The sushi rice is without a doubt, the single most important ingredient in sushi. Strangely enough when this style of fermentation was developed the sushi rice was thrown away and only the fish that it was used to preserve was eaten. As the methods of fermentation advanced, and rice vinegar replaced large amounts of salt, it became easier to ferment the food. In any sushi preparation the rice is sticky enough to hold the fillings and topping in place. In fact when it comes to sushi rice it is crucial that you choose the right kind.
Choosing the Right Rice
If one were to wonder about the secret to the amazing balance of flavors that sushi offers your taste buds, it is the preparation of the sushi rice. So important is this aspect of the cooking that sushi chefs are trained for years to get it ‘just’ right. The Japanese ‘japonica’ rice is used for sushi and is quite different from the many other varieties of rice that are available in the market today. In fact there are close to fifty varieties of the japonica rice that are cultivated specifically for use in sushi.
It is imperative that you use a sushi rice brand and not any other variety. This is because sushi rice has just the right amount of sugar and starch that makes the cooked rice sticky but it doesn’t resemble a paste. There are several different brands of japonica rice for you to choose from. These include Nishiki, Kokuho Rose, Koshihikari and Tamanishiki. You can buy them at the local grocery store, at a Japanese store or even shop for it online.
When it comes to sushi you should be looking for new rice, and avoid old or aged rice. Old rice is harder, and requires more water to cook and is likely to throw of your rice to water proportion. It is best to stay clear of sushi kits as they often offer B grade sushi rice.
When you are looking at sushi rice packets you should be looking for the words, ‘First Crop’ or ‘New Variety’. If you are buying rice at a Japanese store, ask the owner if the rice is ‘shinmai’ which means that it belongs to the current year’s crop. Also stay clear of rice brands which feature the words, ‘pre-washed’ on it.
Ingredients for Your Sushi Rice Recipe
Water (preferably mineral water)
Wooden or glass bowl
A healthy dash of patience
Cooking Sushi Rice
When you are ready to cook your sushi rice it is important that you stick to some basic instructions and these include the following:
Wash well: The sushi rice is often packaged with powdered rice starch. It is vital that you wash it all off before you cook the rice. You will need to wash the rice at least twice or thrice until the water runs clean. Avoid soaking the rice in water, and instead you can put the rice in a sieve and then place it in a bowl which you will fill with water, rinse and then repeat the process.
Drain well: Once the rice is rinsed, you need to drain it well, for at least about 10-15 minutes. This will ensure that you don’t cook the rice in more water than the proportion suggested by the recipe.
Proportions are critical: When it comes to cooking sushi rice, the proportion of the rice to water is very important. This will ensure that the rice is cooked just right, and is not under or over cooked. The proportion of the rice and water will be 1:1. So if you are using two cups of uncooked sushi rice the sushi rice recipe will require you to use the same amount of water. An old family secret suggests that you put two tablespoons of sake into the water.
You will also need a 4X6 inch piece of kombu, a type of dried seaweed to place in the pot or rice cooker. Kombu helps create umami or savoriness and heightens the flavor of the food. You will need to make slits on the sides of the kombu to help release its flavor.
It is believed that when cooking rice, the quality of water is also an important factor and affects how the cooked rice will taste. Sushi chefs prefer water which is rich in mineral content. You may like to use bottle water to cook your sushi rice.
Let’s Get Cooking
If you are cooking the rice in a pot then place the rice and water on the fire and allow the water to boil. Thereafter, lower the flame and cover the pot with a fitting lid. Cook the sushi rice for about 15 minutes, and resist the temptation to remove the lid and stir the rice. Once the rice is cooked, remove the pot from the stove, but keep the lid on. Allow the rice to sit for another 10 minutes.
If you are using a rice cooker then put the washed and drained rice along with the water in the container and cook as you usually would. Thereafter follow the same steps as you would if you were cooking the rice in a pot.
While your rice is cooling down, you need to get started with the shari-zu or the seasoning that makes the rice taste delightful. The shari-zu is a combination of rice vinegar, sea salt and sugar. The tricky thing about making shari-zu is that sushi chefs usually differ in their recipe for the same. Here’s our suggestion, for two cups of uncooked sushi rice combine four table spoons of rice vinegar with one teaspoon of salt and eight teaspoons of sugar. As you make sushi rice frequently you can adjust the seasoning based on your taste and preference. A thing to remember is that you only use unseasoned rice vinegar, stay clear of the seasoned kind. You’re better of making your own shari-zu.
Some sushi rice recipes suggest that you warm the rice vinegar, the salt and sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. If you opt to do this, make certain that the mixture has cooled down before you pour it over the cooked rice.
Transfer the cooked rice from the pot to a glass or a wooden bowl. Traditionally a wooden bowl was used as it absorbed the moisture from the sushi rice. Avoid using a metal bowl as the vinegar may react to it. Spread the rice gently with a wooden spoon. Now drizzle the shari-zu over the rice. The idea is to ensure that each grain is covered in shari-zu.
Once your sushi rice is ready, you need to cover it with a moist kitchen towel. This will ensure that the rice grains don’t dry out. The sushi rice should be kept at room temperature until you are ready to use it. Ideally the sushi rice should be prepared some time before you are ready to make sushi, and not refrigerated.
Tips on Cooking Sushi Rice
- Use sushi rice, and don’t try to replace it with any other type of rice.
- Wash and rinse your sushi rice so it is free of any rice starch powder.
- The rice to water proportion is critical to cooking your rice well. Don’t forget to add the sake and the piece of kombu.
- Don’t stir the rice while cooking, and once cooked allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
- Patience is a key ingredient when it comes to cooking sushi rice, as is practice.
- The shari-zu enhances the flavor of the rice and should be created with unseasoned rice vinegar. Do remember to opt for rice vinegar that is naturally fermented and aged and avoid synthetic rice vinegar. Not only is such vinegar great for curing ingredients but it also offers health benefits.
- Sea salt is preferred over table salt as it contains about 25% less sodium than the latter. This makes the salt milder and doesn’t mask the natural flavors of the food.
Clues to Identify Well Cooked Sushi Rice
If this is your first time making sushi rice you may wonder if you got it right. Here are a few clues that should tell you if you cooked the rice according to the sushi rice recipe. Firstly, the rice should be sticky, but not gummy. The grains should be intact. They will stick together but it should not resemble a rice paste. Put a few rice grains in your mouth and chew, if it is chewy or gummy, it is undercooked. If it looks like a paste, it is probably overcooked.
What should good sushi rice taste like? When you eat the rice, it should feel light on your tongue. When you swallow it, your mouth should feel clean and there shouldn’t be any residue left. Most of all, it should be flavorful.