Japanese rice refers to a number of short-grain cultivars of Japonica rice which are grown in Japan. The two main categories of Japanese rice are ordinary rice (uruchimai) and glutinous rice (mochigome).
Ordinary Japanese rice, or uruchimai (粳米), is the type most commonly grown, and is the staple foodstuff of the Japanese diet. It consists of short translucent grains. When cooked it has a somewhat sticky texture such that it can easily be picked up and eaten with chopsticks. Outside of Japan it is sometimes labeled as sushi rice, as this is one of its common uses. It is also used to produce sake.
Glutinous rice, known in Japan as mochigome (もち米), is used for making mochi (餅) and special dishes such as sekihan. It is a short-grain rice, and can be distinguished from uruchimai by its particularly short, round and opaque grains, its greater stickiness when cooked, and by its markedly firmer and chewier texture when consumed.
Ordinary rice, or uruchimai, is eaten in several ways in Japan, most commonly as plain rice “gohan” (ご飯, lit. “cooked rice” or “meal of any sort”) consumed as part of a typical washoku meal, with the accompaniment of several okazu dishes (おかず), tsukemono (various pickles), and miso soup. In bento boxes it is often served with a topping of furikake (ふりかけ), a single umeboshi, or a sheet of nori (海苔). It is used in sushi (寿司) and onigiri.
- A very simple breakfast dish, tamago kake gohan, consists simply of plain rice mixed with a raw egg, and perhaps soy sauce. It is also common to eat plain rice with the accompaniment of natto, also popular for breakfast, although considered by some an acquired taste. Plain rice is used in yōshoku dishes such as curry rice, omurice, and doria. Leftover plain rice is often reused as ochazuke (茶漬け) (rice with green tea) or chāhan (チャーハン) (fried rice).
- Takikomi gohan is made with ordinary rice which is cooked together with vegetables, meat, or fish seasoned with dashi and soy sauce.
- Uruchimai is also used to make alcoholic drinks like sake (日本酒), and sometimes shochu, as an adjunct in Japanese beer, and to make rice vinegar.
- Glutinous rice, known in Japan as mochigome, is used for making mochi (餅), the festive red bean and rice dish sekihan, as well as traditional snacks such as senbei (煎餅), arare (あられ), and agemochi (揚げ餅).
Most Japanese use suihanki (rice cookers) to which measured amounts of washed rice and water are added. The rice is first washed to release excess starch. Then, before cooking it is usually soaked in water for a time between half an hour in summer, and two hours in winter. Soaking times depend on the quality and freshness of the rice, as well as on the season. The rice is then boiled using a ratio of about five parts of water to four parts of rice – though with fresher rice, the ratio can go down to 1-to-1. After this, it is steamed until the centre of the rice becomes soft. Salt is not added to the rice.
- Traditionally, rice was eaten at every meal in Japan; most modern rice cookers can be set ahead by a timer, so that rice will be ready for the morning meal. The rice cooker can also keep rice moist and warm. Rice kept warm like this remains edible for several hours, so that rice need be made only once per day.
- Prepared rice is usually served from the rice cooker into a chawan, or rice bowl.
- After cooking, rice may also be held in a covered wooden box called an ohitsu.
- 2 cups uncooked sushi rice (japonica rice)
- 2¼ cups water (or if using a rice cooker, add water up to the specified level marked in the inner bowl)
- Measure out the rice carefully into your pot and rinse vigorously under running water. Swish the rice around with your hands - the water will turn a milky white colour.
- Drain the cloudy water away and add fresh water, and swish the rice around again. Repeat this step 2 - 3 times.
- Drain, leaving just a little water, and rub the grains together several times with the palms of your hands gently as if you were polishing them.
- Add plenty of fresh water and rinse out the rice. Drain and rinse until the water is almost clear.
- Drain the rice in a fine mesh sieve and leave for a little while, preferably at least 30 minutes.
- Put rice in a rice cooker or pot. Add the water to the rice. At this point you should let the rice soak for a while. The length of time depends on the quality and freshness of the rice. The older the rice, the longer it needs to soak. Soaking for at least 30 minutes to an hour is generally recommended, but don't soak for more than 8 hours or so or the rice will get a bit watery and lose any flavour. Brown rice however does need to be soaked before cooking.
- If you are using a rice cooker, just switch on.
- If you are using a pot, bring to a boil over medium heat then put on a tight fitting lid. Cook on high for 1 minute, then reduce the heat to medium, and cook for another 4-5 minutes until you can see the surface of the rice, then reduce to low heat for about 10 minutes or until the water is completely absorbed. (Don't open the lid to peek!) Turn up to high heat for a few seconds to get rid of any excess moisture if necessary.
- If you are using a pot, remove it from the heat and drape a cloth over the pan for about 10-15 minutes to let it fully absorb the moisture and rest. This final step really makes a difference if you want grains that stick together but are not mushy or watery. A good rice cooker includes this resting time in the cooking cycle, and also allows for condensation to evaporate, so you don't need the cloth draping step.