Rice is at the basis of any type of sushi. Even the word sushi refers to the rice. Literally it means ‘sour tasting’, a reminder of the fact that originally fermented rice was used. Nowadays we use vinegared rice instead.
Before you start cooking the rice, make sure you have sushi rice vinegar ready. Use the below recipe to make it yourself. Or see how it’s made in the rice cooking video. It’s really easy. Make as much as you want in one go. It practically lasts forever! Alternatively you can of course buy ready made sushi rice vinegar.
Now that the sushi rice vinegar is ready, let’s prepare the rice. The simplest way to cook sushi rice is in a rice cooker. You can get one quite cheap and the result is almost guaranteed good. However, rice cookers are not standard equipment in most kitchens. The classic way of cooking sushi rice is in a pot or pan. If you do want to use a rice cooker, be aware that you need to do most of the below steps in the same way. Only Step 2 is different. Simply follow Step 2b instead of Step 2a if you’re using a rice cooker.
Start by measuring the amount of rice. Take about 80 grams of uncooked sushi rice per sushi roll. I recommend to cook a bit more than you think you need. This is to prevent having to cook more in a hurry, since it takes quite a long time to prepare the sushi rice.
Put the rice in a sieve and wash it gently under the kitchen tap with cold water. The purpose of the rice washing is to get rid of excess starch. Place your hand between the running water and the rice.This prevents the rice grains from breaking, which would otherwise release more starch.
After rinsing the rice a couple of times, put the rice in a large bowl and fill it with cold water. Again make sure the water doesn’t hit the rice grains directly. Continue washing the rice by gently rubbing it with your hands, or stirring it in circles with your fingers.
Keep washing the rice until the water is nearly clear. This should take 7 or 8 washes. Keep in mind that the water never becomes completely clear. Therefore more washes usually aren’t necessary.
Don’t rush the rice washing. It’s very important to rid the grains of starch, otherwise you’re left with what the Japanese call ‘smelly rice’, which is no good for making great sushi. Properly washing the rice yields a clean, fresh taste.
Put the rice in a sieve (with holes small enough to prevent rice passing through), give it one more rinse and let the water drain out. Then put the rice in a cooking pot or pan. Add 120% cold water to the rice. So for 100 grams of uncooked rice you add 120 ml of water. Let the rice rest for 30 minutes to let it absorb water.
Now place the lid on the pot or pan and put it on the stove at medium heat for 9 minutes. Leave the lid on and increase the heat to maximum for 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and let it rest for 15 minutes, still with the lid on. Now the rice is ready.
Note: If the rice seems too mushy or too dry after cooking, next time adjust the amount of water to correct this issue. Use slightly less water if it’s too mushy. Add a bit more water if it’s too dry. Don’t try to cook the rice again to make it less mushy or drier, because that will ruin the rice.
Step 2b: cooking in a rice cooker
Put the rice in a sieve (with holes small enough to prevent rice passing through), give it one more rinse and let the water drain out. Then put the rice in the rice cooker. Add 150% water to the rice. So for 100 grams of rice you add 150 ml of water.
Close the rice cooker and turn it on. Once the rice cooker stops cooking, leave the rice in the cooker with the lid closed for 10 minutes. Keep in mind: never remove the lid during the cooking. This will only mess up the cooking process.
Note: If the rice seems too mushy or too dry after cooking, next time adjust the amount of water to correct this issue. Use slightly less water if its too mushy. Add a bit more water if it’s too dry. Don’t try to cook the rice again to make it less mushy or drier, because that will ruin the rice.
Step 3: seasoning the rice
Traditionally a large wooden bowl known as a ‘Hangiri’ or ‘Oke’ is used. The wood of the Hangiri helps absorb any excess rice vinegar. If you don’t have a Hangiri, you can simply use a plastic bowl. Just make sure it’s large, preferably with a flat bottom.
Don’t try to scrape out the rice from the bottom. That rice tends to be crispy or even burned, which is definitely not good for sushi. If it’s stuck to the bottom, don’t use it. Only the cooked soft rice will do for great sushi.
Now add sushi rice vinegar. This will give the rice that special lightly sour taste. Add 20% of the volume of the uncooked sushi rice. To keep things simple, count 1 gram as 1 ml. For example: if you start with 500 g uncooked rice, count it as 500 ml. Add 20% of 500 ml = 100 ml sushi rice vinegar.
For best results add the sushi rice vinegar when the rice is still warm. But don’t simply pour it over. Use the paddle to spread the vinegar over the rice. Then gently stir the rice like in the video. This makes sure the individual rice grains are all coated by the sushi rice vinegar.
Step 4: cooling the rice
Now let the seasoned rice cool to body temperature. Yes, that’s right: body temperature (between 35-40 ºC / 95-104 ºF). Serving it cooler has a negative effect on the proper texture and flavor. Body temperature is also the best temperature to form the rice into a shape while keeping the softness of the rice.
You can speed up the cooling process by using either a hand fan, an electric fan or any improvised fan. While cooling gently turn the rice over, to cool it down uniformly.
Now scoop the rice to one side of the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Press the cloth lightly against the rice and let it set for 5 to 10 minutes. This helps make the rice stick better to itself, which makes it easier later to mold the rice. It also prevents the top layer from drying out. If you store the rice like this, you can make great sushi rolls with it up to 3 to 4 hours after cooking. Keep it stored in a warm place (for example an oven on low temperature) to keep the rice on body temperature as much as possible.
Tip for handling the rice
Mix 1 part water with 1 part rice vinegar. Dip your hands in it and clap your hands to get rid of most of the moisture. This creates a thin film of the liquid on your hands. As a result the rice doesn’t stick to your hands, making it much easier to handle the rice with your hands.