When you bite into a sushi roll filled with imitation crab, shrimp tempura, or creamy avocado, one of the things that stands out is the sushi rice. It's sticky, tender, and absolutely not bland. "Traditional sushi chefs spend years practicing and perfecting the art of making sushi rice," write Marc Luber and Brett Cohen in "Stuff Every Sushi Lover Should Know." "It's a simple process that takes time to master in order to create the right balance of consistency, texture, and flavor." So what's the secret to perfect sushi rice? It's a combination of the right tools (ideally in a rice cooker), the right type of rice (hint: it's short-grain white rice), and the right seasonings (rice vinegar and a little bit of sugar). Here's how to make it.
What you need
The rice cooker
You definitely do not need a rice cooker to follow our sushi rice recipe. Is it useful to have one? Will it yield better rice? Possibly. So here's our advice: Try the stovetop method first. If you like the results, there's no need for a rice cooker. However, if it doesn't quite do it for you, or you really find yourself making sushi rice all the time, then a rice cooker may be worth the investment.
Better yet, buy an Instant Pot, which has rice cooker capabilities (in addition to pressure cooking, slow cooking, yogurt making — the list goes on and on).
A rice paddle, or shamoji, is a type of spoon used in East Asian culinary traditions to stir and smooth rice. The reason why they're so great is that they're nonstick, so you don't have to worry about the rice clumping or sticking to the surface. Can you get away with making sushi rice without using a rice paddle? Absolutely. Is it helpful to have one? Also, absolutely. Fortunately, they're inexpensive and will fit in your utensil crock or drawer, so it's not a huge burden to purchase one if you want to improve your technique.
There's a 50/50 chance that you have rice vinegar in your pantry. If you do, use what you have. There's no need to buy specialty vinegar to make sushi rice. However, if you don't have any, here's a tip that will help you choose the best kind: "Avoid 'seasoned' rice vinegar for this sushi rice recipe, which already has sugar added. Using unseasoned allows you to control the sweetness of your rice," according to Luber and Cohen.
How to make sushi rice
Step 1: Rinse the rice
There are well-worn debates on whether or not you should rinse the rice, and truthfully, there's no definitive answer. It really depends on the texture that you're trying to achieve. For perfect sushi rice, you should rinse the grains before cooking. This ensures that the rice does not clump and removes any natural residue. To rinse rice, fill a bowl with cold water and add the rice. Swirl it around a few times until the water begins to turn cloudy, and then strain it through a fine-mesh sieve. "A good rule of thumb is to wash once for each cup of rice you are using," Luber and Cohen say.
Step 2: Cook the rice
Making sushi can be a somewhat meditative process, so cooking the rice should be the same thing. No need to panic. Use equal parts of short-grain rice and water to cook sushi rice, whether you're using a rice cooker or the stovetop method. To cook sushi rice in a rice cooker, place the rinsed rice and water into a rice cooker and let it soak for 10 minutes. Turn the rice cooker on and cook the rice according to the manufacturer's instructions.
To cook sushi rice on the stovetop, add the rinsed rice and water into a small saucepan and soak for 10 minutes. Next, turn the stove to high heat and cook the rice, uncovered, until it comes to a simmer. Once it's simmering, cover the pot and reduce the heat immediately to the lowest possible setting. Continue simmering gently for 20 minutes. Once the 20 minutes are up, remove the pot from the heat (but keep the lid on!) and let it sit for 10 minutes to steam and get fluffy. Why is this last step necessary? "Because the thing is, it's not just water that cooks rice; it's the steam you build up in the pot as well. Which is why a properly cooked pot of rice needs less water than you might realize, especially if what you're after is perfectly sticky (but still individual, separated, not-mushy) grains," writes former Food52 editor Eric Kim.
Step 3: Making the seasoning
What makes sushi rice so flavorful is a combination of vinegar, sugar, and salt. For a single serving (1/2 cup) of sushi rice, Kim likes to use 2 teaspoons rice vinegar, 1 1/4 teaspoons granulated sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Combine all three ingredients in a small bowl until the sugar has dissolved, then fold it into the cooked sushi rice.
Luber and Cohen like to cook the vinegar mixture over medium heat, which allows the sugar to dissolve more quickly and brings out the sweetness of the sushi rice. If you do cook it on the stove, be sure to let it cool to room temperature before adding to the cooked rice. Pro tip: "Don't pour all the liquid at once, because it will cause the rice to clump; try to distribute it evenly," they say.
Warm sushi rice
- 1/2 cup short-grain white rice, rinsed and drained
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
- 1 1/4 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
- 4 ounces sushi-grade salmon, thinly sliced (see Author Notes)
- 1 scallion, thinly sliced
- 1 small bundle cilantro stems, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon capers
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Cook the rice: (Rice-Cooker Method) Place the rinsed rice and water into a rice cooker and let soak for 10 minutes. Turn the rice cooker on and cook the rice. (Stovetop Method) Place the rinsed rice and water into a small pot and let soak for 10 minutes. Cook over high heat, uncovered, until it comes to a simmer, then reduce heat immediately to the lowest possible setting on your stove and continue simmering gently, covered, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, remove from heat and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes to steam and get fluffy.
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and salt into the vinegar. As soon as the rice is done (and still hot), quickly but gently fold in the seasoned vinegar until thoroughly mixed. Set aside, covered, until ready to eat.
- Season the salmon: Directly on the cutting board where you've thinly sliced the salmon, scallion, and cilantro stems, sprinkle the fish with the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil and toss together with your fingers.
- Assemble the bowl: Place the sushi rice into a bowl, then top with the seasoned salmon. Garnish with the scallion, cilantro, capers, and black pepper.