Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

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Bento contents:

  • Chicken with peppers and sesame oil, 240 calories
  • Broccoli with wasabi sauce, using stevia as the sweetener instead of sugar and halving the sake, 20 calories
  • 1/2 cup (120ml) rice , 120 calories

Total calories (approx): 380 (how calories are calculated)

Time needed: 5 to 10 minutes prep time, plus 20-30 minutes of cooking time

Type: Japanese, made in a rice cooker

Shortly before I got stuck in a hospital and so on, I mentioned that I was basically without a kitchen. I’ve been free of the clutches of the hospital for a while now, but am still without a kitchen, since construction work has not begun yet. So I’m still relying on a few small appliances: a 2-burner hotplate, a microwave slash oven thing, an electric kettle, and most of all, my 20-plus-year old, trusty rice cooker, the one I inherited from my mother when she moved back to Japan. I’ve already posted a couple of bento-friendly rice cooker recipes, and I have more up my sleeve.

But what about using a rice cooker to make an entire bento? It can be done! This bento here may look rather familiar - it’s almost identical in appearance to the one that is on the cover of my bento book in fact. What can I say, the combination of chicken and sweet peppers is a reliable standby for me. What makes this bento different though is that, except for the broccoli, which is made in advance and stashed in the refrigerator, everything is made at once in the rice cooker - with the flavors kept separate too.

So let’s see how this is done.

Ingredients for chicken and pepper bento

This makes enough for 2 people. If you’re making a bento for one, just halve the chicken and peppers, and reserve the extra rice for a later bento. You can also make more rice if you like and freeze the excess.

I used my old battered 5-cup Zojirushi rice cooker for this, but any rice cooker should work.

  • 1 rice cooker cup of rice
  • 2 large or 3 medium sweet bell peppers, de-seeded and cut into chunks
  • 8 oz / 225g boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into chunks
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil or other oil of your choice
  • 1 Tbsp soy sauce
  • a tiny bit of salt
  • black pepper

Streamlining tip: Rinse the rice and put it in the cooker with the water the night before. Cut up the peppers and chicken and massage the chicken with the oil, and store in the refrigerator ready to go. In the morning, dump the foil packet on the rice, switch the cooker on, and go about your other morning activities until the rice cooker has finished its business.

Rinse your rice as usual (how to do it properly), put in the inner bowl of your rice cooker, and add enough water for 1 cup of rice.

Massage the oil into your chicken chunks with your hands very well. This step is important in order to end up with tender chicken, since breast meat tends to get dried out. In addition, the chicken chunks should be fairly large, about 1 inch / 2 cm or so square - very small bits will get overcooked and dry. You could use chicken thigh meat (dark meat has more fat in it so won’t get tough and dried out as easily) instead.

Put the cut up peppers and chicken onto the middle of a sheet of aluminum foil that is cut large enough to wrap completely around the lot. Add the soy sauce, sprinkle of salt and black pepper and mix it up well right on the foil. (Note: If you object to the use of aluminum foil, you could use kitchen parchment paper instead.)

Note that you do not need to add any extra moisture here. The moisture of the peppers will be enough.

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Gather up the foil over the mound of chicken and peppers and close it up to form a pouch. Make sure it’s sealed well, unless you want pepper-chicken juice to drip on your rice. Put the pouch right on top of the rice. Switch the cooker on with the regular-rice setting, and go off to do other things.

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Here’s how the pouch of chicken and peppers looks when it’s done. There’s just a bit of excess moisture in the foil. Drain this off when packing the chicken-peppers into your bento.

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And here’s the rice after the foil packet is removed. It has a funny dent in the middle but is otherwise perfectly cooked.

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Now all you have to do is to pack your bento! Remember to put the rice in first, let it cool down, then pack the other ingredients. Note that I packed just a little rice in my box - the rest of the rice got packed into The Guy’s box.

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I did do the broccoli separately here, but you could steam-cook it along with the rice if you like. Just put it in its own foil packet and dump it on top of the rice. It will come out a bit overcooked and greyish-green though.

So what’s going on here?

