The folks at Aroma Housewares Company kindly offered to send me an ARC-150SB rice cooker to try. Since I have always been a "stove-top rice cooking kinda guy", I saw this as a chance to see how well they work, and whether the technology could entice me from my old habits.
Growing up, we cooked rice on the stovetop in a pot specially designed for just that task. It had a "C" cross sectioned flange running around the rim of the pot, and a slightly conical lid that sat down inside the flange. The design created a seal as escaping steam collected on the flange and then ran down around the lid to hold liquid in. Simple, straight forward, required a little babysitting but produced good rice. The only problem was that it was a unitasker -- a device with only one function. So one of the concerns I always had with automatic rice cookers was whether they too were good for only one job.
The 150SB is a basic model that works by heating the contents of an inner pot and monitoring the temperature. As long as there is water in the pot that hasn't been absorbed or steamed away, the temperature of the pot will stay at or below the boiling point of water (212°F/100°C). Once the water is gone, the temperature rises quickly above that point and a built in thermometer reacts by switching from cooking to keeping the rice warm1.
After a few tries, I found that the ARC-150SB does a great job. White and brown rice made following the instructions come out consistently good. I particularly like the Keep Warm mode, since it frees me up from worrying about the timing. Making rice on the stove-top requires more attention to the order of things, but with the rice cooker I could set it up and then go ahead with preparing the rest of the meal. As long as that took longer than the rice, I had no worries.
I also tried some of the recipes that come with the instructions. The San Antonio Rice was an instant hit! With the addition of some leftover cooked chicken breast that I cubed, it became San Antonio Chicken Rice the next time, a one-pot meal that was delicious. The same recipe with some cooked ground beef and chili powder, minus the corn, made a tasty Spanish Rice. I made the Jambalaya as well with good results.
I tried using it to steam vegetables at the same time that the rice was cooking. While the results were OK, I found to hard to get an even result without fussing, since different vegetables steam at different rates.
The Aroma Rice Cooker says it is able to cook up to twenty "cups" at a time. One thing I didn't appreciate was the use of a non-standard definition of the word "cup". According to Aroma, the industry standard for a cup is 180ml, as opposed to the standard cup, which is closer to 240ml. My problem is that in recipes you can have mixed up measures. Even in the recipes in the instruction book, sometimes it isn't clear if the amount for an ingredient is a 240 ml cup or a 180 ml cup. And if you are taking a recipe from another source, then you need to translate measures or forget about the arbitrary "industry standard". Better to use the common definition of cup.
As for the 20 cup capacity, the ARC-150SB did a good job, and the rice was evenly cooked through, however I found if you leave it on hold for an hour or so, the weight of the rice on top compresses the rice on the bottom into a lump. If you are going for full capacity, you probably want to try to time things so the rice is ready to serve fairly soon after it is done.
Overall, I would rate the Aroma ARC-150SB as a useful and versatile tool. As long as you are reasonably careful with measurements, it makes cooking rice easy and convenient. While it isn't likely to replace a slow cooker on all fronts, it can be used to make some very convenient one-dish meals. With a little ingenuity, the possibilities are endless. That said, when making a cup or two of rice for just Pat and me, I'll probably stick with the stovetop.
1 Some other rice cookers use fancier technology and cost more, but they all run on the same principle, that the temperature of a container of boiling water that is being heated remains at a constant until the water is gone and then rises.
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