Monday, February 20, 2006

Technique of the Week: How to make sushi rice

Since the "How to section an orange" post got such a warm reception, I thought I'll start a Technique of the Week column :) Based on the picture, you might think that I will tell you how to make sushi. Well, not yet. That's a technique that I still need to work on myself. But I can tell you how to make great sushi rice since it's something that I finally mastered.

Although I am an avid fish cook, sushi is one of those dishes I preferred to leave to professionals. At least that was the case until this weekend. Memories of make-your-own-sushi parties, that were so popular with my college friends, still make me shudder. If you ever ate one of those dilapidated cucumber rolls made with mushy rice while pretending to have a good time, you know what I mean. What made me consider making my own sushi after all those years of bad memories was watching Japanese cooks select pieces of fish to serve raw at the New Deal Fish Market. I've been watching them with curiosity for months, and the nosy person that I am, I could never resist asking them questions about what fish to use and how to prepare it.

It wasn't the fear of eating raw fish that was stopping me. Parasites in some of the salt water species are so rare, that it is safe to eat these fish raw as long as they are as fresh as New Deal sells them. What I was worried about was not knowing how to properly cut the fish, make the rice, and put them together. But I guess there is the first time for everything, and I decided to give it a shot.

Believe it or not, rice scared me more than the fish. I don't own a rice cooker and making a small quantity of rice in a pot always leaves me with a burnt bottom. My plan was to use Cook's Illustrated baking method. It simulates a rice cooker by surrounding the rice vessel with even indirect heat and works wonders on brown rice. My hope was that it would work for sushi rice too.

While looking through at least 5 recipes for sushi rice on-line and in my cookbooks, I found out why the rice we made for sushi in college was so awful. First of all, we skipped the rinsing step. You have to rinse rice thoroughly before cooking it to get rid of extra starch. Second, we didn't let it rest after cooking. Third, we used seasoning from a package instead of making our own. And fourth, we didn't cover it with a damp towel to prevent it from drying out after it was done.

By following Cook's Illustrated baking method and Ming Tsai's recipe for seasoning I got really fantastic rice -- glossy, toothsome, and just barely sweet. Finally, I had rice that was worthy of New Deal's fish.

It made all the difference! I decided to keep it simple and served most of the fish as sashimi (just sliced) or nigiri (sliced over a ball of rice). The most complicated thing that I attempted was spicy tuna rolls with crispy tempura bits. The verdict by Jason, the sushi snob, was that sushi is definitely worth making at home!

How to make sushi rice

Makes enough rice for 8 rolls

2 cups short-grain Japanese sushi rice
2 cups water
1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
2 Tbsp mirin (Japanese sweet sake)
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp salt

Rice cooker method

  1. Place rice in a fine sieve and place the sieve in a bowl of water. Rinse thoroughly changing the water in the bowl at least 3 times until the water runs completely clean when you remove the sieve from the bowl. Drain well.
  2. Place rice and water into the rice cooker, turn it on, and wait for rice to cook. Proceed to the Finishing Rice section.

Oven method

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. Place rice in a fine sieve and place the sieve in a bowl of water. Rinse thoroughly changing the water in the bowl at least 3 times until the water runs completely clean when you remove the sieve from the bowl. Drain well and put into an 8x8 Pyrex dish.
  3. Bring 2 cups water to a boil.
  4. Pour boiling water over rice and cover the Pyrex dish tightly with foil. Place in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Proceed to the Finishing Rice section.

Finishing rice

  1. Allow rice to rest covered for 20 minutes.
  2. Combine the vinegar, mirin, sugar, and salt in a small non-reactive saucepan and set over medium heat until the mixture is hot and sugar dissolves. Do not allow it to boil.
  3. Invert rice into a large wooden bowl. If you don't have one, you can use a glass or stainless steel one, but wood works best.
  4. Fold half of the vinegar mixture into rice with a rubber spatula or a wooden spoon. Use a cutting and folding motion when stirring rice to avoid squashing the rice grains and releasing their starch. Taste the rice. It should have a pleasantly sweet-acidic edge. If necessary, fold in more vinegar mixture.
  5. Wet a dish towel (or 2 layers of paper towel) and cover the rice. Let it rest for 20 minutes to develop flavor. Keep rice covered while shaping your rolls.


Nina said...

Wow -- it looks beautiful! I have a fear of rice myself because I never know if it will be burnt on the bottom -- people ask if I just try to wing it when it goes wrong... but no, the instructions just don't work for me. So, I have to try the baking method...

Mark Bittman posted a few recipes for intentionally bottom-burned rice in the NYTimes that I was tempted to make... but that's just too familiar for me. :)

Anonymous said...

Another easy method would be: put rice, water and salt in a pot with a tightly fitting lid. Turn on the heat, bring to a good boil-- don't lift the lid and don't stir! -- then take the pot away from the heat and place it somewhere else (on a moderately warm surface, not too cold, -- you could even wrap the pot into a towel and put it in between some blankets, but something like a wooden board is quite ok too) Lift the lid about 20 minutes later -- until then the rice as soaked up all the liquid :-)

Toyoshima Family Sushi said...


Here's a tip from a sushi chef in Phoenix:

To improve the texture of the rice, after rinsing, let the rice drain 30 minutes in the refrigerator before cooking.

Mike and Steven Toyoshima
Toyoshima Family Sushi

Helen said...

Hi Mike and Steven,

Thank you so much for the tip on draining sushi rice! I am still really new to Japanese cooking, so I'd love to hear any advice you have to offer :)


Anonymous said...

What can you do with the other half of the leftover vinegar mixture that was prepared?

Helen said...

Hi chherie,

I am sure you can use it as a dressing for an Asian Cole Slaw or something like that. But it's so cheap that I just throw it away.


