Step 1: Rice and Water Proportions, Rinsing, and Cooking
The proper rinsing of the rice is important for its final flavor and appearance. Pour the rice into a fine-mesh strainer, large enough so you can freely toss and turn the grains. Have at hand a larger bowl into which the strainer can easily fit and fill it with cold tap water. Pour the rice into the strainer, then lower the strainer into the large bowl so that the water covers the rice. With both hands, gently rub, turn, and toss the rice. Do not press the grains too hard against the strainer or against one another, or the fragile grains may break, especially if you are using a lower grade of rice. The water will instantly turn milky white, so remove the strainer from the large bowl, discard the water, and refill the bowl with fresh cold water. Return the rice-filled strainer to the bowl and repeat. On the second rinsing, the water will look only slightly milky. Repeat once or twice more. When you have finished, the water will be almost clear, but do not expect 100 percent clarity. Drain the rice and let it sit in the strainer for 10 minutes.
Transfer the rice to a heavy-bottomed pot that is deeper than it is wide and has a heavy, tightly fitting lid (during cooking, rice swells to as much as two and a half times its original volume, so your pot should be at least three times deeper than the level of the rice and water), add the water, and let it sit for 20 minutes.
Set the rice over medium heat and cook, uncovered, until the water is nearly absorbed by the rice—about 10 minutes. Quickly reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot with the lid, and cook until the rice is plump and cooked through—another 10 minutes. The exact cooking time depends on the heaviness of the pot, the level of the heat, and the quantity and condition of your rice. After a total of 20 minutes’ cooking, take a quick look: the rice should be completely transparent. If you see any dry, very white-looking grains, sprinkle a little warm water over the dry spots and cook another couple of minutes or so over very low heat. During the cooking, never stir the rice.
After confirming that all the rice gains are transparent, immediately put the lid back on before the built-up steam can escape. Turn off the heat and let the rice stand for 5 minutes.
Cooking Rice Using a Rice Cooker
If you own a rice cooker, follow these guidelines. Use the cup that came with your rice cooker, which is about four-fifths the volume of a U.S. cup.
Omit the usual presoaking; it makes the rice too tender when you are using a rice cooker. Don’t follow the usual water line in the bowl of your rice cooker. Instead, use the guidelines above.
Today, some rice cookers have a special built-in sushi rice cooking function. If using, add water to the level designated for cooking sushi rice. Cook the rice according to the manufacturers instructions, usually for 50 minutes.
Step 2: Sushi Vinegar Dressing and Sushi Rice Preparation
While the rice is cooking, put the rice vinegar, salt, and sugar in a bowl and stir with a whisk until the sugar and salt are almost dissolved.
If you are using a Japanese sushi-oke (wooden sushi tub) and shamoji (flat wooden paddle), soak them in a bath of cold water for half an hour while the rice is cooking (dry wood will absorb a good portion of the sushi vinegar dressing, and the rice will stick to the wood). Grain the water and wipe the tub and paddle with a dry kitchen towel. If you are using a large unfinished wooden salad bowl, moisten it just before using (soaking for a long time might cause it to crack). Other bowls made of metal, glass, or porcelain can be substituted, but they tend to make the sushi rice watery, mushy, and lumpy.
Transfer the steaming hot cooked rice all at once to the sushi tub or salad bowl. Quickly and gently break up the rice, crisscrossing it with the side of your paddle. Pour the prepared vinegar dressing evenly over it and, with the paddle, break up the lumpy clumps and turn the rice over, working one area at a time. Repeat once or twice until you can tell by looking that the vinegar dressing is roughly distributed throughout the rice. Push the rice toward one side of the tub.
Now hold the paddle horizontally and insert the paddle into the rice in one area, then rapidly move it back and forth with many small stroked. By cutting into the rice this way, you are breaking up the clumps and pushing a portion of rice toward the opposite side of the tub. Now work on he remaining areas of the rice one at a time in the same way, until you have moved all of the rice to the other side of the tub. Rotate the tub or bowl 180 degrees and repeat the process. You can see at the end of the second “cutting” that each grain looks evenly plump, when all the vinegar dressing has been evenly absorbed. The whole procedure should take about 2 minutes. Whit a hand fan or with a magazine or folded newspaper, fan the rice for about 30 seconds. This quick fanning gelatinizes the surface of the rice to give it a glossy appearance and also cools it, helping the vinegar dressing to settle inside each grain. Sushi rice, if it is prepared in a large quantity, tends to remain rather hot, even after being fanned. If so, let it cool to a temperature of 104°F, covered with a moist kitchen cloth to prevent it from drying out.