Learn how to make sushi rice perfectly every time with step-by-step pictures and a video tutorial. All you need is simple ingredients such as sushi vinegar, sugar, salt, and kombu. Once you master the secret of making the rice, you will be ready to dish up all kinds of mouth-watering sushi recipes!
Perfectly cooked Sushi Rice (酢飯) is fundamental in making any form of sushi. Indeed, the best sushi restaurants in Japan pride themselves not only for the freshest fish or variety, but the technique and quality of the sushi rice. Here I shared my secrets and techniques on how to make sushi rice the authentic way. Follow along, and you’ll be able to make the best sushi rice at home for all kinds of sushi!
What is Sushi Rice?
Sushi rice is made by cooking Japanese short-grain rice, which is then seasoned with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and often with kombu (kelp). In Japanese, sushi rice is also known as sushi-meshi 鮨飯, su-meshi (酢飯), or shari (シャリ). We only use this vinegar flavored rice when making all kinds of sushi.
However, it gets a little tricky because some rice companies outside of Japan label Japanese short-grain rice “sushi rice.” It creates the confusion that the rice is strictly used just for sushi. In fact, we use the same rice for regular steamed rice or other rice dishes too.
If you are here looking for a recipe to make plain steamed rice, see my post on How to Make Rice. For sushi-making, you will need to cook Japanese short-grain rice and mix it with a vinegar-based seasoning.
Why do we season rice with vinegar to make sushi?
This actually goes back to the origin of sushi. The literal meaning of sushi means “sour flavor.” Historically, the way people stored fish was by wrapping it in fermented rice. When they were ready to enjoy the fish, the fermented rice was tossed away. Sometime between the 1300s and 1500s, the Japanese slowly stopped using fermented rice and instead added vinegar to the rice to further increase the shelf life. The vinegar ended up improve the flavor of the rice so they started eating the fish and the rice together, which evolved to today’s sushi.
These days with refrigeration there is no longer spoilage issue with the fish, but the centuries of flavoring the rice with vinegar has become the mainstay.
How to Make Perfect Sushi Rice
Ingredients You’ll Need
- Japanese short grain rice
- Kombu (kelp)
- Rice vinegar
Overview: Cooking Step
- Cook rice with kombu using your preferred cooking method.
- Make sushi vinegar (seasoning).
- Transfer cooked rice to a sushi oke (also called hangiri) or baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Season the rice with sushi vinegar then mix with a rice paddle (slicing motion!).
- Cover with a damp towel and ready to use.
Rice Cooking Tools
You can cook the rice using a pot over the stove, but the most convenient way is to cook sushi rice using an electric rice cooker. In my Japanese home kitchen, my trusted rice cooker brand is Zojirushi Rice Cooker. Because I cook sushi rice often, this rice cooker has a ‘sushi’ option which makes it really easy to ensure the rice is cooked perfectly. Here are my recipes for different cooking options.
- How to Cook Rice in a Rice Cooker
- How to Cook Rice in a Pot over the Stovetop
- How to Cook Rice in an Instant Pot
- How to Cook Rice in a Donabe
How to Know if Your Sushi Rice is Perfectly Cooked?
After the rice is steamed, the texture should be fluffy with a firm bite. And each rice grain should be sticky yet retain its shape. Mushy rice means it has too much water or it’s overcooked. If the rice is fresh, you will see a nice shiny gloss on the surface of each grain.
There you have it — the basics of making sushi rice perfectly! Once you get the rice right, you’ll be ready to make some delicious sushi recipes.
Cooking Tips for Sushi Rice
Tip #1. Choose the right kind of rice
To achieve an authentic Japanese standard, you want to use only short-grain Japanese rice to make sushi rice. This is because the consistency and flavor of Japanese rice are very different from long-grain rice, jasmine rice, or other types of rice. With a higher content of moisture, Japanese rice is characterized by its unique stickiness and texture, which attributes to the toothsome bite of authentic sushi.
