When Japanese short grained rice is cooked in the double-lidded donabe from Nagatani-en, a kamado-san, the taste and texture is an almost spiritual experience.
Naoko and Ten-Speed Press have graciously allowed me to reprint recipes and photographs in the Gazette. Naoko is able, as the great teacher Shizuo Tsuji would say, to “lay open the heart” of Japanese cuisine. I hope this brief taste of her work will lead you to explore her book and website.
Plain White Rice
Almost everyone who tries plain donabe rice for the first time is shocked by how “perfect” the rice tastes and how easy it is to cook in a donabe rice cooker… the results are shiny and fluffy rice with a chewy, sweet taste. Good plain rice never gets old.
3 rice cups (2 1⁄4 cups/540 ml) short-grain white rice
2 1⁄2 cups (600 ml) cold filtered water or low-mineral-content bottled water (such as Volvic or Crystal Geyser)
First, rinse the rice. Combine the rice and enough cold water to completely cover the rice in a large bowl. Quickly swish the rice by hand in a circular motion several times so the water becomes cloudy. Immediately drain the rice in a colander. Repeat the process a few times until the water is mostly clear. Drain well in a colander.
Transfer the rice to the donabe and add the 2 1⁄2 (600 mL) cups of water. Let the rice soak for 20 minutes.
Place both lids on the base so that the holes of the lids are positioned perpendicular to each other.
Set the donabe over medium-high heat. Once the steam starts puffing from the lid (11 to 13 minutes after you turn on the heat), allow the rice to cook an additional 2 minutes. If you like to have a nice crust on the bottom of the rice, extend the cooking time by another minute. After a couple of tries, you will know the best heat level for cooking rice on your stove; then you can just set a timer for 13 to 15 minutes and don’t need to watch it for signs of steam.
Turn off the heat and let it rest undisturbed for 20 minutes. Uncover and fluff the rice.
If you do not have a double-lid rice cooker, you can still make rice in a classic-style donabe. After soaking the rice, cover with the lid and start with medium-high heat, bringing it to a boil, which will take about 7 to 8 minutes. Turn down the heat to low and cook for 7 to 10 minutes longer, or until the water has mostly been absorbed (you can quickly open the lid to check, if necessary). When the water is absorbed and the rice is ready to rest, you will hear a subtle crackling sound inside (you need to bring your ear right up to the donabe—be careful not to burn yourself). Turn off the heat and let it rest undisturbed for 15 to 20 minutes. The cooking time is based on 3 rice cups (2 1⁄4 cups/540 ml) short-grain rice. The timing may vary depending on the amount of rice being cooked.
Variation 1: When cooking rice in a double-lid donabe rice cooker, place an egg (right out of the refrigerator is fine) on top of the inner lid, making sure it doesn’t cover the holes. Cover with the upper lid and cook the rice as instructed. After the rice has rested and is ready, your egg is ready, too. It will be medium-soft to hard-boiled.
Variation 2: You can make colorful multigrain rice by adding your choice of grains, such as quinoa, millet, barley, amaranth, or corn grits. For every 1 cup (3⁄4 cup/180 ml) of rice, add 1 tablespoon of multigrains and increase the water amount by 1 1⁄2 tablespoons. The multi-grains will give extra flavor, texture, and nutrients. There are also premixed multigrains (some are up to 16 different grains!) available at Japanese markets and some are even divided into small packets.