Perfect sushi rice is simple if you have a rice cooker, especially if it is one as awesome as my Zojirushi neuro fuzzy logic rice cooker. If you don't have a rice cooker, never fear
– you can always make your rice on the stove. Making sushi rice is just a matter of adding seasoning to a perfectly cooked batch of short-grain rice. I like to use Tamaki Gold, but there are plenty of good brands out there (e.g., Nishiki, Cal-rose, etc.). The only thing you cannot do, if you want to make onigiri and sushi that don't fall apart, is use any sort of instant, microwave, or converted rice, etc. Uncle Ben is not Japanese.
There are three key things to remember when making sushi rice: (1) rinse the rice; (2) allow the rice to steam in the pot before opening the lid; and (3) cover the rice with a damp towel until you're ready to use it.
Rinse the rice. Rice grains usually are coated with some sort of talc or cereal starch that should be removed before cooking. I measure out the rice into a bowl, fill the bowl with enough water to cover the rice by an inch or so, then swish the grains with my hand until the water is nice and cloudy. You also can do this in the rice pot, but it is not generally recommended by the manufacturer. I then pour off the water and repeat at least once more. (Three rinses is more than enough. Ignore any rice bag instructions that tell you to rinse until the water runs clear.)
Some folks will tell you to drain the rice in a sieve for anywhere from 1/2 hour to an hour. I have never drained my rice, and it still has turned out nicely, so I consider this step optional.
Rice Cooker Method. If you do not have a rice cooker, skip to the Stovetop Method.
You should follow your rice cooker instructions exactly. I understand that my Zojirushi, for example, was designed to perfectly cook 3 cups of sushi rice, and it really does if I measure out the rice using the measuring cup that came with the rice cooker (which is smaller than a standard 8-ounce cup), add water into the rice cooker pot to the indicated level, and select the proper cooking method from the menu (try not to use 'Quick Cook' if it is available). The only trick to remember is that, once the cooking cycle is finished, do not open the lid immediately. Just wait for about 10 minutes for the rice to properly steam. Then open the lid and fluff the rice with the rice paddle.
If you really want to be authentic, you can throw in a piece of kombu into your cooking water (which should be removed once the water starts boiling). This is a little tricky with a rice cooker. I have never used kombu and can't tell the difference between my sushi rice and the rice at my favorite Japanese restaurant. Perhaps it is just my ignorant palate. ;)
Now it's time to Season the Rice. By the way, the rice at this point is perfect for making onigiri or for serving in your bento with various dishes.
Stovetop Method. Place the rice and water in a 1:1 ratio in a heavy pot or Dutch oven. If you are using kombu (optional), add a 2"-long piece for every 2 cups of rice (you should first wipe the kombu lightly with a paper towel and cut little ridges into the side of the leaf to release the flavor). Bring the rice to a boil, then reduce to the lowest heat setting to maintain a simmer (and remove the kombu if you are using it). Once you hit the simmer point, put the lid on the pot and don't take it off until the end. Cook the rice for 15 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat and let it sit undisturbed for another 10 minutes. Remove the lid and fluff the rice with a rice paddle.
Season the Rice. While the rice is cooking, combine 4 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp mirin, 3 tbsp sugar, and 2 tsp salt in a non-reactive saucepan. Heat and stir the mixture until the sugar is dissolved, but do not allow the mixture to boil. Allow the mixture to cool - this makes enough for 2 cups uncooked rice. (If you're in a pinch for time, there are commercially available sushi vinegar mixes sold in bottles.)
Once the rice is finished cooking and steaming, turn it out into a large non-reactive bowl (use a wooden hangiri if you have one - I use a ceramic mixing bowl or a glass Pyrex dish). Sprinkle some of the vinegar mixture evenly over the rice. With cutting motions, use your rice paddle to mix and fold the vinegar into the rice (the cutting motion prevents the rice from getting smashed), occasionally turning the rice over to coat it evenly and allow it to cool at the same rate. If possible, use an electric fan (or a fanning friend/significant other) to cool the rice and remove moisture as you mix the vinegar in - this will give the rice a lovely sheen. Add more of the vinegar mixture as needed. The rice should have a sweetly acidic bite to it.
The sushi rice should be covered with a damp cloth until you are ready to use it. It is best eaten on the same day it is made as refrigeration will make the rice hard.
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