OsoWakki said...

Very nice picture!
I like that. You seem like some one who knows her way around sushi, can I get your feedback on my inside out sushi guide? It's pretty new and I want some professional opinion on it:

Let me know what you think of it!

Lisa Greenstein said...

Why don't you just prepare half as much seasoning sauce rather than throwing half of it away? Are you secretly employed by the rice vinegar lobby? :)

Helen said...

Hi Netlag,

You don't through the vinegar away. You dip your hands into it to shape nigiri. Besides, you never know exactly how much seasoning mixture your rice will need.


Anonymous said...

it realy take that long???

Anonymous said...

you are a genius!!!! I made sushi for the first time last night. results = FANTASTIC! main reason for giving you a big time KUDOS, is I followed your recipe for rice in the oven. result = phenomenal! this was so easy!!! seeing as how I am a rice bottom burner, cooking rice is a terrifying experience for me... the rice in the oven was fantastic! and it was ready for the vinegar prep in the same pyrex dish. I will never cook rice on the stove top again!! thanks!! :)

Anonymous said...

wow. I made rice using the oven method the first time the other day,and it is somuch easier.i always burned the rice on the stovetop, and it is so much less messy when you can make the rice and add the vinegar in the same dish.

Anonymous said...

I used this recipe for the first time yesterday and it came out excellent. My first time making sushi was pretty intimidating and although I could use some more work on my rolling technique, the rice was spot on! Thank you!

Mikhail Koryak said...

this is a wonderful post. very nicely put together. rice came out great!


JC Guerra said...

I leave the leftover rice wine, rice vinager sugar mixture in the refrigerator it holds for monts


I've simplified this for me. First, I use the SUSHI RICE that Trader Joe's sells.

I use my rice cooker that works in the micro-wave (it cost me $7.99).

I put in the sake/sugar/salt/water - all goes in with the rice; measured out as directed for cups of rice and liquid ratios.

I cook as directed. It's terrific when it comes out; then I use a clean linen dish towel that is damp; pour the rice onto the towel - roll the towel up so it covers the rice. I then put it into a large zip-bag, and put into the refrigerator.

It gets better as it chills in the refrigerator.

If we don't want sushi, I simply use the same recipe to make a nice rice base for chicken and vegetables with pineapple; nothing is wasted that's for certain.

Doing it this way skips a lot of time and processes.

Anonymous said...

Wow, i've never tried the oven method. That sounds quite interesting. Leftover sushi rice marinade is great for cucumber salad. Just toss thinly sliced cucumbers with it and add a touch of sesame oil. So simple, but so good.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to this post, I have used the oven method time and again and it always comes out flawless, although I put the rice in the oven for 40min (perhaps the given time was for a convection fan oven?).

Helen said...

Nope, my oven is a regular oven (not convection). I got this timing from Cook's illustrated so I can assure you it's accurate. White rice (including sushi rice) takes 20 minutes. Brown rice takes much longer -- 50-60 minutes.


Anonymous said...


You may also go to this link for another sushi rice recipe from a Japanese restaurant owner.

Anonymous said...

my daughter loves sushi for school lunch but I'd rather cook the rice the night before so all i have to do is roll it up in the morning. What would be the best way to do this? Cook the rice, then refrigerate without the vinegar mixture, then reheat in the microwave in the morning, and then add the vinegar mixture to it?

Helen said...

don't refrigerate sushi rice. make it the night before, mix with vinegar solution, cover with a very damp towel and have it sit at room temperature till morning.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that i'll give it a try :)

Anonymous said...

This was just what I was looking for! I have made sushi rice a few times in the past and it was way overpowered with something! Instead of making what was listed for the rice seasoning, I used half of what the rice seasoning ingredients called for instead of throwing the other half away. Anyway, thank you so much!

TIFFANY said...

Hi Helen, I love your blog (just subscribed to it yesterday :))! Anyway, I just wanted to let you know that I tried out your sushi rice recipe yesterday - perfect! Thanks for posting!

Unknown said...

Hi Helen,

I took your sushi class with my fiance in July. We just made sushi for the first time tonight.... we did pretty good for the first time! Question: How do we store the leftover rice and what can we do with it. Also, how long can we store it before it needs to be thrown out?

Helen said...

Hi Gillian,

So glad your sushi came out well! Keep practicing. You'll be amazed what you'll be able to do on your 5th try :) About sushi rice. You can keep it at room temperature for hours, but once you refrigerate it, it's useless. Unfortunately, I've never found anything good to make with leftover rice. It's not like other rice that you can turn into rice pudding, rice cakes, etc. It's too acidic to be served warmed up and it's hard to make a cold leftover dish out of it. With practice, you'll be able to judge how much rice to make. I know that many people feel awful about throwing away food, but keep in mind that it's very unlikely that you are tossing more than 50 cents worth of ingredients. When it comes to fish it's another story and I don't think I've ever tossed even the smallest piece.


*A said...

We made our own Sushi not so long ago, and it was great! The only problem I have is that my rice doesn't seem sticky enough... I can't make balls for salmon roses (the rice sticks to my hands), and the rice sort of falls off the sandwiches... I follow the recipe on the rice package to the tee... how do I get my rice to be sticky enough? Great blog, by the way :)

Helen said...

Instead of the recipe on the packet, try this one. Make a solution of half vinegar mixture (left over from seasoning rice) / half water and get your hands wet in that before shaping balls for nigiri. Always keep your hands wet when handling sushi rice.

Laura Nelson said...

AWESOME recipe, thank you!! I used all of the mixture instead of half because I wanted a more flavorful rice for a chirashi bowl. it was wonderful, thanks!!

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