Basic White Rice

4/5 (1)
Prep Time:
40 mins
Cook Time:
30 mins
6 servings
Japanese White Rice Japanese White Rice Japanese White Rice



  • Mixing bowl
  • Pot
  • Spatula

Quick Directions

  1. Soak rice in water, rubbing it together with your hands to polish it. Pour out the water and rinse several times until the water runs clear. Drain well.
  2. Place rice, salt and water in a small pot. Cover and turn burner to high. Once water starts to boil, turn heat down to low and cook 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let rest 10 minutes before fluffing with a spatula.

The Story

When you think about Japanese food, the first thing that should come to mind is rice. Rice has always been the cultural food of Japan, and its hard to picture a day without rice in some form. Rice is so integral to the culture that one of the kanji used in words for meals (飯) actually translates to cooked rice. While the modernization of Japan has introduced a lot of new foods and flavors, rice will always be the number one starch. In fact, in feudal Japan, rice was so essential that without it, villages wouldn’t survive.

So with something so important to the cuisine, it needs to be made right! Delicious rice is easy to make, but difficult to master. Don’t let that deter you, it just takes practice!

With something so basic, you’re probably thinking, this’ll be a piece of cake, and in a sense you’re right. All there is to it is rice, salt and water. It isn’t complicated, but that mistake can be the pitfall for many. Proper preparation and ingredients are everything for great taste!

Before I started exploring the world of cooking, I made the mistake of thinking that rice is just rice. I grew up on the Minute Rice, and in my picky childhood eating habits I thought that was fancy. Little did I realize just how many types of rice there are! For true Japanese rice, you need to get a specific type. You need to look for a medium grain rice, or what is commonly labeled as “sushi rice” in grocery stores. A good bowl of rice consists of slightly sticky rice that is soft but not mushy, and you can only get that with “sushi rice”. Plus, different types of rice have different flavors and textures, so you won’t get that true Japanese flavor with a different rice. Sushi is becoming increasingly popular in America, so you should be able to find it in the international section of your grocery store.

To make authentic white rice, you have to prepare the rice a little before you actually cook it. You might be tempted to skip this part and just cook it immediately, but it is absolutely critical to get the fluffy, sticky rice you want!

Some tips I’ve learned:

  • Rice does not have to be made in a rice cooker to be good. In fact, I don’t even own a rice cooker! Rice cookers help you get the balance of water right, but you can still make it in a pot, you just have to really know how much you need.
  • The amount of water I specify above is for dried rice. If you rise your rice, you’ve already added a few tablespoons to the amount, so if you don’t have time to dry your rice, add a few tablespoons less of water to the pot while cooking.
  • If the rice you have is older, letting it soak a little bit before cooking really helps evenly cook the rice. Again, not critical, but it doesn’t hurt to let the rice soak every time.
  • The amount of water for each brand of rice is a little different. To be safe, it’s actually easier to add a little less water to begin with, then after 20 minutes of cooking, if the rice is still a little too firm, add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pot and let it soak up the rest of the water.
  • Polishing the rice is critical, but most Japanese rice packaging doesn’t mention this step! It seems the Japanese just know to do this, but if you’re not Japanese, you might have missed the memo! If you don’t polish the rice beforehand, the rice is heavier and really lumps together.
  • Not all rice brands are the same. Explore different brands and grains to find the ones you like best. Nishiki is the brand easiest to find in my regular grocery store, but I love splurging on other brands in my Asian grocery store. KoshihikariSasanishiki and Akitakomachi are the most popular varieties of Japanese rice, so when looking for rice to try, look for packaging labeled with one of those words.

Recipe – Basic Japanese White Rice:

– Pour the rice into a large bowl and rinse the rice under running water. Rub the rice together with your hands, trying to give it a good scrubbing. The Japanese refer to this as “polishing the rice” so rub it together as if you’re trying to make it shiny. Be sure to stir the rice around to help get it as clean as possible. As you start scrubbing it, you’ll notice the water will turn cloudy. That is extra starch left on the surface of the rice. If we leave it on the rice, it won’t be nearly as light.

Japanese White Rice

– Carefully pour out the water and rinse the rice a couple of more times until the rice turns clear. Polishing the rice is critical! If you leave the starch on it, the grains are too sticky and heavy. The rice has a mushier texture, clumping together in large lumps, but what we want is light, individually defined grains! The water might still be a little cloudy, but get it as clear as you can.Japanese White Rice



– After you’ve rinsed the rice, drain is as much as you can. If you have time to let it dry,  spread the rice out on a wide plate and let it dry off for about 30 minutes to get rid of some of the extra water. Good rice is a balancing act between the water and rice. Too much water and it’s mushy, too little and it’s rubbery.

– Once the rice has dried, place the rice, water, and salt in a small pot. Let rest for 30 minutes. When ready to cook, cover the pot with a tight fitting lid and turn the burner on to high. Cook it until the water just starts to boil, then reduce the heat to low for 25 minutes.

Japanese White Rice

– Turn off the burner and let it sit for 10 minutes with the lid on to fully absorb the moisture. It is important to let it sit to make the rice easier to handle.  The rice should look full and plump at this point, then all you need to do is fluff it up with a fork and you’re done! Fresh tasting authentic Japanese rice. That wasn’t so hard now was it?!

Japanese White Rice

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  • Madi

    Won’t the rice just soak in the water when you are cleaning it, and how long should you polish it?

    • Dani

      The rice will soak in some water, but not a whole lot. Similar to when you’re cooking dry beans, it actually helps the rice cook more evenly if it soaks in a little water first! Depending on how old your rice is and the specific brand of rice, you might want to soak it longer, but I usually soak it for 15 to 30 minutes, then start polishing it. When polishing it, it should only take a couple minutes, and I usually rinse the rice 3 or 4 times to get the water mostly clear. Then just let it drain in a mesh sieve for another 10 minutes to get rid of excess water, since it can sometimes screw up the measurements.

      Depending on how much water the rice soaks up, you might want to take out a tablespoon or so of water when you actually cook it, but this can vary depending on if you’re using a rice cooker or using the stove. Sometimes the bag might also have instructions on exactly how much water to use after rinsing. I actually think this is part of what makes cooking rice perfectly so difficult, since it’s as much an art as it is a science!! But don’t feel discouraged if your rice isn’t perfect the first few times, with a little practice you’ll start to know when it’s ready and how much water is right.

  • Madi

    How should you rub the rice when you are “polishing the rice”? Should it be rice rubbing against rice? I need a better explanation, if you may. (^-^)/

    • Madi

      And also, what brand of rice do you buy, if you can tell me?

      • Dani

        I’m sorry I didn’t see your question sooner! I usually buy Nishiki rice or Kokuho Rose rice since they’re the only one available in the local grocery stores. They’re good for basic rice, but I love the shorter grains best. When I want to make a really nice meal, I buy rice labeled Koshihikari, こしひかり. It’s a bit sticker with a stronger flavor, and perfect for onigiri!