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In Japan, “steamed” rice (which is actually boiled) is most commonly prepared in rice cookers. Running 24/7 in many Japanese households, they provide a constant supply of cooked rice at any time of the day. If you have one, polish the rice according to directions below, and then follow the instructions for your machine. But if you don’t have a rice cooker or don’t want to invest in one, simply use a heavy-bottomed pot (tall and narrow is better than shallow and wide) with a tight-fitting lid, and tie a dish-cloth do-rag around the seam of the lid to keep in as much steam as possible.

Basic Rice mixed with Takana vegetables and baby sardines

Ingredients: (serves 4-5)

  • 2 cups rice
  • 2 1/2- 2 2/3 cups fresh, cold water

Method:

  1. Polish the rice. Always, always wash Japanese rice. Pour a ½ cup of dry rice per person into the pot and fill it halfway with fresh, cold water. “Polish” the rice by kneading it – rubbing the grains against each other and the side of the pot, to remove excess starches. Strain the cloudy water and repeat at least 2-3 more times, until the water becomes almost clear.
  2. Add water into the pot. How much? About 1¼ cups per cup of dry rice, or use the “Rule of Finger”. Put the pot on a flat surface and pour in enough water to cover the rice, plus some. Even out the rice. Stick your index finger into the water, so the tip of your finger touches the top of the rice. The water level should meet the first knuckle of your finger. Any more, and you should get rid of some. Not enough? Top it up until it reaches that magical line. I don’t know why this works with any pot, but it does.
  3. Let it soak. This step is optional, but the texture of your rice will improve with a 30 – 60 minute soak before cooking. If you’re tight on time, though, skip this step.
  4. Bring it to the boil on high heat, with the lid snugly on. Consider tying a long, wound-up dishcloth around the perimeter of the lid, to keep in as much steam as possible. (A rice pot do-rag.)
  5. Simmer it. Once it boils, turn the heat to low, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Keep the lid on, and don’t take it off at all during the cooking process.
  6. Let it rest. Keeping the lid (and the do-rag, if you used one) on, take the pot off of the heat completely and let it continue to steam inside the pot for another 10 minutes at least.

Good to know: Hate waste? Don’t wash away the starchy water you get when you polish your rice – save it and feed it to your plants!

What to do with leftover rice

Freeze leftovers

Never ever, ever, ever refrigerate Japanese rice (unless you’re making fried rice with it) or it will dry out and lose its stickiness. Freeze it. Yup – freeze it. Scoop out one-portion sizes, allow them to cool, and then wrap them in saran wrap or put them into freezer bags and pop-em in the freezer. Next time you need rice – unwrap a portion and zap it in the microwave for about 90 seconds for piping hot, moist, near-perfect rice.

Onigiri

The Japanese sandwich, onigiri are stuffed with tsukemono pickles, fish, or vegetables and are a perfect way to use leftover rice for tomorrow’s lunch. While it’s still hot (or at least quite warm) scoop out half a bowl’s worth into a piece of cling film, and make an indent in the center. Pop in the filling of your choice – leftover pieces of dinner, or even tuna salad – top with another half-bowl of rice, and use the wrap to squeeze the rice into your shape of choice. Wrap with a piece of ajitsuke nori (roasted seaweed) before eating.

Chaa-han (Fried Rice)

This is the one time you’re allowed to refrigerate your rice. In fact, refrigerated rice is the key to Japanese fried rice because the dried-out grains lose their stickiness and separate more easily when mixed with other ingredients. Fry up some mixed vegetables, meats, and/or seafood of your choice in light vegetable oil, scramble an egg or two and set it all aside. Re-heat the rice in a microwave, dump all of your ingredients into a hot pan, and fry it up. At the last minute, add the Japanese house-wife’s secret sauce (tonkatsu or okonomiyaki sauce and ketchup) to taste. Enjoy.

Omu-raisu (Rice Omelette)

Leftover fried rice? The Japanese have ingeniously combined this leftover food with French-style omelettes to create a tasty and filling lunch or dinner. Beat 3 eggs and pour into a hot, small to medium-sized frying pan prepped with a little vegetable oil. Turn the heat to medium-low and pour in the eggs. As they cook, lift the edges of the omelette and let uncooked egg run underneath, and cook it until it’s nearly set through. Slip it off onto a plate, and fill with some re-heated fried rice. Fold it over, decorate with tonkatsu sauce, ketchup, curry sauce or even leftover spaghetti sauce. (Y)Ommmmm… rice.