First things first, the most important component of cooking sushi is the rice. In fact, sushi refers to vinegared rice, so when you say sushi, it’s rice, not the fish. Of course, making good sushi rice is where the key lies since this is the sushi foundation upon which everything else is built upon. Without well-cooked grains of rice, the best-laid sushi plans can turn into a disaster.
Sushi rice is made by cooking a high-quality Japanese rice – a type of short grain rice that is dominantly cultivated and consumed rice in China, Korea, and Japan. Short-grained rice contains a high percentage of starch when compared to other varieties, this is why the rice is so sticky. After the rice is cooked, it is mixed (while it is still hot) with other ingredients such as rice vinegar, salt, and sugar while quickly cool it off using a fan. These ingredients help to accentuate the flavor and provide stickier rice.
Perfectly, prepared sushi rice should be light, fluffy, and slightly sticky when cooked. In this step by step guide, we will show you how to make good sushi rice every time.
Well, before we go into the details on how to make sushi rice, let’s see what you will need to make it?
What you’ll need?
1. Pick up the main ingredient – Short Grain White rice
Sushi rice is a super premium grade short grain white rice that is sticky and slightly sweet rice. It is essential that using the correct kind of rice when making sushi to ensure that perfect consistency and adhesive quality so integral to good sushi.
Real sushi rice will have a good balance of starches (amylose and amylopectin) so that the sushi rice sticks well together, making it easier to pick up with chopsticks or form into sushi rolls. The rice for sushi should be quite fresh because the older the rice is, the harder it is and the more water it takes to soften. Ideally, try to find the rice that is less than a year old if possible (Check a date on the bag of the rice).
The best rice is the one that is labeled “First Crop” or “New Variety”, which means it is picked in the fall. If you can’t find “First Crop” or “New Variety” on the bag, you should ask the grocer if the rice is “Shinma”, purchased within 3 months of harvest. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find rice that fresh outside of Japan. Just buy the best rice you can afford. Once you know how to prepare the rice, you will really taste the difference between different type of rice.
Some of the best that you can get here in the U.S. are Koshihikari, Tamaki, and Tamanishiki. They tend to be expensive. In Japan, Koshihikari is the most popular “first grade” Japanese rice variety. Tamaki is a California grown Koshihikari, it is as good as Koshihikari cultivated in Japan. Tamanishiki is also a California grown rice that uses two kinds of short grain rice: Yuma Gokochi and Koshihikari. This combination of two creates wonderful texture and great flavor.
One more thing you want to know is that don’t buy the pre-washed rice (does not require the normal rinsing to remove the “starch” that is present with the standard short grain rice) for the sushi rice recipe.
2. Get the Rice vinegar
In order to balance the fishy taste of the raw fish put on sushi, sushi rice needs vinegar. There are two kinds of vinegar you can use to flavor the cooked rice: rice vinegar and sushi vinegar.
For those who don’t know, Sushi vinegar (Seasoned rice vinegar) = Rice vinegar + Sugar + Salt. So if you want to use plain Japanese Rice Vinegar (not the Seasoned rice vinegar), you will need to have sugar and salt on hand.
When you are shopping with the intention of getting the pre-made sushi seasoning, then sushi vinegar is what you need to look for. Both Mizkan and Marukan are the most popular and widely available U.S. grocery stores. You can also find them online (Mizkan sushi vinegar and Marukan sushi vinegar).
If you prefer, you can make your own sushi vinegar at home (using a homemade sushi vinegar recipe below).
3. Kombu and Sake (Optional)
These ingredients are optional but they also play a role in making great sushi rice. They can add a pop of extra savory flavor to the sushi rice. You can find these ingredients at the Japanese grocery stores, Asian market or order them online here – Wel-Pac Dashi Kombu.
4. An electric rice cooker or a heavy-bottomed pot
There are several ways to cook sushi rice, but the simplest way to cook sushi rice is in a rice cooker. A rice cooker usually cooks every grain evenly and the result is almost guaranteed good. But If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can cook sushi rice on the stove top, it doesn’t really matter.
I personally use a Zojirushi rice cooker with warming function, it keeps the rice warm for up to 24 hours. This “smart” rice cooker of mine also has a Computerized Fuzzy Logic Feature that does all of the thinking. With this unit, all I have to do is wash the rice, add water and push a button. It will pre-soak, cook and steam the rice after cooking. When I mix a slightly more than equal part of water to the rice, it still comes out perfectly. Just a note: Zojirushi is an EXCELLENT band, though a bit too pricey for some. So if you’re on a tight budget, you want to consider other inexpensive options such as Aroma Professional Plus ARC-5000SB 20-Cup (Cooked).
You will need a large bowl or pot for mixing your sushi rice in. Traditionally, a wooden bowl, which called a hangiri, is the best thing to use to mix and cool sushi rice. It is a round, flat-bottom wooden tub or barrel. The advantage of using a hangiri is that it helps absorb any excess moisture from the sushi rice. You can get a hangiri at any Japanese store, and even online here (Kotobuki Hangiri).
How to make sushi rice?
To make 4 cups of cooked rice, you will need:
- 2 cups of short grain white rice
- ¼ cups of rice vinegar
- 2 cups of water (If you’re using an electric rice cooker, add water up to the certain level marked in the inner pot.)
- 2 tablespoons of sake (optional)
- 4×6 inch piece of kombu
- And homemade sushi vinegar.
