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Rice Cooker Casseroles

A successful casserole is made up of three very different layers: a slightly browned bottom and sides, a moist center and a crispy topping. Traditionally, this is achieved by baking the food in an oven in an uncovered dish made of glass or stoneware and called, unsurprisingly, a casserole dish, or just a casserole. The heat of the oven fully surrounds the food, browning the bottom and sides where they are in constant contact with casserole dish. The moist center of the food is heated from all angles, bringing it to its fully cooked temperature with limited moisture loss. The center is also kept moist by the topping, often made of bread crumbs mixed with seasonings and butter, which toast and crisp up while exposed to the dry hot air inside the oven.

But what do you do if you don't have an oven? Or if you would rather not waste all of that excess energy heating up not just the oven but your entire kitchen. Casseroles can be made in your rice cooker, but a few changes will have to be made to the recipe in order to ensure success.

Most Rice Cookers have their heat sources located in the bottom of the unit, and heat the inner cooking bowl from below, with some of that heat leaking up the sides. From a casserole standpoint, this will quickly and evenly brown the bottom of the food, but in order to fully warm the center, without burning the bottom, you will need to cook the food with the lid in place, which would make a soggy mess of most traditional casserole toppings.

The answer is to add the topping at the end of the cooking process and to use toppings that are already crispy. More traditional casserole toppings can also be toasted ahead of time in the rice cooker, and then added at the very end.

Here are some already crispy, flavorful topping substitutions for your rice cooker casseroles:
    Cracker crumbs (especially butter crackers, rye crackers and other flavorful crackers)
    Corn flakes
    Crushed potato or corn chips
    Panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

To pre-toast bread crumb casserole toppings, add the butter or fat, herbs and seasonings to your rice cooker's inner bowl and push the “cook” button. When the seasonings begin to sizzle, add the bread crumbs and stir to combine well. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the crumbs are toasty and golden brown. Remove to paper towels spread over a cooling rack to keep the topping crispy while you make the casserole. Add the toasted topping just before serving.