You are essentially using the heat of the steam that is generated by the rice cooker as it cooks the rice, to cook the chicken and peppers in the foil packet too. Since the rice cooker is a small, closed environment, this works very well. It’s really the same principle as cooking in a foil or paper packet in an oven or on the stove top (the French cooking term for this method is en papillote), but since you’re not heating up another appliance you’re saving a bit of energy too. And the flavors are kept separate! You could do this in any place that you can plug in a rice cooker - in a dorm room for example, which is, as I mentioned earlier, essentially what I’m living in now, sort of. (Note that I didn’t come up with this method on my own; I’ve seen it in a couple of Japanese cookbooks, which I have adapted. None of the books I’ve seen used it for making an all-in-one bento though!)

One caution: don’t put a foil packet directly in contact with the bottom surface of your rice cooker bowl. It gets very hot there, and your foil may blacken and even develop holes. Put it on top of a bed of grains though, and you’ll be fine. (I don’t know why the rice doesn’t burn on the bottom. That is the magic of rice cookers.)

This method can be used for a lot of other bento combinations - change the grains, change the things you put in the foil packet, and so on. As I experiment with some of mine you’ll see them showing up here of course. In the meantime, see what combinations you can come up with on your own!

The inevitable question someone is going to ask - will this work in a slow cooker / crockpot?

It may. I don’t own either of those at the moment, so I can’t try it out I’m afraid. If you do, let us know how it turns out.

The bento box I used

This is the one tier Nara bento box, which is made of real wood. It’s available from Bento&co. Since it is a real wooden box it needs to be treated with some care, and must be carried upright (wrapped in a furoshiki cloth ideally) to prevent it from spilling over. In fact, a wooden bento box goes against just about all the requirements for the ‘ideal’ bento box. However, it makes the food packed within look so nice that it’s worth the trouble on occasion. See how to take care of a wooden bento box.

Speaking of rice cooker cooking….

There is a new book coming out soon by film critic Roger Ebert - a rice cooker cookbook no less. Based on this post on his famous and very popuar blog, it looks to be quite an interesting read! (Note that he too favors Zojirushi rice cookers; he seems to like their most basic model.) Here is a New York Times article about the book and Mr. Ebert, who hasn’t been able to eat since losing his jaw to cancer, but still can write beautifully about food. And here’s a Q and A with him. His taste in food movies is, in my opinion, impeccable. (One of these days I’m going to write up an extensive, scene-by-scene cultural and culinaric analysis of Tampopo…)

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

30 comments

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Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Looking very tasty and with great colours as usual! Smart trick, cooking the chicken like that.
I don't have a rice cooker (no money to invest either XD), but I can see that working in a pot (or oven) too! Thumbs up!

Also: Lovely box

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Wow Maki, that is such a cool idea to use the foil like that! I used mine recently to make a risotto (I just made it up myself). I'm guessing you could do fish in it too just like in the oven (which I've never tried, but adding on top of the rice isn't much harder!).

It looks delicious!

I would almost dive in even though I don't eat meat! ;) Most people in Holland do not own a ricecooker, but I have been thinking about it..!

[Come visit at Graasland!]

Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento loves amazing!

I just got a rice cooker last weekend. I can not wait to try this wonderful idea. Thank you!

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I must tell you that I thoroughly enjoy visiting your website every day! I learn so much about Japanese foods, it is great! Thank you for helping those of us who are not as savy about Japanese culture and cusine!! I can't wait to see what tomorrow brings!

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I love the beautiful box! I'd be afraid to use one like that myself, but it is lovely. And a very healthy and appealing bento too :)

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

you mentioned that your rice doesnt burn on the bottom... does that mean you don't get the brown crunch layer I always get with my cooker? Is it just beacuse I'm using a really cheap rice cooker?

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Rice cooked in a rice cooker shouldn't burn at all. The heating element in your cooker may not be functioning properly. See if you have something stuck on the surface of the heating element (spilled stuff or something)...if so you can rub it off gently with a scouring pad.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

i'll have to check later tonight. its not exactly a BURN persay, just... kinda browns the rice... but I shall look!

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

i'm just curious, since my rice cooker comes with a little steamer tray, would putting the foil packet in the steamer tray while the rice cooks at the bottom work too?

or does the foil packet have to come into contact with the rice/water for it to cook properly?

