Perfectly perky, fork-fluffable rice should be foolproof. Simple math and basic chemistry. So why is it so hard?
Maybe it's because the variables involved in the cooking process, while few, are so prone to inconsistency—the precise time and intensity of the heating process will differ from stove to stove, and the composition and shape of cooking pots know no bounds—but rice turns out to be beguilingly easy to mess up. It boils over, burns, and finishes as a soupy slurry rather than the voluminous cloud you want.
So when we met Staub's stovetop rice cooker, a mini of their Essential French Oven, we fell in love. Not only is it adorably compact (available in 0.75-quart and 1.5-quart sizes), and therefore just the right size for puffing up grains while dinner stews, but it's designed to make perfect rice. Here's why we love it.
Most curved lids distribute moisture only to the sides of a pot, but the apostrophe-shaped grooves (see image below) all over the inside of our rice cooker's lid counteract that: They capture steam into big, fat droplets that constantly drip back into the rice as it cooks, a system Staub calls "self-basting." Coupled with the thick, enameled cast iron construction of the pot, they create a steamy situation that results in perfectly cooked-through grains. Every time.
White rice is a wonderful thing, ready and waiting for a spoonful of curry or beans or a showering of herbs—but you can always gussy it up right in the pot. Ivan Orkin, of Ivan Ramen, likes to make soy-and-sake-spiked Shimeji Rice in his stovetop rice cooker. (He prefers using this cooker to an electric one, in part because it's a far more connected, hands-on process. But the result, he said, is also superior: Because "the rice that comes out of the pot has each grain cooked individually, rather than tightly stuck together, each grain is fully cooked, giving a texture that is hard to achieve with other cooking methods.")
Other grains and seeds, like farro, quinoa, wheat berries, barley, and oatmeal would all cook up famously in a stovetop rice cooker, too. Our editor Sarah Jampel loves hers for poaching eggs, because the shape is so deep, and it's also excellent for hard-boiling a few—it's not too wide, which means less water is required to cover them at all.
For the same reasons, the stovetop rice cooker would also do right by you pasta leftovers turned into baked pastas (put it right in the oven!), your sauces that need to simmer down, your fried shallots (no oil splashes!), and more.
We've even dared you to find a cuter rice cooker. (You can't!) To point: When was the last time you made rice and served it in the pot you cooked it in? (Never.) And a regular saucepan has no better table manners than a bulky electric rice cooker, either; they'd both feel a little out of place alongside the salt and pepper.
But one of these cuties begs to join you for dinner. Cook your rice in it, fluff with a fork, then bring the whole thing to rest on a trivet on the table, where everyone can help themselves.
The reason you can sometimes find an enameled cast iron pot at a passed-over yard sale, ready to take home and love as your own, is because they're built to last forever. Staub's stovetop cookers, which we carry in glossy grey and matte black, have all that same durability in a shape that could never go out of style.
Shop our Staub stovetop rice cookers in the Food52 Shop, and tell us what you make in yours, in the comments.