Japanese Sushi Rice
The art of making perfect sushi rice always seemed so illusive, until I was sitting at the sushi bar in one of my favorite sushi restaurants in NYC (Izakaya NoMad) a couple of years ago. I sat quietly sipping my Sake, decompressing after a long work day, watching the amazing chefs in the open, tiny, authentically Japanese kitchen. I choked when I saw rice come out of a rice cooker! I then watched as the rice chef (yes there is a chef just for rice) gently fold the rice into a large ceramic bowl using a large bamboo rice paddle and gently mix in a secret sauce that had been warming on the stove. I quickly caught the eye of the restaurant manager, who also serves as the host (and recognized me since I had been there so many times...) to inquire. He offered to share his uncle's (the rice chef!) secret with me- which included notes and drawings he made for me on a cocktail napkin. I asked him to go take a photo of the rice cooker for me, which he did, and I promptly order the same one (though smaller) on Amazon! Since then, I have done many iterations of this perfect sushi rice at home and will share below my step-by-step recipe, which is a riff on my learnings from that momentous evening.
Buying the Rice
The first step in making the perfect rice is buying and prepping the right rice. Authentic sushi rice is a short grain white rice, very similar to arborio actually. Sushi rice is grown most often in Japan or here in the US, and should be non-GMO if possible. Sushi rice is readily available in most supermarkets in packages or in bulk bins, and is worth the slightly larger cost than purchasing long grain rice such as jasmine.
Soak and Rinse the Rice
This was one of the earth shattering secrets I learned, because I truly am usually to much in a rush to get the rice on that I skip this step. Not anymore! Place your sushi rice in a bowl and cover with a generous amount of cold water. Allow to soak for a few minutes, then drain. Keep repeating this process until the water runs clear; not cloudy. Once that starch is washed off of the rice, it allows it to fluff, yet stay firm enough to keep its shape when cooked.
Use Your Rice Cooker
I love my Zojirushi Rice Cooker ($179 at Williams Sonoma or Amazon); I have the basic model, and it is really amazing. Perfect rice, brown rice, quinoa, etc every single time! Just follow the instructions inside the cooker for how much water to add based on how many cups of rice you are using, it is a simple 1 to 1 ratio- 1 cup rice = 1 cup water. Once the rice is done (the cooker sings a cute little song), open it and take it out immediately so that it doesn't warm- which only means continues to cook until it is overcooked...
Prepare Your Sushi Vinegar
While your rice is in the cooker, prepare your vinegar- which is so much better that just pouring 2 tablespoons of seasoned rice vinegar over! It is super simple and very similar to creating a dashi. In a small pot over medium-high heat, combine 1 cup of unseasoned rice vinegar, one 2-inch square of kombu (gently wipe with damp cloth), ½ cup of granulated sugar, and ¼ cup of kosher salt. Stir just until sugar has dissolved and remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Use approximately ½ a cup of this sushi vinegar for 3 cups of sushi rice. Store the remainder (including kombu) in the fridge in an airtight container for up to several months. Discard kombu before use.
This sauce is the differentiator between good sushi rice and great sushi rice. While your rice is still warm, scoop into a bowl using a rice paddle (which will not damage the texture of your rice) and gently pour your sushi rice over, folding it in so that it is evenly distributed, but the grains of rice are not smashed. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to cool to room temperature if making hand rolls, maki rolls