Guest Author - Chidori Phillips
Japanese medium- and short-grain rice has a naturally sticky character so people often mistakenly believe their rice is perfect when in reality it is slightly mushy or too water-logged or too soft. There seems to be a wide range of what people think is an acceptable bowl of cooked rice. We are used to the rice we grew up with, the way our mothers cooked it. It is soft and sticky and delicious. Even if your mother used a ratio of one cup of rice to one and a quarter cups of water. Or one cup plus 2 Tbsp. Or like mine, one cup of rice to one cup of water. Or the finger or Mt. Fuji method.
When I was a little girl, we had a thick metal rice pot for the stovetop and I remember getting a conk on the head for lifting the lid and letting out the steam. But soon that old method was abandoned for the more convenient electric rice cooker. It was fail-safe, even though it left precious little koge rice (the brown, crusty bits on the bottom of the pot) that we liked. My mother taught me how to measure, wash, soak and cook rice and soon, it became my daily chore.
My grey haired great-grandmother chided me for washing the rice in a fine-sieved colander because too many valuable nutrients got washed down the drain. And, she clucked her tongue when I scrubbed too hard because that damaged the precious grains.
In the past, rice was polished and packaged with a lot of powdery white talc but today there are health concerns associated with its use. Some manufacturers dust rice with added nutrients to make up for those that are polished away. Itfs best not to scrub it off when washing your rice.
Rice is a grain that absorbs water and plumps during cooking. Absorbency varies depending upon the type and the age (and the dryness) of the grain. When some people wash and drain their rice, they use a strainer; others only tip the pot to spill out the water but not all of the water is drained away. And then, they measure and add the rice water. Both ways actually end up adding different amounts of water.
I cooked rice using various methods in order to compare the results. Some pots of rice came out wet and slightly mushy. Too soft. Others came out slightly dry. Allowing the rice to soak for at least 30 minutes minimum is vital. An hour is good. More than that and you run the risk of mushy grains. Here is the best basic method, but I encourage you to experiment until you come up with a bowl of rice that suits your personal preference. Rice for sushi is cooked differently, by the way. It needs to have less moisture in it in order to soak up the su mixture. But rice for straight eating should be fluffy, light and have some body to each grain when you bite into it. Body means soft but toothsome. Not al dente. I think many people eat rice a bit on the over-soft side without realizing it.
Basic Method of Cooking Gohan Japanese Rice
Despite the many different ways of cooking rice, here is the basic method which is a good starting point for you to develop your own way of preparing the perfect bowl of rice to your own liking. There is one rule: do not add salt or oil/butter to the rice during cooking.
3 cups of Japanese rice (medium or short grain)
3 cups of water
Measure rice into a pot. Pour in clean water and gently swish the rice and water several times. Drain. Repeat until water runs clear. Drain completely. Measure water into pot. Allow to soak for at least 30 minutes, preferably an hour.Place over medium flame and bring to a boil. (If using an electric rice cooker, turn it on.) Cover with lid and reduce heat to low. Cook for 20 minutes. Turn off heat and allow it to sit and steam for 15-20 minutes. Fluff rice with a shamoji before serving.