really good sushi rice without a rice cooker

eggplant with sweet miso, quick shiso cucumber pickles and sauteed shitake for Quinciple

I want rice that's fluffy and tender, never mushy or crunchy. There's this funny thing where I can execute finicky pastries and complex sauces, but when it comes to the basics I often mess up. Maybe it's just carelessness (or arrogance). But really good rice is a devine thing, and worth anyone's attention.

I'm not talking about sesoning sushi rice, but cooking short-grain rice perfectly. It turns out the trick is pressure. If you don't have a rice cooker, you can acheive this by creating a tight seal, and weighting the lid of the pan. I put a big cake pan on top of my cooking pot instead of a lid, then weight it with another heavy pot, some big cans of beans, or whatever I can find. Look around your kitchen (heavy chopping block? cast iron skillet?) and improvise.

You'll want about 1 1/2 cups of water to 1 cup of rice, and a pinch of salt. Rinse the rice several times in cold water, then drain it and add the water for cooking. Another way to measure is by resting your hand on top of the rice: the water should just cover your fingers.

Turn the heat to high. As soon as you hear the water rumble to a full boil, turn the burner to low and set a timer for 18 minutes. DO NOT LIFT THE LID. After 18 minutes, turn the burner to high and count to 60, then turn off the burner (if it's an eletric stove, remove the pan from the heat). DO NOT LIFT THE LID. Set a timer for 5 more minutes.

After the 5 minutes, lift the lid and fluff the rice. (If it's too wet, cover, turn to high for 30-60 seconds then cover for 5 more minutes.)

This might sound complicated, but really its easy. And it will likely be the best rice you've ever made.

Ohanami Onigiri おはなみのおにぎり

Onigiri are easy to make, and all the ingredients are available in most American supermarkets. Hand formed balls of rice with a savory filling, wrapped in nori seaweed, these are a perfect picnic snack. My favorite filling is ume-boshi, Japanese pickled plums. Canned tuna mixed with mayonnaise is a popular filling, and one that doesn’t require a trip to a specialty grocer.

Onigiri Recipe

sushi rice
of your choice

Cooking good sushi rice in a pan requires patience and precision, a rice cooker makes it easy. In whichever vessel you’ll cook it in, rinse the rice in several changes of cool water, until the water runs clear. Cook the rice. When it is done, spread it on a plate to cool slightly.

Mix a few spoonfuls of salt into a bowl of cool water. It should taste like sea water. Dip your (very clean) hands into the water: to season the rice and keep it from sticking to your hands.

Cradle a small handful of rice in one hand. Make an indentation in the middle. Place a teaspoon or less of your filling in the indentation. Press another small handful of rice on top.

Traditionally, onigiri is shaped into a triangle. Bend your hands into right angles, and press the rice into the angle of your hand. Rotate and squeeze the onigiri to form its corners (nigiri means squeeze).

Wrap a small piece of nori around the onigiri. To preserve its crunch, wait to add the seaweed until you are ready to eat.

*Japanese markets and some grocery stores carry small strips of seasoned nori, perfect for onigiri. If you can’t find those, cut sheets of sushi nori to a manageable size (to make them extra delicious, you can brush them with soy sauce and toast them for a few seconds under a broiler).