When I was a little girl, it was my nightly duty to measure, wash, soak and cook the family rice. One day, our little Japanese rice cup cracked, and because I wasnft necessarily the brightest little girl, I didnft realize that I could have used any other cup so long as I used the same cup to measure both the rice and the water. The rice cup was a metric measure so it was smaller than our other measuring cups and so it seemed, well, special. How could I cook the rice without a rice cup?
My father came to my rescue. He leveled the rice in the pot and then filled it with some water. Then, he stuck in his hand until the tip of his middle finger touched the top of the rice. Carefully, he added more water until the water level reached the second line of his knuckle. His mother and sisters had cooked rice that way. The rice came out nicely and I used that method ever since because it was so much faster and easier.
As I grew, I found that many people cooked their rice using that finger method of measuring rice water. In fact, they swear by that method, claiming that it makes perfect rice every time. Chinese American chef Ming Sai (gSimply Mingh PBS) calls this the Mt. Fuji method but Ifve never heard of that term before. If anyone knows more, please enlighten me!
In any case, I did a little informal experimentation. First, I compared the length of my husbandfs fingertip with my fingertip. His is slightly longer which would mean that if he used the Mt. Fuji method, he would end up adding more water than I would if I measured the rice water. Second, I measured and washed two cups of rice and then measured in two cups of water; then, I stuck in my finger to see if the water level came up to my second finger knuckle. Because I had only tipped out the water and a bit was left in the pot, I expected the water level to be a bit higher than the line of my finger. Surprise. It was considerably lower.
So what gives? Why do so many people swear by the finger, or Mt. Fuji, method? I have three guesses: My first guess is that some rice crops might need just a tad more water. Some rice grains are drier if they have been stored longer or grown and harvested in the summer. My second guess is that people using this method cook more than two cups of rice. Third, I think people believe that their Japanese rice is perfectly cooked when, in fact, it is actually a lot softer or even mushier than it is supposed to be.
Continuing my experiment, I prepared rice in four ways: 1. Finger method after straining all the wash water with a strainer; 2. Finger method after tipping the water out of the pot; 3. Measuring water with a rice cup after straining the wash water with a strainer; and finally, 4. Measuring water with a rice cup after tipping the wash water out.
Each pot held three cups of rice, soaked for 30 minutes before cooking in an electric rice cooker and then allowed to steam for 20 minutes. The results were clear. In the past, I would have accepted that they all were just fine, but when the rice samples were placed side-by-side, it was obvious that two of them were much too wet. There was too much condensation dripping from the lid and the surface of the rice was slightly mushy. Once I fluffed the rice with the shamoji, it was seemed fine. I mean, we used to eat rice this way all the time. I thought it was supposed to be that way.
But the rice made by measuring the water in a cup came out truly perfect. The grains were fluffy and light. While moist and sticky, they were not water-logged or over-plump or too soft. The grains had body.
With that said, people will cook their rice the way they always have. The Japanese are creatures of habit and tradition. We do things often because that is the way the family always did them.
I will say that the finger method is good for cooking larger volumes of rice if you are measuring the water and get distracted and forget how many cups of water you already put in. gRats, you interrupted me!h Ifd grumble to my sister. And, not wanting to pour out the water and start the counting all over, Ifd resort to the finger measuring method.
If you insist upon using the finger method for measuring rice water, just be sure you are cooking three cups of rice or more. And donft use this method when preparing rice for sushi. If you must, subtract one tablespoon of water for every cup.
If you love rice, I encourage you to experiment on your own with different brands of rice as well as different methods of measuring and cooking it until you are satisfied with your results. I actually prefer my rice when it has been soaked for a little more than the recommended 30 minutes because I like my rice a little softer. But that is me.