Washing Rice

Washing Rice


I was going to wash the rice for dinner myself, but my house guest, a talented young Japanese chef stepped in to do it. When I worked beside him for a month last year in Tokyo, I was awestruck by how sensitive he was to the foods he cooked. I was reminded about that again as I watched him wash rice.

He added the rice to a large mixing bowl and filled it with water. He gently sloshed the water around and carefully poured out the now milky colored. He added more water and did the same thing again. And again. And again. All the while he never actually touched the rice. Now he added water to the bowl and began lightly caressing the rice with the tips of his fingers, barely touching it. "The most important thing is not to break the grains of rice," he said. My friend drained the water and repeated this process another five times until the water was almost clear. Then he picked out a raw grain of rice, lifted it to his mouth and bit into it. I did the same. It tasted like, well, a raw grain of rice. What was he doing? "I'm checking if the grain feels polished and smooth," he answered. Oh. This was way beyond my toothy ken. He again filled the bowl with water but this time let the rice soak in it. For about 20 minutes, he told me.

We were working on something else in the kitchen and I noticed him lift some grains of rice out of the water, feel them with his fingertips and inspect them closely. What was he looking at? Checking if the rice was ready to be drained, he answered. I looked at some rice grains myself. They were pearly white with a few translucent flecks. "They need more time," he said. How did he know? About 5 minutes later he drained the rice. Now the each grain was entirely milky white, the translucence gone. He placed the rice in a colander and let it rest.

"Rice is difficult," the young chef explained. "Every cook has a different way to prepare it."

Rice is the most fundamental food in Japanese cuisine. So fundamental, the word for it, gohan, also means the meal itself. What struck me watching the chef was how even the act of washing it could be so subtle and deep and revealing. Such a humble task, yet one, at least in his hands, offering such a profound window into the cuisine. I know the rice gods were smiling.

Posted by Harris Salat in Rice | Permalink | Comments (14) | Email | Print

Comments (14)

And the finished product? Bittman in the NYT has a Georges Vong fried rice w/toasted ginger, garlic,& fried egg that looks like a fab way to use leftover perfect rice. Cheers!
I learn so much from this blog it is quite unbelieveable: like going to a private cooking class. BTW and FYI over the holidays I did a Hot Pot and will post it soon and I think you would be very proud of me!! :))
darn! i wish you had photos of that. according to my mother, I am the WORST rice washer in the world. [No patience and no thought to gentleness. I really hated doing it when I was a kid - still do!] It'd be great to see the proper way to wash rice!
Such a great post. I'm constantly amazed at the attention to detail in Japanese cuisine. Even in washing rice reverence is paid to each grain of rice.
Thanks for your kind words, Natalie, and let me know when you post those photos, can't wait to check out your tasty hot pot! -- Harris
This is pretty close to the way my Japanese mother washes rice. Last summer I was at her house and was tasked with washing the rice. I was going to do it the shortcut lazy way when she pushed me aside to take over. No wonder her rice is far superior to mine.
Yet another great post capturing the art and essence of Japanese cuisine. Enjoyed the post and the tips.
Very interesting. I remember, the first time I cooked rice when I was in elementary school, I ended up cracking every rice in half cause I washed so hard with my hand...
Do the Japanese wash all rice before cooking, long and short grained? Hard to tell from the photo which variety this is. I imagine the washing serves the purpose of improving the texture of the finished, cooked rice... yes?
Harris I posted on Hot Pot and thought your readers could or might or would be inspired...so thx for bringing me back to the table interactively http://eyezinacookbook.com/?p=1873
I LOVED this post, Harris. Proper rice washing technique is one of the hardest concepts to communicate to my friends. They simply don't get it. It's rice...why do you have to be so careful? But once they taste my rice and realize the difference they're sold. Thanks for the great detail you provided.
Someone here wished there were photos of this and I wish there was a video! :-) By the way, I am new here and already like you report a lot, Harris, thank you! And my name is Summer Katia :-)
after Soaking rice in water for around 20mins, now what will be rice to water ratio to cook perfect rice?
Harris has a post on cooking rice too...http://www.japanesefoodreport.com/2007/10/how-to-cook-rice-or-the-essenc.html

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