Tips to Maximize the Taste of Japanese Rice
From milling style and storage techniques to cooking methods and equipment, there are many factors that can drastically affect the quality of your rice. Within the world of Japanese rice, there are several subtleties that can take a basic rice experience to a 5-star culinary adventure.
What factors affect the taste and quality of Japanese rice?
You’ve probably never thought about the difference between the rice you buy at the store and the one you enjoy in a Japanese restaurant. However, there are several factors that can affect its taste. These include the freshness of the rice, storage methods, and moisture content during transportation.
Storage & Transporation
For example, most of the rice we get on the east coast is milled in California and shipped to New York inside dry containers. Often, the inside of these containers reaches up to 120 degrees F, resulting in dryness and oxidation that deteriorates the flavor of the rice very quickly. In contrast, rice that is freshly milled and stored in moisture-controlled containers retains a much richer flavor profile.
How to select the right rice
Rice variety is another major factor determining the taste of your rice. The best way to select the right rice variety for you is to understand the features of the most common Japanese varieties and what dishes they are best served with.
Different Rice Varieties
The term “Japanese rice” often evokes the quintessential stick, glutinous, rice, also known as Koshihikari rice, that is commonly served at your favorite restaurant or Izakaya. You’d be surprised to find out that there are actually at least 7 common Japanese rice varieties and at least 5 different milling methods used for different culinary uses and preferences.
At the Rice Factory, we have 5 types of rice based on their degree of milling:
- White rice - 100% milled
- 70% milled
- 50% milled
- 10% milled
- Brown rice - 0% milled
White rice, such as Koshihikari, is produced by removing the entire bran, resulting in a sweetness that compliments a wide variety of dishes. On the other hand, brown rice has 100% of the bran intact and provides a nutrient-dense alternative for anyone who is in need of extra fiber in their diet. Brown rice also takes longer to cook and chew than white rice, so try this one when you’re not in a rush!
The 10% milled variety undergoes only gentle milling, which removes the outer layer of bran and germ, making it easier to digest than brown rice, but with almost all of the same nutrients.
Half-polished rice, also known as 50% milled rice, is the happy middle rice halfway between white and brown rice. While it retains the sweetness of white rice, you can still benefit from an abundance of nutrients from the germ that white rice would not offer.
Finally, 70% rice is closer to white rice, yet still retains about 30% of the germ, providing some additional dietary value, while offering the same easy cooking method as white rice.
How to cook delicious Japanese rice
Now that you have all your different rice options, let’s talk about cooking! Following this simple, yet methodical approach, perfected throughout Japanese rice culture for centuries, you are guaranteed to attain that optimal flavor and texture:
The first thing you want to do is to measure your rice. This is important because you want to be able to cook it with the correct water proportions in order to get that ideal texture and hydration. Start with 1 cup, leveled off, and poured into a bowl.
Next, fill your bowl with water and do a quick rinse to remove the rice bran and dust, or other debris. This should be done fairly quickly—consider it a “pre-wash”.
Now, you’re going to wash the rice more thoroughly, gently moving it around with your hand a few times, and then straining it with a fine mesh sieve. Repeat this until the water runs clear.
Soak your washed rice for 30 minutes to give it the chance to absorb some water prior to cooking.
While a rice cooker is one of the best ways to cook tasty Japanese rice, good old-fashioned pots do the trick as well! Check out this article for more information on the cooking steps.
Resist the urge to open the lid! Steaming ensures that your rice moisture is even throughout, providing the perfect texture. Steaming time will depend on your rice variety (check your booklet for more info!).
Proper stirring or fluffing is another mundane technique that can easily elevate the quality of your Japanese rice. Once you’ve mastered this, you’re ready to enjoy a delicious bowl of perfectly cooked rice!
Always Check Our Booklet
We’ve provided you with a great rice cooking toolkit, however, it is always best to check the booklet that comes with your rice, as each rice variety and milling style has personalized tips and cooking methods for achieving optimal flavor.
Kishu Bincho (Charcoal) Infused Rice
That’s right—charcoal, or binchotan, is not only an effective water filter but also a wonderful way to enhance the flavor of your Japanese rice. To start, you can start by washing and pre-boiling the charcoal sticks to remove the ash from the surface, and then drying it in the sun. The next time you cook your rice, place a few pieces and follow the regular cooking directions for the rice variety on hand.
Don’t worry—it won’t affect the taste. It will however result in a more light and airy texture and flavor. Many people prefer cooking their rice with a binchotan for this reason!
Recommended tools to use for cooking Japanese rice
In Japan, there are various tools that can be used to enhance the quality of your rice. With some that have survived centuries and others that are more modern, they are all guaranteed to result in a fun and delicious rice experience!
In an increasingly busy and modern world, rice cookers are a convenient solution that makes delicious and perfect rice available to anyone with the press of a button. Most rice cookers today – even the cheapest ones – are able to cook any rice variety to perfection. Obviously, the higher-end models with more advanced functions will produce a better result and not require as much tinkering.
One of the best things about a rice cooker is the “keep warm” feature that keeps your rice fresh all throughout dinner, or for any late guests. If you’re a rice lover who is constantly cooking up a pot of rice, we definitely recommend getting one of these! You’ll thank us.
Donabe (Clay/Ceramic Pot)
This gorgeous Japanese earthenware has been used to cook rice as far back as the 8th century. It can be used to serve a variety of dishes, such as stews, soups, and of course, rice. Due to its incredible ability to lock in moisture, the donabe is an ideal tool for cooking rice or any other dish that needs to be cooked for long periods of time. This process also ensures incredible texture and flavor retention.
Additionally, the clay material that Donabe are made from infuses a unique earthy flavor into any dish. If you can find a Donabe clay pot with a double lid or a glass lid, these are the ideal styles for cooking rice!
Lidded Pot (Staub pot)
If you don’t have space for keeping lots of fancy rice equipment in your kitchen, have no fear! A good old-lidded pot will do just fine. The only difference is that you will have to keep a closer eye on your rice and make sure to turn off the heat at the right time to avoid overcooking or burning.
One of the best multi-use pots that are ideal for rice cooking is Staub pots. Made from a heavy-set ceramic, these pots ensure that your rice is evenly cooked while infusing it with a subtle flavor that only ceramic pots can. The heavy lid also ensures that no steam gets out until it's time to stir!
A shamoji, also known as a rice paddle, is like a big spoon, used to stir and scoop rice. The shape is ideal for stirring, loosening, and serving rice. Traditionally, shamoji are made of wood, but these days, it is more common to find plastic and silicone ones, which work just as well, and are easier to wash, too.
The embossed surface of plastic shamoji also helps prevent the rice from sticking to it. Anyone keen on having an authentic Japanese rice experience needs a shamoji in their life!
Create Your Own Japanese Rice Experience!
Now that you have a good idea of the subtleties and details that work to create a memorable Japanese rice moment, you can go out and make your own. From freshly milled rice to proper cooking techniques and equipment, the Rice Factory New York provides you with everything you need to uncover the depth of flavor in any style of Japanese rice. Enjoy!