Cooking pasta in your rice cooker isn’t as much of a stretch as it might seem at first. A rice cooker is basically just a pot that boils itself, and a pot that’s boiling is all you need to cook some noodles. In fact, it’s even easier than cooking rice. With rice, you have to determine the ratio of water to rice, which changes depending on the kind of rice you’re cooking.
With pasta, you can ignore even that basic requirement. Even the smallest rice cookers will hold enough water to cook pasta for one or two, and larger ones can serve the whole family.
Plain Pasta in Your Rice Cooker
If your rice cooker is the simple type with a single “cook” button, the process is pretty straightforward. Fill the pot about two-thirds of the way with water – you need a bit of space for it to foam up once the pasta is cooking – add some salt, and then close the lid and push the button. Once the water comes to a boil, remove the lid, and add one or more portions of uncooked pasta.
Cook until the pasta is al dente, usually 4–10 minutes, depending on the type of pasta. Most brands have the cooking time printed right on the front of the box, so you’ll know when to start checking. Once it’s done to your liking, drain the pasta and serve.
Multi-Function Rice Cookers
Larger, more sophisticated rice cookers usually have a number of extra functions controlled by some combination of push buttons and menus. The procedure for making plain pasta is much the same. The regular “rice” function or the “soup/stew” or “saute” functions found on some machines – all bring your pasta water to a boil.
Both larger and smaller machines work well for pasta. Small machines in the 4- to 6-cup size are ideal for making just a portion or two, while large machines with their wider pot work well for family portions or long pasta. If you’re making spaghetti in a rice cooker, for example, you won’t have to break up the noodles if you use a larger model.
Cooking Pasta in Sauce
If you’re cooking pasta in sauce, things change a bit. One option is to cook and drain your pasta and then add it back to the pot with your sauce, and let it heat through. That’s how you work in a regular pot, so there’s no mental adjustment to make. It isn’t the most convenient way to work, though. Ideally, it would be nice to just add ingredients to your rice cooker, start it, and walk away.
Most rice cooker recipes for pasta do, in fact, follow that pattern. They simply provide enough liquid in the sauce to cook the pasta, while leaving the sauce with a suitably not-stodgy, not-runny texture. This can be tricky to figure out, so until you gain some experience, it’s best to work with recipes that have been designed and tested for the rice cooker.
Preparing One-Pot Recipes
In a simple one-button cooker, you’ll usually start out by adding the ingredients and pressing “cook,” then switching it to “keep warm” once the pasta is nearly done. More sophisticated models provide additional options. You can use the “saute” mode to caramelize onions or brown beef as your starting point; then use the “soup” mode to cook your sauce, add the pasta and finish it in “soup” or “slow cooker” mode.
A given recipe may or may not – but probably won’t – be written for your specific machine, so you might have to experiment a little to find the best modes and settings to use.
Fred Decker is a trained chef, former restaurateur and prolific freelance writer, with a special interest in all things related to food and nutrition. His work has appeared online on major sites including Livestrong.com, WorkingMother.com and the websites of the Houston Chronicle and San Francisco Chronicle; and offline in Canada's Foodservice & Hospitality magazine and his local daily newspaper. He was educated at Memorial University of Newfoundland and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.