Serves: Makes 3 cups
- ½ cups Japanese-style medium-grain rice
- 1¾ cups water
- Vinegar Rice Seasoning:
- ⅓ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons sea salt or other coarse salt
Procedures:When the Japanese want a quick bite, they often buy sushi in a bento, the equivalent of the American lunch box. The simplest bento is made of plain wooden slats and sold by vendors on the street or in train stations. More elaborate boxes are made of exquisite lacquered wood and sold in chic food shops. The sushi in a bento may be maki-zushi (rolled in seaweed), nigiri-zushi (hand shaped), oshi-zushi (pressed in a mold), or other types. Not all types of sushi include nori, but nearly every kind includes vinegar rice, the preparation of which is a time-honored Japanese ritual. First, the rice is rinsed several times in cold water to remove the excess starch before cooking. Next, the rice is cooked and transferred to a handai, a shallow wooden bowl (the wood absorbs moisture from the hot rice). Finally, one hand is used to fold the seasoned vinegar into the rice with a rice paddle, while the other hand cools the rice as quickly as possible with a paper fan. The vinegar is slowly folded, never stirred, which would make the rice too sticky.
- Put the rice in a large bowl and add cold water to cover. Gently stir the rice with your fingertips and then drain the rice in a strainer held over the sink. Return the rice to the bowl, add fresh water to cover, stir, and drain again. Repeat this step two or three more times. The Japanese traditionally rinse their rice until the water runs clear.
- Transfer the rinsed rice to a 6-quart Dutch oven or other large pot and add the water. Set the pot over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 10 to 14 minutes, until all of the water has been absorbed and the surface of the rice is dimpled. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
- Alternatively, use a rice cooker: Place the rice in the rice cooker, add the water, cover, and press the cook lever or button. The rice cooker will automatically shut off after about 10 minutes, when all the water is absorbed. Let the rice stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
- Make the vinegar rice seasoning: In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, sugar, and salt until the sugar and salt are dissolved.
- Rinse the rice paddle or other large, flat spoon with cold water and use it to transfer the cooked hot rice to a large, shallow bowl or platter, preferably wood. Rinse the spoon again to keep the rice from sticking to it, and then gently fold the rice repeatedly. As you fold, use your other hand to fan the rice with a paper fan or a square of stiff cardboard. After about 5 minutes of folding and fanning, the rice will be tepid. Then, while continuing to fold the rice gently, quickly splash the vinegar mixture into the rice, tipping about 1 tablespoon at a time into the bowl and distributing each addition evenly before adding more. Stop to rinse the rice paddle with water as needed to keep the rice from sticking to it. Finally, continue fanning the rice for about 5 minutes longer, or until it has a glossy sheen.
- Cover the rice with a kitchen towel or other cloth, and let stand at room temperature 5 minutes, or until ready to make the sushi rolls. Do not use plastic wrap or foil because you don't want any condensation to form, and don't refrigerate the rice, or it will harden. Rice can stand at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.