There are various Japanese rice brands available in the market. Some of my favorite ‘first grade’ brands for Japanese rice include Koshihikari from Toyama Prefecture, Japan, or Koshihikari from California (see my Pantry page).
Tip #2. Rinse and soak the rice before cooking
Make sure the rice is washed and rinsed for a few times until no more starch comes out from the water. Then let the rice soaked for at least 30 minutes before cooking. This allows the rice grains to yield a better texture.
Tip #3. Cook the rice with kombu
This is not a must, but definitely one of the top secrets for an aromatic sushi rice. I often add kombu when I cook sushi rice. It’s up to you, but I like the subtle fragrance and umami taste of kombu-infused rice.
Tip #4. Water should be less than usual amount
Because we add sushi vinegar to the cooked rice, we use less water (just a tiny bit less) when you cook the rice.
Tip #5. Make homemade sushi vinegar
Sushi rice is always seasoned with sushi vinegar. It’s made of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar to achieve the balance of sweet, salty, and sour taste. You need to get mild-flavored rice vinegar, not another type of vinegar for this; otherwise, it’s too strong and the flavor is not the same.
After you combine all the ingredients in a bowl, heat up in a microwave or in a pot over the stovetop so the sugar is fully dissolved.
If you want to save time, you can use a bottle of seasoned vinegar, or what we call sushizu (すし酢, sushi vinegar).
Tip #6. Add sushi vinegar to hot rice and let cool immediately
First, you will need to transfer the cooked rice to a big bowl (sushi oke or hangiri or salad bowl) or a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. The reason is that you need to let the rice cool fast. In Japan, we use an electric fan or hand-held fan called uchiwa (うちわ) to cool the rice.
Second, you need to pour sushi vinegar over the hot rice. Don’t wait until the rice is warm or cool. As soon as the rice is taken out of the rice bowl, you have to drizzle rice vinegar all over the rice.
Finally, using a rice paddle, mix the rice in a slicing motion. This is so important so the sushi rice won’t become mushy or smashed.
With proper fanning and slicing, your sushi rice becomes cool and shiny.
Tip #7. Cover with a damp towel
Don’t leave the sushi rice in a bowl/tray after you’re done mixing. Make sure it’s covered with a damp towel and keep it at room temp until you’re ready to make sushi.
Delicious Sushi Recipes
- California Roll
- Dragon Roll
- Spicy Tuna Roll
- Yellowtail Tuna Roll (Negihama Maki)
- Hosomaki (Thin Sushi Roll)
- Futomaki (Thick Sushi Roll)
- Chirashi Sushi
- Saba Oshizushi (Mackerel Pressed Sushi)
- Inari Sushi
- Temaki Sushi (Hand Roll)
- Temari Sushi
How to Make Sushi Rice (for Sushi Recipes)
★ For 5-6 Servings of Sushi Rice (Makes 7-11 Sushi Rolls)
- 3 rice cooker cups uncooked Japanese short-grain rice (180 ml x 3 = 540 ml; this yields 5¼ US cups (990 g) of cooked rice; you must use short-grain Japanese rice to make sushi; otherwise, rice will fall apart.)
- 2¼ cups water
- 1 piece kombu (dried kelp) (5 g; 2 inches x 2 inches, 5 cm x 5 cm; optional—but it will give a nice aroma!)
- ⅓ cup sushi vinegar (seasoned rice vinegar) (available at a Japanese/Asian grocery store or make the homemade recipe below)
Optional: Homemade Sushi Vinegar (for 3 Rice Cooker Cups)
- ⅓ cup rice vinegar (unseasoned)
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1½ tsp kosher or sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
★ For 3-4 Servings of Sushi Rice (Makes 5-7 Sushi Rolls)
- 2 rice cooker cups uncooked Japanese short-grain rice (180 ml x 2 = 360 ml; this yields 3½ US cups (660 g) of cooked rice)
- 1½ cups water
- 1 piece kombu (dried kelp) (5 g; 2 inches x 2 inches, 5 cm x 5 cm; optional—but it will give a nice aroma!)
