Old and Kicking

(By James M. Thresher For The Washington Post)
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

To test whether newfangled rice cookers are significantly better than their predecessors, we borrowed a National rice cooker from Columbia reader Charlotte Powell, the mother of Post colleague Camille Powell.

At almost 40 years old, it is still being used at least once every other week. "It's easy," Charlotte says. "I can't fix rice the regular way anymore."

It has a three-cup capacity, an aluminum bowl, an aluminum steamer-insert plate and an aluminum lid with no vent, which means the lid is meant to bounce around as steam escapes. Its cord is the black-and-white-cloth kind, like the ones attached to the irons our mothers used.

It offered the lowest-tech approach in off-and-on settings of all the models we tested. A translucent switch is lit from within as the unit is turned on, then clicks off when the cooking is done. It re-lights as the keep-warm setting cycles off and on.

The old National had the same basic design as models that are 10 and 15 years old. It made a slight mush of medium-grain rice and did an admirable job on long-grain rice and basmati. The brown rice it produced was crunchier than the others'.

In every test, some rice stuck to the bottom of the bowl. That made for more cleanup, but marring the surface was not an issue because the bowl did not have a nonstick coating.

Bottom line: It makes a little noise and needs a little more loving care. If we found one on Craigslist, we might be tempted to snag it and order a new bowl from the manufacturer (usually about $9 to $13).

-- Bonnie S. Benwick

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