The Trick to Making White Rice Just Right

Your Guide to Cooking Japanese Food – The Trick to Making White Rice Just Right

Have you ever been to a Japanese restaurant and found the white rice flavorless? Gohan, or cooked white rice, is the basis of Japanese cuisine, and it can be tricky getting it to cook just right. We’ll tell you how. But first a little background.

In Japanese cuisine, the fish, meat, and vegetables are known as okazu. Unlike Western cuisine, where the food comes in courses, Japanese cuisine is served all at once. This is because the many different flavors of the okazu play off the umami of the gohan, so it’s better to enjoy everything together with the gohan playing the central role.

Well-cooked gohan does not have a strong taste, but it is surprisingly flavorful. If the rice you eat at a Japanese restaurant is flavorless, it could be because of the quality of the rice. Or it could be that the rice wasn’t prepared properly. Let’s show you how to cook your rice right.

Here’s what you will need for about three servings of rice:

White rice     700g (1.5 lbs)

Water           840ml (3.5 cups)

Heavy pan with lid (about 1-1.5l / 1-1.5qt size)

What sort of rice should you buy? The high-quality Japanese brands such as Koshihikari or Akitakomachi are the best, and the newer the crop, the better. White rice that has been harvested more than a year ago has lower water retention and doesn’t taste as good.

The water you use is important too. Soft water is ideal. Hard water with lots of minerals is not suited to cooking rice. Mineral water from Japan is the best, but if that is hard to find, the Seattle region is blessed with some of the softest water in the U.S.

Once you have the right water, rice, and pan, here’s the process:

1. Wash the rice

When making gohan, wash away the outer layer of the rice grain, known as bran. It comes off easily. Rinse the rice with plenty of water and drain quickly. Then wash the rice thoroughly with your hands, rubbing the water and rice together and draining three or four times. If you wash the rice slowly, the bran gives off a distinct odor.

2. Drain

Drain the rice in a colander. This helps remove the remaining bran. Make sure to complete the draining process within a minute or two. If you take longer, the grains develop cracks.

3. Let the rice absorb water

i. Return the drained rice back into a bowl and add water.
ii. Use about 1.2x more water than rice.
iii. For 700g (1.5lbs.) of rice, use 840ml (3.5 cups) of water.
iv. Let the rice soak in the water for 25 minutes in summer or 30 to 40 minutes in winter.
v. Don’t leave the rice in the water too long. Too much water absorption can ruin the texture and flavor.
vi. Use cold (around 6° or 43° F) water.
vii. You can have the rice in the fridge while it is soaking.

4. Cook the rice

i. Place the rice and water in the heavy pan and cover with a lid.
ii. Cook over medium heat.
iii. Bring the water to a boil until you see big, white bubbles.
iv. Make sure the lid stays on tight and doesn’t let the water boil over. This increases the umami of the rice.
v. Remove the lid and turn down the heat to medium low,
vi. Check by smell to be sure the rice is not burning.
vii. Eventually, you will see several small holes on the surface. This indicates that the rice is fully cooked.

5. Steam the rice

i. When those small holes appear, turn off the heat and cover with the lid to steam the rice for 10-15 minutes.
ii. This steaming process is very important for getting the taste just right. Be patient.

6. Finish

i. After the rice is steamed, fluff up the cooked rice, scraping the bottom of the pan with a large spoon.
ii. To keep the rice from getting mushy, mix section by section well. This will keep the rice from becoming too moist. Fluff the rice entirely.
iii. Enjoy your tasty gohan.

We recommend eating the cooked rice while it is hot. Notice the subtle flavor. Once you eat properly cooked rice, it’s hard to go back to the cold, flavorless stuff. Add a little bit of salt if you like. It helps bring out the sweetness in the rice.

Well-cooked rice goes with any side dish. You can eat Japanese okazu, or try it with bacon and eggs or even steak. And a splash of soy sauce on your side dish helps make the meal all that more delicious. Now it’s time to say, Itadakimasu!

Author profile

Yasushi Kurita was born in Tokyo. He has spent the last 30 years as a writer for print publications and TV. When he was in college, he spent two years in New York. His favorite band is the Atlanta Rhythm Section, making him one of about 15 Japanese people who actually like that band.