Today the electric rice cooker is equipped with many functions. It cooks polished rice as well as unpolished brown rice, and then keeps the cooked rice warm for quite a long time. Some advanced machines have memory functions so that you can set the cooker to start cooking at any convenient time. For example, you set the clock before going to bed, and the next morning rice is cooked just in time for your breakfast. Another advanced type is equipped with so-called fuzzy technology. This type of rice cooker automatically selects the best cooking time depending on the condition of the rice—-from year-old, dry rice to newly harvested rice with a high water content.
A substitute for this modern electronic miracle is, of course, a simple, heavy-bottomed deep pot with a heavy lid, and a skillful cook.
Easy Rice Cooker
The Japanese mortar and pestle are a unique set of grinding instruments. The ceramic mortar, with a rough, combed pattern in its unglazed interior, comes in various sizes, from 5 to 12 inches. The surikogi is a wooden pestle about 10 inches in length. To use it, you hold the thinner end firmly and, with the thicker end, press and scrape the contents down the inner surface of the mortar.
Most surikogi pestles are made of Japanese cypress wood. More expensive ones, easily recognized by their bumpy, bark-covered upper surface, are made from the wood of the sansho pepper tree, whose edible berries and young leaves are treasured for their pungent, delicious flavor and fragrant aroma. It is said that a pestle made from this tree imparts some flavor to the ground materials. My own experience indicates that such flavor enhancement, if it exists at all, is quite negligible.
The suribachi and surikogi have many uses in Japanese cooking. Freshly toasted sesame seeds are ground immediately before use into a creamy, oily paste with these utensils, although today many cooks prefer to use commercially available sesame paste. Many different Japanese dressings are made with a mortar and pestle, using ingredients such as tofu, miso, sesame seeds, rice vinegar, walnuts, and shoyu (soy sauce). No matter what
foods you grind with a Japanese mortar and pestle—sesame seeds, walnuts, fish, shellfish, or meat—a well-pasted product always results.
When using a Japanese mortar, place it on top of a moist cloth so that the bowl does not move during grinding. Afterward, clean the bowl with a hard brush and a little detergent to remove any residue from the comb pattern. Rinse the pestle, and wipe it dry.