Introduction: Perfect Japanese Rice in a Rice-cooker

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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

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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