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How to perfectly season sushi rice

Take your favourite sushi from ‘oh’ to ‘WOAH’ in just a few simple steps

How to perfectly season sushi rice

If you’ve ever made sushi, you already know that making excellent sushi rice involves more than sticking it in a pan with some water and turning on the heat. Even if you had the freshest fish, the most succulent meat, or the tastiest veggies, the way you season your rice will make or break your meal. For those new to the process, don’t worry – here’s an easy guide on how to make fantastic sushi rice seasoning to enhance your favourite flavours.

Keep in mind: some shops sell Japanese short grain rice as ‘sushi rice’, but these are actually the same grain. It turns into proper sushi rice once it’s gone through the seasoning process – regardless of which you pick up.

What is sushi rice seasoning?

Sushi may conjure up images of plump, vibrant rolls wrapped in nori or beautiful rounds crowned with bright, fresh fish. But, unlike what many assume, the word ‘sushi’ doesn’t mean ‘raw fish’. Instead, it nods to the sour flavour achieved by using vinegar. Originally sushi was a method of preservation, using fermented rice to extend the shelf life of fish for many months where the rice was then thrown away before eating. As time went on, people started using vinegar in place of fermentation – as early as the 16th century – as a similar preservation method. But the Japanese people enjoyed the flavour so much that, even as food spoilage became less of a concern, it had firmly made its mark on sushi’s history and was here to stay.

sushi rollsSushi seasoning as we know it today is a mix of flavour profiles: sour, sweet and salty. By mixing rice vinegar, sweetener and salt, you’ve got the perfect recipe for delicious rice. And, if you’re looking to create authentic sushi rice, don’t skip adding kombu (kelp) into the mix.

Tips for cooking the perfect sushi rice

There are dozens of ways to cook Japanese short grain rice, whether you’re making it on the stove, using a rice cooker, a pressure cooker, or steaming it. But here are a few crucial things you should consider if you want the best results. 

  1. Wash your rice – You’ll want to rinse it in a bowl of water, using your hand to stir the grains, at least three times. Tip out and refill the bowl between each cleaning until your water is clear, not cloudy. Fun fact: rice water is great for watering your houseplants and for using in many more household chores.
  2. Soak your rice – Before putting it in to cook, soak your rice for long enough for it to saturate the grain. This will give it a more uniformed texture in the end. This could take an hour or two, but you should be able to split the grain apart with your fingernail when it’s ready.
  3. Use a 1:1 ratio – The last thing you want is soggy rice at the end of its cooking time. Since you’ve already soaked your grains, a 1:1 ratio is an ideal amount. 
  4. Use kombu (kelp) – When cooking your rice, add a piece of kombu for a more authentic, umami flavour profile.
  5. Don’t overcook it – This may come with as much of an eye-roll as ‘don’t undercook it’, but it’s a bit of a fine line. You want your rice to retain its chewy texture, with plump, shiny, individual grains sticky enough to hold together. If it looks matte and turns to mush, it’s no good.

Recipe for sushi rice seasoning

Once you’ve done all the prep for perfect sushi rice, you need to put together your sushi rice seasoning. You can buy these already made in bottles, but whipping up a quick batch takes no time at all. 

Basic sushi rice seasoning recipe

  • 4 tbsp rice vinegar
  • 2 tbsp sugar (white or brown)
  • 1 tsp salt

Mix your ingredients in a small saucepan and set heat to medium-low. Stir until the sugar and salt have just dissolved without bringing it to a boil, and set aside to cool. You can also increase this recipe to make a larger batch. It’s a great shelf staple that doesn’t need to go in the fridge after being made. 

You should aim to use about 1 tbsp of sushi rice seasoning to 1 cup/130g of cooked rice, but taste and season as you go to achieve your favourite flavour.

sushi seasoning

How to season sushi rice

You’ve got the perfect recipe for turning your rice into something a bit special, but don’t start seasoning just yet. There’s a method to making sure your rice gets the flavour it needs without sacrificing its structure. 

Once your rice is fully cooked, transfer it to a bowl and season it while it’s still hot. You should do this carefully, sprinkling the sushi rice seasoning all over using the back of your rice paddle until it reaches your preferred flavour (as always, taste as you go). Then, use the paddle to ‘cut’ the rice as you mix it – this is a folding technique used to avoid stirring or squishing it into goo. Once it’s all combined, you need to cool it down as quickly as you can. This helps it keep its luxurious shine. And finally, once it’s cooled just cover it with a damp towel and it’s ready to use.

Is sushi rice seasoning the same as rice vinegar?

With sushi rice seasoning and rice vinegar merely steps apart, it’s easy to see where confusion can creep in. However, think about it like this: sushi rice seasoning is a recipe and rice vinegar is an ingredient. Rice vinegar is used not only in seasoning, but in a whole host of other sauces, salad dressings and mouth-watering dips. And while sushi rice seasoning does contain rice vinegar, it also contains other ingredients to balance its flavour profile. 

What condiments make the flavours of sushi shine?

These mouth-watering morsels are usually accompanied by soy sauce for dipping, the fresh heat of wasabi, and refreshingly sweet and sour gari (also known as pickled ginger).