Rice is rice, right? Not quite. Short-grain Japanese rice is quite different from long-grain basmati or jasmine rice, so achieving the right texture — glossy and tender but not sticky — calls for a particular cooking method. A fancy rice cooker makes the process easy, but it isn't a necessity. Making perfect Japanese rice on the stove is simple, requiring only a good pot and careful listening skills.
Rice can be tricky, as stove strength varies, so cooking times in recipes are really just approximations. Lifting the lid lets steam escape from the pot, a rice cooking no-no, so the best way to check on the progress of your rice is actually to lean in close and listen. Recognizing the bubbling, chortling sound of rice reaching a boil and the crackling hiss of almost-done rice is useful when making any type of rice, not just Japanese. Plus, nothing makes you feel more like a kitchen ninja than relying on just your hearing to know when the rice is done.
Stovetop Japanese Rice
What You Need
Japanese short-grain rice
Heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid
Dry measuring cup
Liquid measuring cup
With the dry measuring cup, measure out the rice grains. One cup of dry rice will make approximately two cups of cooked rice. Pour the rice into the pot.
Fill the pot with enough cold water to cover the rice and use your hand to vigorously swish the rice around. Pour out the water, which will be cloudy with starch. Repeat this step 3 to 4 more times, until the water being poured off is almost clear. (Removing as much surface starch as possible ensures that the cooked rice is not too sticky.)
Pour the rice into the sieve and let the excess water drain away. Transfer the rice back to the pot.
With the liquid measuring cup, measure the water. For each cup of dry rice, you will need 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of water. (This ratio can be tweaked to your preference. I like a slightly drier rice, and typically use just 1 cup of water per cup of rice.) Add the water to the pot.
As an optional step, you can let the rice sit in the water for at least 10 minutes, which will allow the grains to absorb water and cook more evenly. If you are short on time, this soaking can be skipped.
Over high heat, bring the covered pot to a boil, which will take about 3-5 minutes, depending on the strength of your stove. Listen for the chattering lid or other sounds that indicate the water is boiling. Don't lift the lid to peek inside!
Reduce the heat to low and let the rice cook for about 5 more minutes, or until the water has been absorbed. Listen for the hissing and crackling that indicate the water has been absorbed, or if you must, quickly lift the lid to check inside. Crank up the heat to high for about 30 seconds to dry the rice.
Remove the pot from the heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes. This step is essential for getting the correct texture and cannot be skipped. After the 10 minutes is up, gently stir up the rice and serve.
For best results, start with at least one cup of dry rice, as smaller amounts of rice and water are difficult to cook properly. If you make more than you need, try one of these suggestions for leftover rice.
You can save the rice rinsing water instead of dumping it down the drain. Use it to water plants or blanch vegetables.
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(Images: Anjali Prasertong)