Perfect Japanese Rice in a Rice-cooker

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Introduction: Perfect Japanese Rice in a Rice-cooker

About: a long time member of Instructables, I only recently began posting my own. Feel free to check them out, rate, comment, question, and copy!

Rice is the second most cultivated plant on earth, after corn, and is by FAR the dominant source of carbohydrates in Asia, where I currently live.  But growing up in America, I learned how to make rice in a pot, on the stove.  Throw in some butter, a pinch a salt and pepper, and you've got yourself a delicious side dish to those meat n' potatoes. Or so I thought.

Well, not so in Japan!  My coworkers were amazed (appalled really) that I didn't know how to use a rice cooker.  And it took 5 months of terrible, gooey rice before a nice old lady finally showed me the secret of making rice the Japanese way.  It turns out that like me, many Westerners have no idea how to make rice properly in a rice cooker.  (Conversely however, most Japanese have no idea how to make rice on the stove-top, so at least I have that :-)  Several well done Instructables already exist on how to make pizza and bread and hamburgers in a rice cooker, and even alcohol, but none (that I could find) on how to make plain 'ol rice.  This instructable hopes to remedy that. 

This is delicious, fluffy white rice that the Japanese use as a base for almost every meal.  (Though it is not sushi rice, which uses other ingredients.)

So without further ado, let's get started.

Step 1: Ingredients (ie. Rice) and Other Stuff

Pretty basic stuff here.  Basically, you'll need:

Hardware -
a rice cooker
a measuring cup

Software -
short grain white rice
water

Pictures 1, 2 & 3 show the rice cooker I'm using.  It's Japanese, which will become important in later steps, but basically it is a metal bowl that fits inside of a squat bread-maker-looking device, with a few buttons on the front. 

Picture 4 shows a close up of the rice I'm using.  This is a short grain white rice, typical of Japan.  It is more starchy than its long and medium grain cousins, and that translates into a stickier rice, good for chopsticks (and risotto, but that might be another 'ible).  It's a very common rice in Asia, but can be purchased in most grocery stores everywhere.

EDIT:  It has been asked what brand or variety of rice I'm using in particular, which is a good question.  I buy Koshihikari rice (Wikipedia), as I believe most people in Japan do as well.  I am not sure if this exact variety is available in every country, but undoubtedly some form of short grain rice will be.

Step 2: Polishing - the Most Important Step

The first and most crucial step to preparing rice the Japanese way is something you probably associate more with fine silver than with food products - polishing.  Polishing was key to rice cooking long before the days of rice cookers, and still is today.  This step, or lack of it rather, was the primary cause of my gooey, horrible rice from earlier.

1)  To polish your rice grains, first measure the rice and pour it into the metal bowl of the rice cooker.  Here I am using one cup.  [Pics. 1 & 2]
2)  Next pour water into the bowl until the rice is well covered, about an inch under the surface.  [Pic. 3] The Japanese use cold water for this, but I'm not sure if that's crucial.  (I had frostbite as a kid, so I usually use lukewarm water to save my hands some pain.)
3)  The water will now be a milky white.  This is from starch (and sometimes a Talc powder additive) washing off the grains.  Using your hands, the next step is to grab a fistful of rice and forcibly work it through your fingers, like you are trying to rub all the grains together.  This action rubs even more starch off the rice, and 'polishes' the grains.  [Pics. 4 & 5, and the video below]

4)  Rinse and repeat!  After maybe 30 seconds of vigorous polishing, carefully pour out the milky water and refill the bowl with new water.  Repeat the polishing step another 4 or 5 times, changing the water in between each, until at last the water is pretty much clear.  Then dump out that water too.  [Pic. 6 and the video below]

Step 3: Water - the Other Most Important Step

Now we are ready for water.  Most (probably all) rice cookers come with internal gradation lines to show you how much water you need. 

For one cup of rice, fill to the "1" line.  For two or three cups, fill to the "2" or "3" lines.   It's that easy.  [Pic. 1]

Then just close the lid, and walk away for 20 minutes to an hour.  Don't press the start button, don't do anything, just wait[Pic. 2]  The Japanese consider this step important, and I believe it is to soften the rice.  I'm usually really hungry, so I only wait for 20 minutes. 

After waiting hungrily, you can then go press the "Start" button on your cooker.  [Pic. 3]  Each cooker is different, mine takes about 25 minutes to cook a cup of rice to perfection.

**Side note on measurements** It happens that Japanese 'cups' and American 'cups' are different sizes.  US cups are about 240ml, while Japanese cups are 200ml.  If you cook one US cup of rice in a Japanese rice cooker, or vice versa, the internal gradations will be off.  Keep this in mind if you bought your rice cooker (or measuring cups) in a foreign country.

Step 4: Time to Eat!

Now dig in!  This rice is light and fluffy, and just sticky enough to be eaten with your handy dandy Lightsaber chopsticks.  [Pic. 4] 

In Japan this plain, unsalted rice is used as the base for many dishes including Tonkatsu (pork cutlet) and pretty much any fish. 

