How to Prepare and Cook Japanese Rice

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Japanese rice is a sticky short grain rice used in sushi and to eat with other dishes. In Japan each person has their own bowl of rice at a meal.

Japanese rice is starchy so you need to wash it really well until the water runs clear. Here is the special method that Japanese chefs use, shown to us by chef Seiya Nakano.

How to wash Japanese Rice
Take a bowl and measure the rice into it. Run the water over the rice, lifting the rice and rubbing it between your hands under the water. This is called the ‘praying method‘ because your hands look as if they are in prayer. When the water in the rice is clear and there is no white residue left, drain the water as much as you can. Now press the rice with the heel of your hand gently into the bowl (you need to press but not too much or you will break the rice – if you ever see Japanese rice and the grains look broken, it means that the person has either pressed the rice too hard or it is old rice). The reason why you wash the rice this way is to remove some of the starch so that it is not too sticky. If you don’t wash it well, when you are handling the rice it becomes mushy, like glue, so it’s important to wash it properly.

How to eat Japanese Rice
Usually sticky rice is eaten on its own, or used to make sushi or it is cooked with seasonal ingredients. In spring, it is prepared with bamboo shoots. Japanese cuisine is quite plain, it tries to keep the original flavour of the ingredient and to maximise its character.

How to cook Japanese rice
You’ll need a minimum of about 70g dry weight for 2 people – grains of rice always stick to the end of the pan so you need to cook at least a cup of rice at one time to make sure you have enough. The rice swells to 3 times its size when it’s cooked. Always use a heavy-bottomed pan to cook sticky rice.

Measure 1 cup of cold water to 1 cup of rice (1 to 1 ratio) and put it in a saucepan or rice cooker. Put the lid on and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer at the lowest heat because if the heat is too high, the rice will burn.

Cooking time for Japanese Rice
You need really good condensation to cook Japanese sticky rice so the cooking time is about 20 minutes in total for any quantity of rice. That means you need to adjust the temperature of the heat to allow the rice to take ten minutes to come to the boil – too quickly is not good and too slowly is not good! When you have brought it down to a simmer, simmer for 10 minutes at least or until the rice has absorbed all the water. When you are cooking it in the pan, it will bubble and push up the lid. To avoid this, wet a tea towel and place it between the lid and the pan making sure that it doesn‘t hang over and catch fire. This will stop the water spilling out, and if you are using gas, it stops the water running out of the saucepan and possibly extinguishing the gas.

An old Japanese saying is that when you are cooking the rice, even if a baby cries, leave the lid on (if water splashes over the edge, you can lift the lid ajar a little but never use cold water to reduce the boil.)

Once the rice is cooked, remove the lid, use a fork to break up the rice, put the lid back and leave the rice off the heat for another 5 minutes to fluff up and to rest. If the rice has stuck a bit and is not burned but is golden brown, peel it off and do what the Japanese do: dip it in soy sauce and eat it. (Obviously you don’t want to use the stuck rice if you are making sushi.)

A note on cooking Japanese Rice with Pine Mushrooms
Japanese chefs sometimes use pine mushrooms to flavour the rice. If you can find some, during the cooking process replace the water with dashi (just like a pilaf or risotto), add a little soy sauce, and place the sliced mushroom in the stock with the rice, using the same method. You could try this with other mushrooms, like Shitake for example. Shitake and soy sauce are really good friends. The fragrance is amazing.

Where to buy Japanese Rice
You will find Japanese rice in most Asian markets labelled Japanese Rice or Sushi Rice. Ask if you are not sure.

What brand of Japanese Rice to buy
The Sun Clad Shinode brand is good – it’s available in the Asia market in Dublin and Asian markets around Ireland.

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