For a grain that is a staple in so many different cultures, rice is surprisingly difficult to cook. Most stove burners don’t have a setting that’s low enough to steam it properly without the pot boiling over, or scorching it. A perfectly-cooked pot of rice needs constant vigilance. That's why most people who cook rice with any regularity usually own a dedicated rice cooker.
The Zojirushi NL-BAC05 is as perfect a type of this kitchen appliance as any I’ve ever used. Over the course of five days, I cooked short grain white rice, short grain brown rice, quinoa, and steel-cut oats in the cooker. I also baked a sponge cake in it. The NL-BAC05 is simple to use and easy to clean; beautiful to look at; and produces perfectly-cooked steamed or simmered grains.
Zojirushi’s rice cookers are known for their fuzzy logic technology. The cooker’s microcomputer (hence the very Japanese portmanteau “micom”) makes minute adjustments to temperature and heating time to make sure that whatever you put in the pot comes out flawlessly. It removes all possibility of user error. I can’t testify to how well the rice would have cooked in different climates or barometric pressures, since I lack the means to fly to the Caymans or Aspen for the weekend, but each batch that I made came out perfectly.
There was no excess water on the bottom of the pot and no crunchy, undercooked grains at the top. The white rice was fluffy, not mushy, and the brown rice sweet and soft. Using the indicated water level , I even made creamy steel-cut oats, although the porridge itself was a little thick (you can include more water according to your preferences). I also tried Zojirushi’s recipe to make a (tiny) sponge cake, which was cooked all the way through, with a moist interior. The quinoa was fragrant and nutty, just the way I wanted it.
This Zoji cooker is intuitive to use. The nonstick black cooking pot has each type of grain, and the amounts of water needed, labeled on the inside. To cook, add as little as a half-cup or as much as three cups of grain and fill with water to the indicated level. Push “Menu” to select what type of grain to cook, and “Start” to, well, you know. It also has a removable steam vent cap if the pressure gets too high, but I never needed to remove it.
The timed cooking function is also easy to use. Fill the pot with the recommended amounts of grains and water and close the lid. Select which grain you’d like to cook and push “Timer” to select the start and end cooking times. Then hit “Start” to set the timer. Before I went to bed, I found myself throwing together steel-cut oatmeal and water in the cooker at the same time that I pre-made my coffee and started the dishwasher. Everything was ready when I woke up.
The “Keep Warm” function also works surprisingly well. I did as the manual instructed and fluffed the rice post-cooking and piled it in the center of the inner pot. It kept the rice I made at lunch warm and moist until dinnertime.
Of course, looking at the estimated cooking times in the Zojirushi manual is an unpleasant shock in our post-Instant-Pot landscape. Each grain takes an average of one hour to cook. It does have a “Quick Cook” function, but it only works for white rice and it still takes 40 minutes. Why would you do this to yourself when the Instant Pot can cook white rice in four minutes? You can cook white rice on the stove in fifteen minutes. Why would you budget an hour to cook the humblest of foods, a starch that you’re just going to drown in chicken tikka masala sauce anyway?
But as an Instant Pot devotee, cooking with the Zojirushi was a very Legends of the Fall moment—that feeling when you meet and marry the love of your life, go with him to his family farm, and then realize that his brother is young Brad Pitt. The Zojirushi is simpler to use, nicer to look at and easier to clean—just wipe off the housing and wash the inner pot in the sink.
While the Instant Pot also has a timer, the manual has tons of warnings against actually using it. Rice will get mushy if left to soak for too long, and the Instant Pot’s “Keep Warm” function can scorch it; oatmeal will clog up the floating valve, et cetera. Without a micom, the Instant Pot is too imprecise. In fact, the manual specifically tells you that the Instant Pot is not to be used while unattended, which is the entire point of the timed cooking function.
If you have a small kitchen, the NL-BAC05 might not be a replacement for something as all-around useful as an Instant Pot. But, if you have the time and inclination to plan ahead, and are picky about how your carbs are cooked, you may find yourself using the Zojirushi every day. It was only with great reluctance that I found myself packing it up after using it for this review. Someday, NL-BAC05… Someday soon, we will be together.