japanese mixed rice

japanese mixed rice

Learn how to make Japanese mixed rice, a versatile and seasonal dish with a deep, satisfying woodsy shiitake flavor. This traditional cuisine is seasoned with sake, soy sauce, dried shiitake mushrooms, and abura age, and is a staple in the rural Niigata Prefecture of northern Japan.

When a friend named Tomoko visited New York last week I quickly invited her over for dinner. The catch: She had to do all the cooking (Some bargain!). I heard that Tomoko was a great cook, schooled by her grandmother -- still going strong at age 97 -- when she was a girl. While Tomoko grew up in bustling Tokyo, her family hails from the rural Niigata Prefecture, an area of northern Japan known for its top-notch artisanal sake and Koshihikari rice (no surprise the two go together).

With a pink Ivy cap covering her pigtailed hair, Tomoko walked into my kitchen, hung a hand towel from the front pocket of her jeans, popped open a beer and got busy. She cooked a half dozen dishes, from tofu ohitashi with pickled daikon (a kind of salad) to steamed chives with a ponzu dipping sauce. I wanted to share one of them with you: Japanese mixed rice. I've been fascinated by this particular dish, which is so astonishingly versatile and seasonal. Tomoko prepared hers with dried shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce and abura age, thin deep friend sliced tofu. And she also added another ingredient -- sake. "My grandmother taught me to add sake to the rice," Tomoko explained. "It helps bring out the rice's natural flavors." Wisdom from the far north. Here's the recipe:

Mixed Rice with Shiitake Mushrooms

Ingredients & Equipment:

  • 2 tablespoons sake
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 large dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water for 1 hour
  • 1.5 ounces abura age
  • 2 cups Japanese short grain rice
  • 2-inch piece konbu (dried kelp)
  • Rice cooker

Instructions:

  1. Wash the rice in the rice cooker pot.
  2. Slice the reconstituted mushrooms thinly, reserving the soaking liquid.
  3. Thinly slice the abura age.
  4. Add the mushroom liquid and additional water to the rice cooker pot to reach the "2 cup" mark.
  5. Stir in the sake and soy sauce, adjusting the latter to taste.
  6. Add the mushrooms, abura age, and konbu to the pot.
  7. Let the mixture sit for flavors to meld, preferably for an hour, but 20 minutes will suffice if rushed.
  8. Cook the rice as per your rice cooker's instructions.
  9. Once cooked, let the rice sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with slivers of nori seaweed if desired.

The oil from the abura age helps bind this rice mixture, which has a deep, satisfying woodsy shiitake flavor. By the way, Tomoko formed leftover rice into triangular onigiri the size of my palm, wrapped them and stuck them in my freezer. For another meal.