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Kevin West's Damson Butter with Bay and Ginger

Lucky Peach's Miso Claypot Chicken (No Claypot)

Rice cooker

I made dinner in my rice cooker last night.

... insert blinking-in-disbelief emoji face ...

Let me repeat that.

I MADE DINNER. In my RICE COOKER. And no, not just the rice, mind you, the WHOLE DINNER.

(Well, except for the salads, but let's not split hairs.)

It may have been the greatest discovery of my year in food.

First things first, do you have a rice cooker? If not, GET YOURSELF ONE WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR FOR THE LOVE OF PETE. I like the Korean Cuckoo brand. (Berliners, the tiny Korean shop on Spandauer Damm just past Klausener Platz sells Cuckoo rice cookers.) My model is very simple - it only has a "warm" and "cook" setting. Nothing special, no bells and whistles. (Unlike my friend Joe's rice cooker, which SPEAKS TO HIM IN KOREAN for crying out loud.) I honestly can't say specifically why I find the rice cooker such a transformative appliance in the kitchen, but not having to worry about getting rice (and other grains) cooked perfectly has actually improved my cooking life in ways other appliances just haven't.

Now that that's out of the way, you can focus on getting DINNER COOKED IN YOUR FLIPPING RICE COOKER WHY AM I SO EXCITED. The recipe I used comes from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes that my friend Florian loaned to me after I had dinner at his house a few weeks ago and had to restrain myself from swallowing the entire serving bowl of spicy celery salad in front of the other guests' horrified eyes. (While pregnant with Hugo, I craved crunchy, salty things, like tortilla chips and pretzel sticks. But this pregnancy has me wild-eyed over crisp vegetables and vinegar. In fact, I've eaten my weight in salad since May, literally guzzling the dressing out of the bowl when we're done. The other night, I actually found myself drinking olive brine from the jar. SO GOOD.)

The whole book is great -  it thoroughly demystifies various Asian grocery items, the goofy photo styling is funny and refreshing, and it's full of easy recipes for things you want to eat right now. Like "Economy Noodles", a simple Malaysian noodle dish that apparently takes about 7.5 minutes to make, hot-and-sour soup from Boston's Joanne Chang, char siu pork and miso-glazed eggplant (though I have yet to find Japanese eggplant in this fair city of mine), not to mention the spicy celery salad. But the recipe which is alone worth the price of the book is this one, for Miso Claypot Chicken (No Claypot), though of course you can make it in a Dutch oven if for some reason you still don't have a rice cooker. (GET ON THAT.)

For the No Claypot Chicken you make a really simple marinade of soy sauce, oyster sauce (which I replaced with hoisin sauce with spectacular results), Shaoxing wine, miso paste, salt, sugar, pepper and sesame oil. Into the marinade go sliced shiitakes and chunks of chicken thigh meat. While this sits for a minute, you put rice, water or stock and a single ginger slice in the rice cooker, then you scrape the chicken mixture on top of the rice and then put chopped scallions on top.

THAT IS IT! (I still can't get over it.)

One cycle of my rice cooker was enough to cook the meal completely - the chicken incredibly tender and moist, the mushrooms silky and fragrant, the rice sticky and savory and a deep mahogany brown on the bottom. Consistency-wise, it's sort of like the sticky rice filling of stuffed lotus leaves at a dim sum restaurant, and actually flavor-wise, too, except this meal is richer and more savory. We scooped out the steaming chicken and rice directly from the bowl and ate it with the aforementioned spicy celery and a cucumber salad with peanuts and cilantro.

Weeknight dinner jackpot!


Now tell me, good-people-who-already-own-rice-cookers: are you all doing a collective face palm because you've been making delectable meals in your rice cookers for years and I'm only now finally catching up? If so, what other dinnertime miracles await me? Give me your best rice cooker recipes, please!

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Miso Claypot Chicken (No Claypot)
Adapted from Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes
Serves 4

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon white or red miso
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
White pepper to taste
4 boneless, skin-on chicken thighs, cut into 1" pieces
8 fresh shiitake mushroom caps, thinly sliced, or 4 dried shiitakes, soaked, stemmed, and thinly sliced
1 cup jasmine rice, rinsed and drained
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 slice (¼" thick) fresh ginger
2 scallions, cut into 1" pieces

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, wine, miso, salt, sugar, sesame oil, and a few grinds of white pepper. Add the chicken and mushrooms and fold to coat.

2. Combine the rice, stock, and ginger in a rice cooker or a small Dutch oven.
For a rice cooker: Scrape the chicken mixture and all of the marinade on top of the rice. Scatter with scallions. Cover, start the rice cooker, and cook until the cycle is done. Open the lid and check the chicken for doneness. Depending on your model, the chicken may need a couple more minutes to cook through. If it does, set the rice cooker for another cycle, press start, and check again in 5 minutes.
For a Dutch oven: Place over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, until just simmering. Reduce the heat to low and cook until all the liquid is absorbed and the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes. Fluff the rice, scraping up the crust from the bottom of the pot.
3. Scoop out and serve by the bowlful, or eat it straight out of the rice cooker.