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Sushi Basics

An introduction to making sushi at home, including a recipe for Basic Sushi Rice.

Updated October 26, 2017
Basic Sushi Rice
Basic Sushi Rice
This image courtesy of Norboru Murata

Sushi rice is special. As the literal foundation of most sushi recipes, the rice must stick together well enough to support the other ingredients. It needs to have a clean, appealing taste of its own without distracting from the other flavors that make sushi such a joy to eat. And it must be pleasing to look at, meaning that it is white and shiny and composed of clearly defined individual grains. The sushi rice recipes that follow will guide you through the process of making perfect sushi rice every time. Properly made sushi rice is not difficult to achieve; it simply takes care and attention.

Once you’ve made sushi rice, be sure to read “Sushi Tips” (pages 36–39) before trying one of the recipes. If you’re a beginner at making sushi, these tips will help you avoid typical sushi making pitfalls—such as rice that’s become too dry to work with.

Yet the most important sushi-making tip I can give you is to urge you to be versatile and to have fun. At a basic level, this means that recipes in this book that call for brown rice can also be made with white rice, and vice-versa. And in many cases, unavailable ingredients may be eliminated, especially when you are making sushi rolls with several fillings. Don’t be afraid to improvise substitutions for other ingredients when necessary. You may discover something wonderful. 

Be inventive. Think of your favorite food combinations that are popular in your own culture to create your own sushi recipes. I hope that you use this book as a jumping-off point to explore your own creativity. It’s the best tip of all!

Makes1 standard quantity (about 2½ cups/400 g)

Cooking Time1 hr

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (200 g) uncooked Japanese or California shortgrain rice
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 1 teaspoon sake (optional)
  • 1 piece of kombu dried kelp, a few inches square (optional)
  •  
  • Sushi Dressing Sauce:
  • 5 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions

For practical and aesthetic reasons, including pleasing our taste buds, sushi rice should be firm, glossy, sticky and tangy. Some of the recipes in this book include innovative  shortcuts for creating easy versions of sushi rice, using “Simple White Rice” as the base with handy ingredients such as lemon or lime juice to give the rice its requisite mildly sweet tang. But the traditional kind, using rice vinegar-based Sushi Dressing Sauce, can be used in all of the recipes in this book. Here’s how to make sushi rice the old-fashioned way on the stovetop. 

  1. Thoroughly rinse the rice in several changes of water until it runs crystal clear. Soak the rice in water for at least 30 minutes and drain thoroughly before cooking.  

  2. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan, adding the sake if desired. Drain the rice and add it to the boiling water. Stir once, and return to a boil. Add the kombu, if using. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cook for 10 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow it to stand for 5–10 minutes more, covered, to finish cooking. (Note: Although this stovetop method is my preferred way to prepare sushi rice, you may also use an automatic rice cooker. If you’re using a rice cooker, use the same amounts described above and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.) 

  3. To make the Sushi Dressing Sauce, combine the vinegar, sugar and salt in a cup, and mix well until the sugar and salt are fully dissolved. The sauce should become clear. Remove the kombu and turn the rice into a large wooden mixing bowl or handai. If you have no wooden containers, a nonreactive casserole dish or deep platter will suffice.

  4. Avoid digging or scooping the rice out of the saucepan, as this will damage some of the grains. It helps, however, to run a rice paddle or spatula around the edges of the cooked rice to loosen it before turning it out of the saucepan. Once it is in the bowl, gently break up the mass of rice with a few smooth, straight, slicing motions of your spatula. Pour the Sushi Dressing Sauce slowly over the back of your rice paddle or spatula, moving it to and fro over the rice so that the sauce is evenly sprinkled all over the rice. 

  5. Mix the rice to distribute the sauce thoroughly. To preserve the integrity of the grains and avoid mashing them together, do not use circular stirring motions but instead “slice” the rice at an angle with your paddle or spatula, lifting it and turning it over in sections or chunks.  When the sauce is well distributed, begin to fan the rice while continuing to mix it. (You can do this yourself, but it’s much easier to have a helper do the fanning while you do the mixing.) Fanning will cool the rice to a usable temperature and also helps evaporate the excess moisture. The sugar will give the grains an appealing gloss, which is an essential characteristic of good sushi rice.  

  6. Moisten and wring out a fine cotton cloth such as a thin dish towel or cloth napkin and place it on top of the rice to keep it from drying out. The cloth should rest lightly on the surface of the rice. Keep it covered until you are ready to make sushi with it. Rice covered in this way should remain good for several hours, or until the cloth dries out.
    Remoisten the cloth if it dries out.  

Notes

  1. Sushi rice will lose some flavor if kept out for more than a few hours. Leftover sushi rice can be refrigerated or frozen and later warmed up with steam or in a microwave, but it will lose some flavor and stickiness in the process. 

  2. For best results, eat it all on the day you make it.

  3. This recipe may be doubled or even tripled, but it should not be reduced.

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