It’s so simple, yet so easy to screw up: Making rice is at the heart of Japanese cuisine, and our friend Megumi recently shared with us exactly how it should be done, as well as instructions for making vinegared sushi rice and temaki, or hand-rolled sushi. All photos by Trix Rosen, copyright 2012.
A basic salmon temaki
The Japanese are rice eaters. Traditionally we eat cooked, short-grain rice almost every day. So we are very fussy about rice: its freshness, texture, firmness, softness, flavor, moisture, size, and shininess. Good rice is grown in the areas where the water is fresh and clean. Of course, the fresher, the better! The new crop that arrives in the market every fall is the best. To use tasty water while cooking rice is important too. What amazes me and my Japanese friends watching American TV cooking shows is that the chefs don’t rinse rice before they cook! To rinse rice until the water is not murky is a must in Japan. Even so-so-quality rice tastes much better if you thoroughly rinse it. And in my experience, this is true for jasmine and Arborio rice as well.
Below are recipes for cooking Japanese rice, making vinegared rice for sushi, and preparing sushi.
How to cook short-grain white rice, the Japanese way:
1. Measure 2 cups (400 cc) of rice.
2. Rinse the rice in water gently. Repeat it several times until the water is not murky.
3. Add water (2 cups plus 80 cc, a little less than 6 Tbsp). Note: The standard ratio of rice and water is 1: 1.2. When you cook rice for sushi, the ratio is 1: 1.1.
4. Soak the rice in the water, ideally for a minimum of 30 minutes. (If you don’t have time to wait, you can cook it immediately). Note: If you’re cooking rice for sushi, leave the rinsed rice in the colander for one hour, and then put it in the pot and add the water.
5. Cover the pot and cook the rice over medium heat until the water boils. Reduce heat to very low and cook about 20 minutes.
6. Wait for 15 minutes before you uncover the lid. Note: When you’re making sushi, wait for 10 minutes.
How to make sushi rice with vinegar:
1. To make the vinegar, combine rice vinegar (5 Tbsp), sugar (3 Tbsp), and salt (1 ½ tsp). If you have a piece of kombu, or dried sea kelp, add it to the pot before heating. Heat the mixture until sugar and salt is melted. Do not boil. Let cool.
2. Pour the sushi vinegar over the cooked rice gradually. Do not pour it all at one time. Mix the rice and sushi vinegar gently, taking care not to damage the rice. Fan the rice so it cools.
How to make hand-rolled sushi (temaki):
1. Heat nori (dried seaweed) over the stovetop so that its flavor is intensified. (Just briefly hold it over the flame, like above.)
2. Cut it into quarters.
3. Place a small amount of sushi rice (cooked rice flavored with the vinegar mixture) on a nori sheet. Do not put too much.
4. Add wasabi if you want to include fresh fish.
5. Put whatever you like on top of the rice, such as: fresh salmon, tuna, fluke, avocado, eel, cucumber, daikon pickles, preserved plum (umeboshi). Again, do not overstuff.
6. Roll the nori and eat with soy sauce.