Steamed Japanese Rice


Gohan, and in this particular case, meaning simply “cooked rice”.

御 sounds like Go in the onyomi* reading, which is hard to translate into English, but it is an honorary addition to a word.

飯 sounds like Han, also in the onyomi reading, which means boiled rice or meal.

Plain white rice sounds like a non recipe for a blog, right? But in reality rice cooked in the Western and Asian worlds are different. First we discuss the rice itself.

This post is about the Japonica Rice, aka sushi rice, sticky rice, Japanese rice. For thousands of years, Asian rice has been a staple in Asian kitchens. Asian Rice is split into two groups, Japonica and IndicaJaponica Rice has undergone many changes over many generations, resulting in many varieties and better qualities. Whilst Asia enjoys top quality and easy access, the rest of the world may have trouble finding the perfect Japanese rice for themselves. America also grows Japonica rice, sold at Japanese grocery stores. Many different brands, of varying qualities are available. Here are a few examples; Tamaki brand, Sekka, Megumi, Nagomi or the Calrose medium grain type. Unfortunately for me, without a 2 hour drive, in Europe it is much harder to get good quality rice. Some recommend Yume-Nishiki in Europe, but since I have no access to this, I cannot confirm whether it is good or not. I use a lower quality short grain Japonica rice which is grown in Italy for the time being.

One difference in preparation for Japonica rice and other types of rice from around the world, is pre-washing rice before cooking the rice. You may be thinking, if I have to wash the rice it must be dirty right? The short answer is no. Not really. Depending on the manufacturing, and how long the rice is sitting around, There is a possibility that dust or whatever flying in the air (pollen) could settle on the rice. Although, this is not the main reason to wash the rice! The real reason is, to control starch content in the cooked rice.

Reducing starch content results in a fluffier rice. Since there is less starch in the cooking water, the rice become less sticky or gluey. This significantly reduces the “clumps” of rice that sit in your bowl.

I am writing these instructions for someone who does not own a rice cooker. Before rice cookers were available, every household made rice with a large pot with a heavy bottom. Following this method will likely create something called okoge. Okoge is rice at the bottom of the pot, which is browned but not burnt. This is normal, and many prize the crispy rice on the bottom for soups and other dishes.

Before we get started with the steps, let me discuss quickly about ratios. Some have been confused about ratios in the past and I want to clarify it. A ratio has two numbers. The first number is always the number being compared to the second number, separated by a : colon. An example being 5:7. Five cups of sugar and seven cups of flour. The measurement of the ratio can be scaled to however much you would like, as long as the ratio stays the same. Instead of cups, you could use teaspoons. Or instead of cups, you could use a salad bowl. For rice I measure by volume, using a measuring cup.

(Special thanks to Laura and Miriam Hollerweger for playing Poem Op.41 no.4 Zdenek Fibich for my video)


Step 1 Measure out the rice, and soak in plenty of water within a large pot for 20 minutes.** I measure cooking rice in ratios so remember how many cups, glassfuls, bowls or whatever you measure the rice in. The ending ratio of rice:water, should be between 1:1 and 1:1.75

Step 2 Drain the rice and start the washing process. Use your hand to swish the rice around, but do not squeeze or rough the rice up too much. That will cause the brittle rice to break into small pieces. It may not seem detrimental at first, but if the rice is used for sushi, then it will make a mushy mess on the nori. This should take around 3-5 times of washing out starch in the water. You will see the water is cloudy at first, and then with each further rinse,  it will gradually be less and less.

Step 3 Drain the rice well one last time, and add the water in the pot. Here i explain the ratio, and the reasons why. The increments are from the standard (1 Rice:1 Water) to (1:1.25),  (1:1.3),  (1:1.5),  (1:1.6), and  (1:1.75). This depends on many varying factors. For example

  • Older rice is more dry, and may require extra water.
  • The way it is stored may contain extra humidity, and less water is needed.
  • The elevation of where you live may effect this.
  • Different brands of rice can effect the amount of water needed.
  • The weather effects it to a small degree as well.

All these very small factors can change the ratio from a little to a lot. For this reason, your first pot should be a test pot of rice. That way you will familiarize yourself with the rice you have. With every new bag of rice, I keep an eye on the ratio, as it could easily change. From my experience,  short grain rice tends to be more of the 1:1, and the medium grain needs more water.

Step 4 Put the heat on high for 5 minutes or until it comes to a boil. Then turn to low to simmer for about 15-20 min or until all water is absorbed.

Step 5 fluff the rice a bit with a rice paddle or spoon and serve.


*Onyomi is the Chinese reading of the Kanji character.

**Many wash their rice before soaking. I choose to soak the rice first. This way the washing of the rice goes fast, and I am able to rid a lot of starch content easily. If you prefer, wash the rice first then soak.

2 comments on “Steamed Japanese RiceAdd yours →

  1. How often do you have meals with rice? I also use to make rice without a rice cooker and I could never get it right. My rice cooker is one my favorite and best kitchen investments!

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