- 4 Tbsp sushi vinegar (seasoned rice vinegar) (available at a Japanese/Asian grocery store or make the homemade recipe below)
Optional: Homemade Sushi Vinegar (for 2 Rice Cooker Cups)
- 4 Tbsp rice vinegar (unseasoned)
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp kosher or sea salt (I use Diamond Crystal; use half for table salt)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Before we start: Please note that 1 rice cooker cup is 180 ml, NOT 240 ml. 1 rice cooker cup of uncooked rice is 150 g (5.3 oz) and yields roughly 330 g (11. 6 oz) of cooked rice, which is roughly 1¾ US cups. One sushi roll requires 90-135 g or ½-¾ cup of sushi rice.
To Cook Rice
- Add water just enough until it submerges all the rice. Then discard the water immediately. Tip: Rice absorbs water very quickly when you start rinsing, so don't let it absorb the milky water.
- Use your fingers to gently wash the rice in a circular motion for 15-20 seconds.
- Add water and discard. Repeat this process a couple of times until the water is clear.
- When the water is almost clear, drain the rice well in a fine-mesh sieve and shake off the excess water.
- Check the kombu to see if there are any dirt particles. If needed, gently wipe it off with a damp cloth (it's a traditional method but these days kombu is pretty clean). Do not wipe off the white powdery substance, which contribute to the umami flavor. NEVER wash the kombu!
- Put the well-drained rice in the rice cooker bowl and add the measured water, or just under the 3-cup line. If your rice cooker has a "Sushi Rice" mode, add water up to that line. Place the kombu on top of the rice, let the rice soak in water for 20-30 minutes, and start cooking. If you don't have a rice cooker, cook rice in a pot over the stove, an Instant Pot, or a donabe with the amount of water I specified in this recipe. Tip: Since we'll be adding sushi vinegar to the cooked rice, the rice should be cooked a little bit on the firm side; therefore, the rice-to-water ratio for sushi rice should be 1 to 1 (instead of 1 to 1.1 or 1 to 1.2 for regular steamed rice).
[Optional] To Make the Sushi Vinegar
- If you are not using a store-bought bottle of sushi vinegar (seasoned rice vinegar), follow this step. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved. You can also put the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 1 minute, or till sugar is dissolved. Set aside to let it cool.
To Make the Sushi Rice
- If using a wooden sushi oke (also called hangiri), moisten it by running it over water and drain well. You can also use a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. When the rice is cooked, discard the used kombu (or repurpose it to make simmered kombu) and transfer the cooked rice into the sushi oke. Spread out the rice evenly so it will cool faster. While it’s hot, pour sushi vinegar over the rice. Tip: If you're making more or less sushi rice, you can still use this same amount of sushi vinegar. Take note that the required sushi vinegar for rice should be roughly 8-10% of the cooked rice weight.
- With a rice paddle, gently “slice” the rice at a 45-degree angle to incorporate the sushi vinegar mixture and separate the chunks of rice. Do not stir or mix the rice because the grains may break and the rice will become mushy. While using this slicing motion, vigorously fan the rice with a paddle fan or another type of fan. This cools the rice and takes away the excess moisture. Fanning makes the rice shine and keeps it from becoming mushy.
- Then, gently flip the rice in between slices. Repeat this process until the rice is cooled to the temperature of human skin.
- Keep the sushi rice covered with a damp towel (or paper towel) for a few hours at room temperature. To keep for a longer time, see below.
- Rice gets harden and dry in the refrigerator. My recommendation is to put sushi rice in an airtight container and store it in the freezer for up to a month. You can defrost overnight in the fridge, and then microwave to room temperature (not hot). If you really want to refrigerate, cover the container with a thick kitchen towel, so the rice will stay cool and safe, but not become cold.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on Aug 18, 2011. Photos updated in November 2013, video added in November 2014, content updated in May 2017.
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