Essentials of the Japanese Kitchen

Sushi Rice

酢飯

 

Sushi is an essential part of Japanese cuisine and comes in many varieties. Different areas of Japan offer their own take on this popular dish, based on the availability and variety of regional ingredients. For example, the Kansai region has a long history of fermented sushi, prepared using wooden moulds, that dates back to the Heian period (794–1185 CE), whilst the Kantō region is known for its Edomae (lit. in front of Edo) sushi, made by hand with and so-called as it was made using fish caught in the bay in front of Edo (present-day Tokyo), and served at roadside stalls.

Following on from the episode ‘Cooking Japanese Rice’, chef Shimizu Akira of AKIRA restaurant shows how to make rice specifically for sushi. Sushi rice, su-meshi (lit. ‘vinegar rice’), is referred to as shari amongst Japanese chefs. It is cooked to be slightly firmer than rice prepared for other dishes because it is mixed with vinegar and eaten with other ingredients. Whilst Japanese rice is typically considered to taste better when sticky, sushi rice is prepared so that the rice grains break apart from each other.

Watch the video and read the story to learn Akira’s method of preparing sushi rice.

Rice Preparation 

Wash the rice carefully, avoiding breaking the grains as that will make it sticky.

Whether the washed rice should be soaked in cold water or not depends on the type of Japanese rice being used. It is best to follow the instructions for the specific rice you are using.

When ready, combine equal parts rice and water, so that the ratio is 1:1. This is slightly different to the rice to water ratio of 1:1.2 which is typically used for cooking Japanese rice.

Akira suggests adding a piece of dashi kombu (kelp) when cooking the rice to enhance its flavour. One to two tablespoons of cooking sake can also be added to make the rice shiny, but this is optional.

Preparing Sushi Vinegar

Sushi vinegar is easy to prepare, however, ready-made sushi vinegar can also be purchased. If making your own, do so while the rice is cooking.

For every cup of rice (150g), use 15ml of rice vinegar, 10g of sugar and 5g of salt. In this episode, Akira uses 450g of rice and, therefore, combines 45ml of rice vinegar, 30g of sugar and 15g of salt.

Cook the mixture in a saucepan on a low heat, and do not allow it to boil. Stir it until the sugar has dissolved, then turn off the heat and let the liquid cool.

The Process of ‘Cutting’ 

The next step – and the most important one, according to Akira – is to combine the rice with the sushi vinegar in a process called “cutting”. For this, you should use a wooden sushi tub (sushi-oke) and a rice paddle (shamoji). To start, moisten the wooden tub and paddle with a damp cloth. Place the freshly cooked rice in the tub and use your hand to scoop up around half of the vinegar mix and sprinkle it over the rice; then, add the remainder by letting it run over the rice paddle. 

Start turning the rice over from the bottom up, carefully mixing in the sushi vinegar. Avoid kneading the rice. As you are doing this, gather the rice into the upper right section of the tub. Turn one scoop of rice over, towards the left. Progressively ‘cut’ the scoop of rice that has been turned over, so that it spreads out. The purpose is to remove some of the moisture before the surface becomes sticky.  Repeat these steps until you have an even, flat surface, then leave it for approximately three minutes. Next, turn the rice over from underneath and gather it together at the edge. Cover with a damp cloth to prevent your sushi rice from drying out. Use it straight away or keep it warm until ready to use. 

Sushi rice, or vinegared rice (shari) should not be sticky and should be light in taste and texture. According to Akira, sushi chefs consider the ideal rice to be such that it “falls apart” the moment it is placed in the mouth. That kind of rice achieves the perfect balance with the delicate flavours of the sushi toppings (neta). Though the toppings are important, it is the rice that determines the quality of the sushi. For example, if the rice is too sticky, it can’t absorb the vinegar well and therefore has a lumpy texture.

Fresh sushi rice has a higher water content than slightly older cooked rice. According to Akira, many sushi restaurants use a mixture of previously prepared and freshly cooked rice to avoid a soggy texture. This evens out the water content of the rice.

Learn more about different types of sushi as well as the history, cultivation and uses of rice in Japan in our ‘Rice’ story, or revisit the episode ‘Cooking Japanese Rice’ from the ‘Essentials of the Japanese Kitchen’ series.

A variety of kitchenware designed for the preparation of rice and other Japanese dishes is available in The Shop, online and in-store. A rice scoop handcrafted from Japanese birch and an ohitsu (rice container) made from natural Akita cedar wood for storing cooked rice, are just some of the items available.