This post is all about Japanese way of cooking rice which is one of the fundamentals of Japanese meals. It is not boiled like pasta, it is cooked in so called absorption method. But there are more secrets to it.
In Japanese culture, cooking rice (okome, お米) is almost an art. If you go to Japan and visit one of the major home appliance stores, you will be amazed to see so many different types of electric rice cookers on display.
Rice is one of the most important staple foods for Japanese people. People have a favourite brand of rice grain and they strive to cook the best rice possible. Hence most Japanese people have an electric rice cooker which delivers consistent results.
The brand of rice grain is also a critical factor. There are so many different brands from all over Japan as well as overseas and competition is fierce. Just like any other produce, Japanese farmers put a lot of effort into the pursuit of producing the best rice grain. The high quality of rice however also means a high price due to the amount of effort needed to cultivate and process such a quality product. I hear many Japanese people say that they are happy to pay a lot for good rice even if they have to buy cheaper side dishes to go with it.
My brother-in-law in Tokyo can even tell if he is served a different brand of rice at home. I was there when my sister couldn’t find the usual brand and settled with second best. When she served the rice at dinner, I couldn’t tell the difference (I must have become too Aussie…) but my brother-in-law pointed it out straight away! I was amazed.
When we migrated to Australia about 35 years ago, there was no Japanese rice sold anywhere, unless of course you go to Japanese grocery stores. So I bought a bag of medium grain or short grain rice from the super market. But these days, you can buy Japanese rice at Asian grocery stores.
If you are interested in trying Japanese rice, I would recommend the brand called koshihikari (こしひかり or コシヒカリ) which is one of the best brands of rice grain, noted for its sweet taste.
If you need to cook rice in a pot and want to make it just like the Japanese do, here are the step by step instructions in the recipe. It might not look like as simple as you think and you might wonder if you should be bothered making this much effort for just rice. But once you get used to it, it’s a simple process and you will never want to boil rice like pasta any more.
If you would like to serve cooked rice (gohan, ご飯) the Japanese way, you will need a small bowl called ochawan (お茶碗) specifically made to serve rice. As an alternative, you could serve the rice in a small ceramic bowl with a foot (i.e. base) so that you can hold the bowl without your fingers getting too hot.
You hold ochawan with one hand by placing the foot of the bowl on four fingers and the thumb on the rim, and hold chopsticks (箸, hash or お箸, ohashi) on the other hand. Yes, you do lift the bowl when eating rice. In fact, eating rice out of the bowl without lifting it from the table is considered to be lacking etiquette.
To eat the rice use your chopsticks and pinch a mouthful of rice, lift and move the chopsticks to your mouth. Placing the rim of the bowl to your mouth and sliding the rice into your mouth with chopsticks is considered to be bad manners.
In this recipe, I have included typical condiments which Japanese people eat with rice to give it flavour. See the photo below – rice with umeboshi (梅干し, the pickled plum in the top right of the ricebowl), takuan (沢庵, pickled radish, yellow) and tarako furikake (ふりかけ, cod roe flavoured rice seasoning). You can just eat rice with these toppings without any other dishes.
- 1 cup short grain or sushi rice (Note 1)
- 1 cup + 2-3 tbsp water (Note 2)
- Furikake (Cod roe flavoured rice seasoning)
- Umeboshi (Pickled plum)
- Takuan (Pickled white radish)
- Accurately measure and place the rice in a large bowl. Add enough water (not in ingredients) to cover the rice and wash gently, then discard the water. Repeat the process 4-5 times until the water is almost clear.
- Leave the rinsed rice in the bowl and add enough water (not in the ingredients list) to cover the rice. Leave the rice to soak for 30 minutes (summer time) to 1 hour (winter time). (Note 3)
- Using a sieve, drain the rice and remove as much water as possible.
- Place the rice in a saucepan with a heavy bottom and add water (per the ingredients list). Cook over medium heat with a lid on.
- When the water starts boiling and bubbles comes out of the pot, reduce the heat to low. Cook for 12-15 minutes until there is no water at the bottom of the pot or you don’t hear a bubbling sound from inside the pot. Do not open the lid while cooking.
- Turn the heat off and leave for at least 10 minutes with then lid on. Then mix the rice using a rice spatula (if you have one). This is to remove excess moisture within the cooked rice grains and also not to mould into the shape of the pot at the bottom.
- Furikake (ふりかけ) is a dried Japanese seasoning which is sprinkled on top of cooked rice. Ingredients include a combination of dried fish flakes, dried egg, dried cod eggs, bonito flakes, sesame seeds, chopped seaweed and other flavourings.
- Umeboshi (梅干し) is a salty and sour pickled plum. There are brown umeboshi (natural colour) and red umeboshi (dyed using purple perilla). Large umeboshi are about 2-3 cm diameter and have a very soft texture while tiny umeboshi are normally crunchy. The seed inside an umeboshi is very hard and you should not eat it as you might break your teeth.
- Takuan (沢庵) is one of the many pickled vegetables that Japanese people love. Unlike western style pickling, Japanese do not use oil to pickle vegetables and typically use any combination of salt, soy sauce and vinegar.
- Because of the strong flavour of these condiments, Japanese people sometimes eat rice with just these when they are in a hurry or just to fill themselves up without going through the hassle of cooking a meal.
2. The amount of water required depends on your preference of the cooked rice (al dente vs soft), age of the rice grain (new rice needs less water), and the pot you use (more steam evaporates with a wider pot). You will need to experiment and work out the exact amount to suit you.
3. This is a traditional way of cooking fluffy rice. You will see that each grain becomes white after absorbing water. If you don’t have time to soak the rice in the water, you can cook it straight away in which case you might need to increase amount of water slightly when cooking the rice.
4. Leftover rice can be kept in the fridge for few days or in the freezer. Use the microwave to thaw and re-heat.