Look out that beautiful rice in the photo above. Every grain is glistening, polished, plump perfection. Nobuko-san cooked it in a regular rice cooker -- my rice cooker. But my rice never comes out this amazing. So what's Nobuko's secret? It's how you ready the rice, she told me. We say "washing rice" but what you're doing is (a) rinsing off surface starch, (b) polishing the grains by rubbing against each other, and (c) hydrating the grains. In Japanese there are two words for rice, kome, for the grain, and gohan, for the food. When you cook rice, you're transforming it from kome to gohan. (There's also a word for the instant this metamorphosis occurs, but I can't remember it!) But how? When washing rice, you're in a sense germinating the dormant seed: Moisture is what brings it back to life. And moisture is the medium through which heat travels; each grain has to be perfectly hydrated to cook perfectly. So how do you do that?
Check out the video below. First Nobuko quickly rinses the rise, sloshing the liquid around and pouring off the milky water quickly -- you don't want rice to sit in that water too long or it will cloud flavor. Second, she polishes the rice by a hand movement we'll call "punch, punch, turn, turn." Notice she does this quickly and GENTLY; you don't want to break the grains. Third, she rinses off milky liquid again, two times. Fourth, she repeats the punch-turn routine again. Notice when she turns, she's moving the grains to the center of the mixing bowl. Notice, too, she doesn't waste nary a grain. Fifth, she rinses the rice three or four times until the water runs clear. Three minutes and she's done with the whole process. Finally, Nobuko transfers the rice to a colander, covers it, and lets it rest for 30 minutes before cooking, so the grains have enough time to miraculously absorb just as much moisture as they need to steam perfectly. Nobuko's been cooking rice for, oh, sixty years or so. But with a little practice, you (and I) can improve our rice-washing skills! Here's the video: