and the size of your potatoes, you might need to put them through a second cooking cycle. If so, rotate the potatoes so the top of each one becomes the bottom. This helps ensure even cooking.
Once your potatoes are fully cooked, remove the lid from your rice cooker. This gives the steam a chance to dissipate and the skin an opportunity to dry. If you favor baked potatoes with a soft skin, serve them immediately while they're piping hot. If you like your baked potatoes crisp on the outside, place them in an oven or toaster oven for a few minutes at 400 F. This will dry and crisp the skin slightly, giving a finished potato that's more like an oven-baked version.