Essentials of the Japanese Kitchen

Cooking Japanese Rice

炊飯

Rice has a history of more than 2,500 years in Japan and is an essential ingredient in Japanese cuisine. In this episode of the ‘Essentials of the Japanese Kitchen’, Michelin-listed chef Shimizu Akira of AKIRA restaurant shows how to prepare and cook Japanese rice to bring out its optimal flavour and texture. Additionally, find out more about the history, cultivation and use of rice in Japan in our ‘Rice’ story. 

Measuring & Washing

The square wooden measuring cup, masu, became established as the standard vessel for measuring rice during a time in Japan’s history when rice was a common form of currency. Masu come in a variety of sizes, based on a historical Japanese unit of volume, ; a common size of masu is 1- which represents one serving, or 150g, of short grain rice.

After measuring the desired quantity of rice, the first step is to thoroughly wash it. Japanese rice must be washed before cooking, to remove the starchy coating from the surface of the rice grains and allow the best possible flavour and texture to be achieved. Akira recommends washing the rice in a stainless-steel bowl by covering it with cold water and carefully stirring by hand. Discard the cloudy water using a sieve. Repeat the process until the water runs clear. Uncooked rice absorbs water very quickly, so avoid letting it sit in the water for too long during the washing process.

Rice & Water 

Fill the bowl with clean water to about 3cm above the rice and leave to soak for approximately 30–60 minutes; then, drain. Place the soaked rice in a pot. Akira prefers to cook rice in an earthenware pot, donabe. Alternatively, hagama, a rice cooking pot made from cast iron or aluminium, or an electric rice cooker can also be used. Measure and add the appropriate amount of water. As a rule, use 20% more water than the volume of rice (in ml). As a rough guide, if you press the rice flat with the palm of your hand, the water should come up to around the base of your wrist. If the rice is being cooked without having been pre-soaked, Akira suggests to add 1–2 tablespoons of cooking sake or salad oil to the water. This will make the cooked rice a little softer.

Cooking Japanese Rice 

Rice should be cooked over a medium heat for 7–9 minutes, with the lid on, until steam starts to escape. At that point, reduce to a low heat and cook for a further 15 minutes; then, turn off the heat and leave the rice to stand with the lid on for around 5–10 minutes. Remove the lid. Break up the rice by stirring it with big strokes from the bottom up, using a wet shamoji (rice paddle). This releases excess steam and makes the rice fluffy. 

After Cooking 

If your rice turns out a little wet after cooking, you can spread it out on a flat plate and microwave it for a short time. Alternatively, you can cover it with a cloth and leave it to sit for 30 minutes. If you are using a rice cooker, you can add extra cooking time.

If your rice is too firm after cooking, either because too little water was used or the rice wasn’t soaked beforehand, you can add some more water to the pot or cooker and cook the rice for longer.

If you plan to freeze your rice, do so while it is still warm. Wrap it tightly in cling film and place inside a freezer bag. When you are ready to eat it, microwave it inside its original cling film, heating it on a standard setting for 1.5–3 minutes depending on your microwave.