Cooking rice

Choosing, storing, and cooking rice for Japanese dishes

Choosing rice

You want white short-grain rice for Japanese cooking. Nishiki and Botan Calrose are two often-available brands.

While you can use brown rice for many Japanese recipes if you want, you’ll change the flavor and the texture, and you won’t be able to use brown rice for shaped-rice dishes like sushi and onigiri because it doesn’t have the same stickiness as white rice.

Long grain rice also won’t work for shaped rice dishes; it has both a different flavor and a different cooked texture. It won’t be sticky enough to shape for sushi or onigiri either.

Storing uncooked rice

Keep your rice in a sealable container. You might want to pop a couple of dry bay leaves into the
container to help discourage any curious pests (including the family pets).

If you have brown rice, keep it stored in the refrigerator or freezer, because the oil in the hulls will go rancid quickly if you don’t. White rice stores for longer, but if you don’t plan on using it for several months, it will also benefit from being stored in a sealed container in the freezer (as long as you have some baking soda in there to absorb any freezer smells too). Most of the time, though, I go through white rice quickly enough that I don’t need to freeze it.

About rice cookers

No matter what size or configuration of rice cooker you buy, from the $15 push-button variety to the $100-and-up microcomputer-and-timer variety, make sure it has a removable nonstick pan!

If you only cook rice once in a while, the $15 variety will do you just fine. It’s useful for more than rice, too. You can also do one-pot dishes ranging from steamed salmon to British-style mincemeat pudding with custard (not kidding) with that one push-button cooker.

I also got the expensive variety because it has a twelve-hour timer, and I’m single and wanted to come home to rice already cooked and correctly heated without burning, rather than needing to wait an extra hour after work before I could have dinner. It’s already paid for itself in the number of days and weeks I’ve come home from work to a home-cooked meal already there and waiting for me (using approximately $1.50 of ingredients), rather than grabbing a hamburger and fries on the way back (approximately $6).

See also why it can be worth it to have one of each kind of rice cooker — I do, and I know others who do too.

Washing rice

Rice needs washing before you cook it. It’s dusty and coated with extra starch and polishing compounds used to remove the brown hull to make brown rice into white rice. Put it in a big deep bowl, fill with water, and scrub your hands through it, then drain off the water and repeat… several times. The water will be nearly milky when you start; the rice is clean enough to cook when the water you pour off is almost clear. I usually need four or
five bowlfuls of water in order to get clean rice.

Some people say to let the rice soak in water for an hour before you put it in the rice cooker. I never do this if I’m planning to make sushi rice, because sushi rice
needs to be a little dry to start with (as further explained over here). If I want dinner fast, I don’t bother with it for regular rice either. If I’m using my fill-the-pot-in-the-morning-and-come-back-to-cooked-rice cooker, it’s already soaked plenty by the time it’s been cooked.

Really, soaking doesn’t make that much of a difference, unless you’re talking about sushi rice or glutinous rice (which is a different story entirely and I’ll tell it
later too).

Cooking rice

Cooking rice is like making toast. You can do it with a fork and a candle if you’re determined… but why make it that much harder on yourself? I don’t know how to make
stovetop rice. Every time I’ve tried, I’ve either scorched it or ended up with a soggy mess. I’ve also never learned to make toast over a bare stove burner. If you want to try, more power to you, and I’ll be watching from over there in a corner somewhere. With that said:

Rice cooker cups are smaller than standard American cups.

If you buy a “3 cup” rice cooker, you’re actually going to be able to cook 2 1/4 American cups of rice in it — if you put 3 American cups in, it’ll overflow and you’ll have
a sticky gooey mess.

One rice cooker cup is 3/4 of a standard U. S. measuring cup. It’s also 6 ounces. If you’ve lost your rice cooker’s cup, get a 3/4 cup measure or a scale and you’re good to go.

The cup marks on the inside
of the rice cooker pan are not how far you fill it with rice — they’re how far you fill it with water after washing and adding the rice. If you’ve added three rice-cooker cups of rice to your pot, fill with water to the line that says 3.

If you’re not sure how much rice you started with, don’t try remeasuring after you’ve washed it. It starts absorbing water as soon as it hits liquid, and you’ll get
a very different measurement after the washing than before. Instead, you get to try the Mt. Fuji method of rice water cooking.

  • The Mt. Fuji method:Put the palm of your hand flat on the surface of the rice and add water
    until the water touches the knuckle of your middle finger. You now have
    enough water to cook your rice.

    I have no idea why, but this method has worked with every size of rice
    cooker I’ve ever used, and every (adult) size of hand I’ve ever seen…
    it works when I just wash whatever rice is left in the bag, toss it
    in the pot, and fill. It’s also great for sanity checking when you can’t
    remember whether you washed three or four cups of rice or what.

Let it rest

After the rice cooker dings
or beeps or whatever it does at you, fluff up the rice with a rice paddle,
put the lid back on, and don’t touch it for 15 minutes. This lets the
residual heat and steam finish permeating the rice. It’s got a much
nicer texture after a fluff and a rest.

After it’s rested for 15
minutes, then you can dig in. The 15 minutes is the essential part,
though; if you forget to fluff it when it’s done, just fluff it before
you serve it.

Storing cooked rice

Refrigerator bad:

Don’t store cooked rice in
the refrigerator. It gets hard and crusty and crumbly and is only useful
for making fried rice.

If you have to store it in
the refrigerator, shape it into a ball and wrap it tightly with saran
wrap to try to keep as much air out as possible, and store it in one
of the warmer sections of your refrigerator (towards the top and towards
the door).

Freezer good:

You can freeze rice
— just don’t refrigerate it! I frequently cook up an extra batch of
rice, divide it up into freezer-safe Tupperwares, and pop them in the
freezer for minute-thirty dinners from the microwave. For some reason,
freezing stops whatever starch reaction that makes rice go hard when
stored at cold-but-above-freezing temperatures.

You won’t want to use frozen
and then thawed rice for shaped rice like sushi or onigiri — when it
thaws in the microwave, the water that’s condensed in the rice makes
it too damp to shape. But frozen and then thawed rice is fine for donburi
or ochazuke or an ordinary side dish; it hasn’t turned dry or crunchy
or gritty like refrigerated rice would have.