A friend in Japan just sent me this recipe for chestnut rice (kuri gohan) and I cooked it tonight. Wow! So simple, but with such a play of delicate flavors. You have to try it. Chestnuts are a perfect expression of the season right now; steaming them with rice, Japanese-style, brings out their natural sweetness in a much more subtle and, to me, more satisfying way than caramelizing by roasting ("...on an open fire"). Also, the recipe calls for a mixture of Japanese short grain rice and sticky (glutinous or sweet) rice, which creates a delightful texture and infuses even more of that natural sweetness. Finally, the sake and the salt here nicely pop all these tastes. The complexity of flavor you find in this simple dish is just amazing. Ah, Japanese cooking... The only caveat is that peeling uncooked chestnuts is laborious. Cut open the shells, then peel the skin as best you can with a small knife. Take your time, be careful not to cut yourself, and you'll be fine. Here's the recipe:
- 12 chestnuts
- 2 1/2 cups Japanese short grain rice
- 1/2 cup sticky rice (also called glutinous or sweet rice or mochi gohan)
- 3 cups water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sake (use real sake! - my ongoing crusade against cruddy "cooking sake")
- Peel the chestnuts and soak in a bowl of water.
- Mix the rice and wash. I like to wash rice in a colander inside a mixing bowl. Add water, swirl the rice, dump the cloudy water. Repeat until the water becomes clear, about 3 or 4 washings. Place the washed rice in a rice cooker.
- Drain the chestnuts and sprinkle over the uncooked rice in the rice cooker. Do not mix at this point. You want moisture to penetrate the rice grains evenly, and thereby cook evenly; mixing in the chestnuts will prevent that from happening. This, by the way, goes for any kind of Japanese mixed rice recipe.
- Add the water, salt and sake. Don't worry if the salt and sake aren't evenly dispersed, you'll be mixing once it's cooked.
- Close the rice cooker, turn it on and cook this puppy. (Of course you can use a traditional earthenware rice cooker, or a good ole' pot.)
- When it's done, fluff up and mix the rice. Here's how: First, wet a rice spatula. Now slice through the rice with the spatula, positioning it like a knife blade. Finally, go around the sides and fold over the rice.
- Serve and enjoy!
By the way, my wife (my favorite taster) commented that she thought this recipe would also work well with kabocha pumpkin or sweet potatoes, instead of the chestnuts. I'm going to give that a try, too.