Rice Bliss: A Rice Donabe

Rice Bliss: A Rice Donabe


When I visited a traditional donabe maker in Iga last fall (see my post), I brought home a specialized rice donabe, an earthenware vessel designed specifically to cook rice on the stove top -- in other words, a traditional pot adapted for modern lives. But I haven't used it much, to be honest. Until now...

When I mentioned my rice donabe to my friend the journalist Keiko Tsuyama, she said she wanted to cook her favorite shiitake gohan in it, shiitake mixed rice. We invited a dozen or so friends for a dinner party-slash-rice tasting, and I carried my donabe on the subway to Keiko's place uptown.

This donabe is an amazing vessel. It has two lids to control the circulation of steam and is made from the remarkable heat-conducting porous clay that Iga has been famous for, for centuries. As a result, cooking rice in this pot is incredibly simple. Here are the steps for two cups of white rice:

-- Wash rice, drain and let it rest for 30 minutes in a colander, covered with a cloth
-- Add the rice and two cups of water to the donabe, and cover with both lids
-- Turn the heat to medium-high and let the rice cook until you see steam escaping from the outer lid, about 15 minutes
-- Let the steam escape for another 3 to 5 minutes. At this point you can smell the rice and a wonderful caramelized aroma coming from the donabe
-- Turn off the donabe and wait 20 minutes, then eat!

That's it. Now that I've gotten the hang of it, it takes about as much time to prepare rice in a donabe as it does in a high-tech rice cooker. The difference is the taste - an electric rice cooker can't possibly match the perfectly flavored rice produced by the donabe, with its delicious veneer of okoge, or caramelized rice crust. And the aroma? No comparison.

Okay, back to Keiko's shiitake rice. Here's how she prepared it in the donabe:

-- Soak dried shiitake overnight in water to create a fragrant shiitake dashi
-- Wash 3 cups of rice, drain and add to the donabe
-- Add 3 cups of shiitake dashi to the donabe
-- Add 2 Tbsp soy sauce, 3 Tbsp sake, and 2 pinches of salt to the donabe
-- Allow the rice and liquid to sit for 30 minutes
-- Add slices of reconstituted dried shiitake, and carrot and abura age if you'd like
-- Turn on the flame beneath the donabe and follow the last three instructions above

It turned out fantastic. Just ask our guests. As Keiko emailed me after, "anything cooked in the donabe will turn out wonderfully." Thank you, Keiko!

Finally, here's the best news of the post: You don't have to travel to Japan to find this donabe. I recently visited Sara Japanese Pottery, my friend Naoki Uemura's pottery shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, and was surprised to find out that he's now importing and selling Iga rice donabe! So getting your hands on one is as easy as calling Naoki. (I'm not sure if he ships, but you can ask him.)

Note: If you do buy a donabe, make sure to follow the instructions on tempering the vessel before you steam rice. What you do is slowly prepare a watery rice porridge. This is a very important step to season the pot so it doesn't crack. Once you make the porride, you're ready to cook countless pots of rice!

Second note: I've become hooked on haiga rice, which is fully milled rice that retains the rice germ (which is milled away in white rice). This rice has more nutrition than white rice but doesn't have the strong taste of brown rice, so it compliments foods as well as white rice. A nice balance between white and brown. Give it a try.

Posted by Harris Salat in Technique | Permalink | Comments (1) | Email | Print

Comments (1)

Just to add to this, a cup of rice should be ~180ml, while the cup of water is ~200ml. Neither are the standard ~250ml so it makes it a bit confusing. Secondly, I've found that none of the cheaper long-grain style rices come close to a nice medium grain rice when cooking in this pot. Perhaps because the Japanese like their rice moist and fluffy whereas the SE Asian countries tend to have it a bit drier.. so you have to use the right rice for the purpose.

Shiitake gohan is my fave!

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