Step 1 – Make your homemade sushi vinegar
Homemade Sushi Vinegar Recipe
- 4 tablespoons of rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 teaspoons of salt
Once you have all ingredients, combine them in a small saucepan. Then turn the heat to medium and heat over the saucepan until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Make sure not to let the mixture boil. This amount would be enough to season about 4 cups of rice, you can adjust the amount according to the amount of rice you have. For the best result, make sure to mix the sushi vinegar with the cooked rice while it is still hot.
Of course, You can change the sugar and salt measurements to find your sweet spot. Too vinegary? Add sugar. Not enough taste? Add salt. Not quite there? Add vinegar. This is the real test when you are making homemade sushi seasoning.
Step 2 – Washing the Rice
When you’re ready to get cooking, begin by putting the rice into a large bowl or pot and washing the rice in cool water until the water is almost clear. This should take 5-6 washes. This step may seem like a bother, but they are completely critical to making properly sushi rice. So do not skimp on this! This is a common mistake by the first-timers.
Keep in mind that the water never becomes completely clear, it will be somewhat “milky” looking in color. Strain the rice using a mesh sieve or by placing your hand and turning the pot slowly sideways.
The purpose of washing or rinsing is to remove some of the starch on the outside of the rice grains. Excess starch on the surface of the rice grains will gel during cooking. Thus, when you take a bite of rice, you can get a mouthfeel that’s more pasty with less distinction between grains of rice since the space between the grains is filled in with more starch and less air. If you’re working with brown rice, then there is little to wash or rinse off it since it has little starch on its surface.
Step 3 – Soaking the rice
Add your water/sake mixture to your rice in your pot. Break off a 4×6 inch piece of kombu and put it in the pot.
At this point, you should let the rice soak for about 15 minutes. The results in a shinier rice with a better texture. You can skip the rice soaking step if you’re cooking in a rice cooker and it says that soaking is not necessary.
Step 4 – Cooking the rice
Cooking in a pot
Put the mixture in the pot and bring the water to a boil over medium heat. When the water begins to boil, stir well and then put on a tight-fitting lid. Then reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking the rice until the water is completely absorbed into the grains. For 2 cups of rice in 2 cups of water, this will take about 15 minutes.
Remember: Never take off the lid or you will ruin the rice. You’d really want to use a pot with a glass lid here so that you can easily check the water level without removing the lid.
After 15 minutes, turn up to high heat for a few second to get rid of any excess moisture if necessary. Then turn the heat off, keep the rice covered in the pot and let the rice steam for another 15 minutes.
A good rice cooker includes this steaming time in the cooking cycle, and also allows for condensation to evaporate, so you can open the rice cooker and fluff the rice as soon as it stops turns off.
Cooking in a rice cooker
If you are cooking in a rice cooker, just switch on and cook for 20 minutes, your rice cooker will automatically turn off when it is done (or if you need the rice later, set the time). Once the rice cooker turns off, you want to leave the rice in the rice cooker with the lid closed for at least 5 minutes to make sure the rice is cooked thoroughly.
Important note: Never remove the kid during the cooking. This will mess up the cooking process. If the cooked rice seems too dry or mushy, don’t try to cook it again to fix the issue since that will ruin the rice. Next time you can adjust the amount of water to correct the issue. Add a bit more water if it’s too dry. Use slightly less water if it’s too mushy.
Step 5 – Taking the rice out
Once the rice is ready. Take the lid off and fluff the rice by turning it lightly over a few times using a wooden paddle or non-stick paddle. Then, transfer the rice from the pot to a large bowl or a traditional wooden sushi tub called hangiri.
There are some things you need to keep in mind while taking the rice out of the pot:
- Only use a wooden paddle or non-stick paddle to scoop the rice. Don’t use a metal paddle to do that because it can damage the rice or react with the vinegar we’ll add later.
- Don’t try to scrape out the rice from the bottom of the pot. Some of the rice will stick to the bottom, but that’s fine since we won’t use be using these dry and burned pieces for the sushi anyway.
Step 6 – Seasoning the rice
Now spread your rice out and use the paddle to spread the sushi vinegar all over the rice (While the rice is still warm). Working rapidly, turn and mix the mixture in a cutting motion, taking care not squish the grains. Then gently stir the rice to make sure the individual rice grains are all coated by the rice vinegar. That should take a few minutes.
Step 7 – Cooling your sushi rice
Let your sushi rice cool down for a few minutes until it reaches room temperature. You can speed up the cooling process by using either a fan or put it by the window.
Important: Don’t put the sushi rice in the refrigerator because the texture and flavor rapidly deteriorate when it’s chilled. So we recommend making the exact amount of rice you want to eat or use for sushi and finishing it that day. Sushi tastes best when made from freshly cooked, unrefrigerated rice. This is why the good nigiri sushi is eaten right after it’s made, at the sushi counter.
If you must refrigerate, cover the rice while it’s still a bit warm before refrigerating so that it does not dry out. When you need the rice, reheat by gently microwaving or steaming until the texture returns to that of soft cooked rice, then open up to cool down again to room temperature.
- Dip your hands in a mixture of water and rice vinegar (with a ratio 1:1). This helps keep the rice from sticking to your hands.
- With a great rice cooker, rest assured that you will make great sushi rice every single time and it can save you a ton of time. You may not have to wait 15 minutes for soaking the rice, and another 15 minutes to steam the rice. Just follow your rice cooker’s instructions to make sure you will have the best result.