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Sushi is one of the most popular foods in Japanese cuisine, however, it did not originate in Japan. In fact, it was created in Southeast Asia with a dish called nare-zushi.
From California rolls at the grocery store to carefully curated sashimi from high-end sushi restaurants, sushi has made an impact on food all over the world.
Sushi is made up of high-quality seafood and a few other choice ingredients including wasabi, seaweed, cucumber, and avocado. But sushi wouldn’t be anything without the fragrant, sticky rice that is used to hold it all together. You can make sushi using any short grain rice but long grain rice doesn’t contain enough starch to hold together.
Rice is a staple in Asian cuisine, and in a dish that’s all about using just a few high-quality ingredients to craft a masterpiece, how you cook sushi rice can make all the difference.
There are a lot of things that set sushi rice apart from “normal” rice. In the United States, long-grain white rice is the most common. But for sushi, Japanese short-grain rice is the rice of choice.
Medium and long grain rice don’t have enough starch in them to get to the sticky consistency necessary to make sushi. The stickiness of Japanese short grain allows it to hold the shape required for sushi. This is also essential for foods like onigiri.
Sushi rice is seasoned with rice vinegar and sugar, or an already sweetened rice vinegar. The tanginess and sweetness compliment the fish and contribute to the overall flavor of the sushi.
The main difference in how sushi rice is cooked is how much water is actually used. For sushi rice, less water is used. This allows the rice to be extra sticky to better absorb the seasonings used for the rice.
When cooking sushi rice, allow the rice to steam for a few minutes after it’s finished cooking. This step isn’t necessary for regular rice, but it makes all the difference for sushi rice.
Sushi rice can absolutely be made in a rice cooker. In fact, that’s probably the best way to do it. Many rice cookers even have sushi rice settings on them to help you achieve the best results.
But if you don’t have a rice cooker, there are other options out there. An instant pot on its rice setting can cook rice very similarly to a rice cooker, so that’s another viable option to consider.
You can also just cook it on the stove using the steps outlined above, but that’s of course a little more labor-intensive and you can’t set it and forget it while you prep other ingredients.
The rice is usually short grain and white. But for best results, you should make the effort to use sushi rice if at all possible. However, it is important to note that sticky rice is very different from sushi rice, especially in how they are used in various Asian cuisines.
(Can’t find sushi rice at your local grocery store? Get it delivered from Umamicart here!)
What makes sushi rice sticky? For starters, the starch content in short-grain Japanese rice is very high. This allows it to become stickier, even after washing.
Secondly, slightly less water is used, making the rice a little less “slippery” once it’s cooked. Also, the fluffing and cooling process is essential to achieving the perfect level of stickiness of the rice, so don’t skip those steps!
As the rice is fluffed, it is also seasoned. This rapid cooling process makes for extra sticky rice that is perfect for sushi.
You should definitely let your sushi rice soak before cooking with it. Soaking your rice allows the rice to absorb some water before being cooked. This helps each grain cook fully so that there is a uniform texture throughout the pot of rice.
But before you soak the sushi rice, make sure you wash it thoroughly. Aim for about three to five rounds of rinsing, or until the water runs clear. Washing your rice is essential for cooking sushi rice.
Let the rice soak for about an hour to absorb all of the water it needs. This will help create the desired texture that is characteristic of all sushi rice.
Sushi rice isn’t just rice — it’s a lot more than that! There are seasonings required to give the rice that all-important complementary taste and texture to the fish and other ingredients. Here are the things you’ll need to make sure you can prepare the best sushi rice you can.
As the most obvious ingredient to start with, you’re going to need the right rice! While the best bet is to use actual sushi rice, it’s okay to use any Japanese short grain white rice in a pinch.
Again, don’t try to use medium or long grain rice like Jasmine or Basmati. That rice doesn’t have a high enough starch content, so it won’t have the sticky quality needed to hold its shape like short-grain rice can.
Water is the next important ingredient. It hydrates the rice and makes it edible. You’re going to need water for two purposes.
First, you need water to wash and drain the rice. We’ll talk more about how best to wash your rice later, but it helps to have a running tap of clean water for this step.
Secondly, you’re going to need water to cook the rice.
Rice vinegar or sushi vinegar is necessary for sushi rice.
Vinegar works to reduce the pH level of the rice. Regular rice has a pH between 6.0 and 6.7, but once the proper amount of vinegar has been added, its acidity increases, putting its new pH a little higher than 4.
If you don’t want to go through the trouble of waiting as the sugar dissolves into your rice vinegar, you can get seasoned rice vinegar that already comes sweetened, so it’s ready to add straight to the rice after cooking.
The vinegar also provides a light acidity that perfectly complements the other ingredients in the sushi. It creates a bright and refreshing taste. This taste may seem subtle, but it makes a huge difference in the quality, so don’t skip out on it.