However, if you are unorthodox (or lazy like me) here are some easy ways to spice up your rice:
  1. You can just pour instant beef curry mix on top and eat up.  [Pic. 5]
  2. You can add a little cumin, turmeric, and garam masala to the water before cooking.  [Pic. 6]
  3. You can throw in a few tablespoons of diced tomatoes to the water before cooking.  [Pic. 7]
Now quit eating that horrible gooey mess and pile some fine Japanese cuisine onto some expertly crafted rice.

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    35 Comments

    Gah. Thank you so much for posting. I want to learn more authentic ways of rice cooking. Not American washed cooking. I don't want the Panda Express recipe. Lol. So, thank you. To confirm, we just do 1:1 ratio, yes? This is how my mother taught me. But I'm looking it up to confirm and found ppl all over the interwebs who do 1.5:1.

    You should try the Karmin professional rice cooker :-)

    Thanks for the 'ible! I have a cooker from S. Korea and haven't quite got it dialed in - most likely because I wasn't letting it rest before starting (TYVM!). I lost the measuring cup that came with it, but before I did I checked it against my 'SAE' gear - 1 cooker cup was just a tad over 2/3 US cup. Does anyone know if this is accurate, or common?

    I also have those vader chopsticks. Love thinkgeek

    I am using short grain white rice for my rice cooker . Altough rice important issue , ı think a good rice cooker is more important . We have so many alternatives on the market and it is very hard to find a reliabe one . I have Cuckoo and I love it .

    I didn't realize about the waiting for the rice to soak. I do have a rice rinsing bowl that I got at an Oriental store near me. Very handy.

    Screen Shot 2016-01-05 at 3.01.11 AM.png

    A lot of the instructions on how to make japanese rice tells us to soak the rice in water for 30 minutes before cooking. I'm wondering why you've neglected that step from the instruction.

    2 replies

    It stated walk away for 20-60 minutes before pressing COOK button.

    She didn't neglect it.... she wrote: Now we are ready for water... For one cup of rice, fill to the "1" line.....Then just close the lid, and walk away for 20 minutes to an hour.

    Cup measurement difference is irrelevant. You use the rice measuring cup that comes with the cooker. And you use the water line for cups of rice you used.

    Thank you for including picture and video..very helpful!

    Great post and instructions. For those of you asking, here's a quality resource for finding more information and reviews on cookers: http://www.nmhmf.org/

    Thanks for this. I eat tons of Japanese rice at home, but I'm usually too lazy/hungry to do it "right". But on my last trip there, my best friend gave me a few batches of her family's homegrown rice, and I intend to show it the respect it deserves.

    I love the differences in perception of
    flavor from Asians to Westerners on rice. To me, for the most part, they
    all taste the same. I do not use chop sticks so sticky is not
    an issue. I have tasted many rices from Asia and the US and Italy , and
    while some are indeed more "stickie", when I does it with butter or
    cover in sauce I do not taste teenie diff betwixt them. Brown rice and
    wild rice do taste differently. I like brown rice I hate wild rice.
    Jasmine rice...... ehh, it has an aroma I do not taste. I believe it
    goes away with cooking, kinda like the cool colored cauliflowers that
    turn white if boiled.

    And yes I have eaten it plain, it is quite
    boring worse then (dare I say it), Wonderbread! Yes Yes Yes rice is the
    Wonderbread of Asia, eaten alone. A plain baked or boiled spud salted is
    nice alone.

    But in fairness to all the rice lovers out there. If
    it were my only carb I would be as picky and sensitive to its infinite
    variety as they are. I will wash my rise now and see what a difference
    it makes, when next I use rice.

    My biggest chuckle over rice was
    an artticle I read many years ago about rice cookers. A Japanese gent
    said how he is new rice cooker ($900) was a piece of junk and he was
    waiting for a new version due out for $1400, he went on to say the older
    unit did not make rice fit for a dog.....I make gourmet food on/in a
    $700 oven/range. I could make the same stuff in a $200 unit. The
    difference is size and oven precision.

    Thank you for this ible as I will now wash my rice. (you should for other reasons as well).

    I
    have an Asian market near me that has dozens of rices to choose from,
    and a Korean market that has even more! Sprouted rice is nice and in
    theory is better for you.

    happy cooking

    Jessica: for Jasmin or Basmati rice (which are longer grained and less starchy) you do the same, just have to polish it less. the result will be less sticky.

    Brown rice is a whole different matter, don't rely on this method.

    Being married to a Thai for 14 years and having lived in Thailand for 8, I'll offer this on the subject of Jasmine rice... Jasmine rice is from Thailand. It is not intended to be prepared as a 'sticky' type of rice, but should be 'loose' when fully cooked. The preferred Jasmine rice is 'old' as in having been stored for more than a full season and dried (not 'green'). The importance it this is that when cooked it doesn't cook up 'wet' and 'sticky'. As a rule of thumb, two cups uncooked Jasmine rice with 3 cups plus about 3/4 cup water. Wash the rice several times, until the wash water is clear. If you're using a rice cooker, press the cook button. If you're cooking over flame, bring the water to a slow boil then reduce to a slow simmer and cook for 20 minutes [do not open the lid during the 20 minutes!]. Adjust the amount of water by tablespoons, more if it cooked too dry or less if it cooked too moist, for the next time your prepare the Jasmine rice. Note that most Asian countries other than Thailand expect their rice to be more or less sticky [unless it is for frying].