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Using the steamer insert will work great, though it's not necessary (for people who have rice cookers without such an insert)

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I have a similar steamer insert where I've been cooking/heating the things that go into my bento for the day such as hotdogs/veggies/etc. I was wondering, does having its own closed environment (i.e. the foil packet) cook raw meat better than using the steamer alone?

Thanks Maki! I love your wooden box.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I think that enclosing in foil (or paper) may have better results, because of the very small enclosed environment, just like cooking in paper or foil in an oven. Besides, you avoid the issue of food juices dripping onto your rice or other grain if you want to keep it separately flavored.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Thanks for the quick and convenient tip on preparing the bento~ :) I've been trying to pack a bento for lunch (following some of your recipes! :D) for almost 2 weeks now.. and getting up and rushing around like a mad woman every morning is beginning to feel really tiring... :(

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Beautiful work Maki, This was really achievable for me, I made it for lunch today and it was yummm!

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

What a fantastic idea!

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I love how it looks. healthy yummy diet.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

This Works Great! I did this the day after I saw it. I work an insane amount of over time in my job, an have been getting into a rut of fast food and subway. This is mostly due to prep ant cook time to make a bento. This method took 15 min of prep time the night before and 10 min of active cooking and packing time in the morning. (active cooking I discribe as the time i have to spend at the stove) This was healthy, tasty, and easy. I am now going to use this method more during our busy season. I only have one question what else can I cook using this method. Thank for making it easy!

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I tried this, but the results didn't work out so well. I have a small rice cooker - the box said it was a 6-cup, but it only has instructions for 3 cups of rice and says it cannot make more. My rice was cooked and the bottom layer of chicken pieces. The top and middle chicken were still raw. I just tossed in the oven for 20 minutes and it finished cooking. Does anyone have any suggestions for what I may have done wrong? I followed the instructions as written - even measuring out exactly 8 ounces of chicken. Could it be my cooker is too small?

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Rice cookers do differ a bit in terms of cooking times, how well the lid closes, and various things. In your case since the middle part didn't cook, I'm guessing your cooker has a shorter cooking time. I would suggest cutting the chicken and pepper into smaller bits, and/or using a bit less, to compensate for that if you decide to try it again.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I tried it with only 2 oz of chicken and half a pepper this morning. It worked great. I'll try it with more chicken next time and see where the limit of my rice cooker is.

Thanks for the suggestions.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I am cooking this right now. Hope that it will turn out ok ^^;;

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Hello!

Could you possibly tell me what kind of Stevia you use? I've thought about trying it, but I read somewhere that some brands can taste kind of bitter. So have you got any tips for a non-bitter one?

Thank you! n__n

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Actually, the stevia I use is rather bitter too...I think that's the nature of stevia. But when it's added to a beverage or food, you don't notice the bitterness that much, as long as it's in small quantities.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

You can cook rice in a slow cooker. Here is a link with a chart that helps you convert your cooking times: rhrpublications [at] who [dot] int. The foil or parchment packet on top will also work.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

Can anyone tell me if soy sauce is necessary or not? Or if it can be substituted? My family is Brazilian and doesn't like soy sauce ...or sticky rice...:P so is sticky rice necessary too? Or can it be the long grain one?

Physics major to the rescue!!

Rice doesn't burn on the bottom of a rice cooker because the temperature of liquid water caps out at 100 C. Any higher and it becomes a gas and boils away. Even in boiling water, the liquid part is never higher than 100 degrees. The steam is actually hotter than the water!

In a rice cooker, the rice only begins to caramelize on the bottom after enough of the water has been absorbed and the rice is conducting heat directly from the metal.

The foil, however, is an excellent heat conductor, so if any part of it is touching the metal, it will absorb much higher temperatures very rapidly and burn.

Bill Nye would be proud.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

What bento box is that? It's beautiful :)

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

The details about the box are in the next to last paragraph of the article.

Re: Bento no. 76: Chicken and pepper rice cooker bento

I really love this bento. its soo easy to cook. i wish that you had more recipe like this. simply in rice cooker =) love ur recipe but its hard to find the exact ingredient :(

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