Sugar is also a must-have for this bright flavor. Sushi rice characteristically has a subtle sweetness that ties everything together. In combination with rice vinegar, sugar works to create the perfect sushi rice.
While vegetable oil doesn't serve to add any flavor to the rice, it’s still an important ingredient. Adding the smallest amount of vegetable oil can help to give the rice a beautiful glossy look. Make sure you don’t add too much oil, though!
You will want the rice to shine, and you don’t want it to be too oily where the ingredients will fall apart.
The answer to that question depends on what cooking method you’re using to prepare your rice. You can cook sushi rice in a small saucepan, but it isn’t recommended. You’ll get much better results if you use a rice cooker.
That said, a good ratio for stovetop sushi rice is 1:1.25, or one and a quarter cups of water per one cup of rice.
When cooking sushi rice in a rice cooker, use just under a 1:1 ratio — use just under a cup of water to make sure that rice gets nice and sticky.
Sushi rice should not be used hot. Allow the rice to cool down for at least five minutes before being used. If it doesn’t cool correctly, not only will it be difficult to get it to maintain its shape, but the residual heat could affect the flavor and texture of the raw ingredients in the sushi.
Now that we understand all the basics about sushi rice preparation, it’s time to get our rice cooking! Here are step-by-step instructions for making delicious, sticky sushi rice.
Next, you need to measure out your desired portion. If you’re only making one roll of sushi or just a small selection of nigiri, you should only need about one cup of rice. The important thing about this step is to remember how much rice you measured out!
There’s nothing worse than measuring out your rice and then forgetting how much you have once you’ve washed it. Keep track of it to know how much water to put in later.
Rinsing and soaking your rice is essential for good sushi rice. If you don’t wash your rice, there will be too much excess starch on the surface, which could make the rice gummy and ruin its texture. Rinsing it repeatedly will help your sushi rice get to the intended tenderness. Just make sure not to overdo it.
Soaking your rice in a small bowl is equally essential. Remember, soaking the rice allows it to absorb water before cooking, ensuring that all the rice is cooked evenly, so you have a consistent texture throughout.
For the next step, just put your soaked and rinsed rice in a pot of cold water and cover it with a lid. Start cooking your rice on medium-high heat. Once the pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low until it hits a simmer.
Let it simmer until you can’t see the water because it’s bubbled and foamed up. Then, turn off the heat and let it steam for another 15 to 20 minutes.
Let your rice steam for 15 to 20 minutes for either cooking method. Do not uncover your rice during this period. It is crucial for getting the rice to that glutinous texture we’re after.
After your rice has steamed sufficiently, it’s time to add your seasoning. Move your rice to a large glass dish and spread it out. Grab your rice paddle and your mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and vegetable oil.
Slowly pour your vinegar mixture over the rice paddle, allowing it to evenly flow over all of the rice so that you get a nice, even seasoning.
Cooling your rice is a crucial step that cannot be overlooked. This is the final step that can help to ensure you have perfectly sticky rice. If you’re in a hurry to cool your sushi rice, you’re going to need a fan. You’ll want to cool the rice quickly, so get a small, portable fan and direct it to the rice.
As the fan is cooling the rice, fluff it with your rice paddle. Use a rice paddle for this instead of a wooden spoon. If you stir with a wooden spoon, it can increase the risk of crushing the rice grains instead of fluffing them, and creating a gummy mixture.
If you’ve successfully cooled your rice to room temperature, but you still find that it isn't as sticky as you want it to be, leave the fan on it a little longer. This can help get that last bit of moisture out to achieve the desired texture.
After your rice has cooled and you’ve perfectly followed this sushi rice recipe, it’s time to enjoy it.
Gently spread the cooled, sticky rice over your nori, add your fillings, and wrap it using your bamboo mat. Now you’re ready to enjoy this wonderful Japanese dish that you made in your own kitchen! You can store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about a day.
To get a little creative, you can also try substituting your nori for soy sushi wrapping paper!
Sushi rice is more complex than you might think. It’s one of the most important parts of sushi, not just because of its texture and shaping abilities but also for the delicate, light flavor it brings to the sushi.
If you’re looking for high-quality sushi rice or other ingredients for this delicious treat, head over to Umamicart, the online Asian grocery store that delivers straight to your home so you can have the high-quality sushi ingredients you need even if you don’t live near an Asian supermarket.
Cooking rice | Japanese Home Cooking | University of Illinois
How To Make Sushi Rice 酢飯 | Just One Cookbook
Preparing sushi rice | Japanese Home Cooking | University of Illinois
Selecting and Cooking Sushi Rice | Bupkis
Sushi Rice Testing Fact Sheet | College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences | Clemson University
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