Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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"Rice" will be featured this week and the next. The first recipe is a rice ball whose shape varies from one region to another. While cylindrical ones are popular in western Japan and drum-shaped ones are found in the Tohoku region, the recipe for the triangular type will be shown.

After being cooked, one “go” (about 180 cc) of rice weighs about 300 grams. This allows you to make three rice balls in the size sold at convenience stores or four smaller ones. Our goal is to make a neat-looking rice ball that does not break easily, while not being too hard. The key to creating a fine form is the shape of the hands. The dominant hand on top should be shaped like a pyramid. This hand determines the shape of the rice ball. The other hand determines the thickness. While rotating it toward you, press to lightly form the three spikes. Although people used to handle rice balls directly, use the plastic wrap to prevent food poisoning.

The amount of salt for a rice ball is 1/8 of a teaspoon, often described as “shosho,” or “a little.” It is an amount you can pinch with your thumb and forefinger. This amount allows you to fully enjoy a simple “salted rice ball” without any filling. You can make rice balls from rice cooked with various ingredients, or by covering with “tororo konbu” (shaved kelp) or “wakame” seaweed. There are unlimited variations.

BASIC COOKING METHOD

(Supervised by Akiko Watanabe in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients and cooking utensils (For six rice balls)

2 “go” rice, 2 or 3 pickled plums (umeboshi), 3/4 tsp salt, plastic wrap, rice bowl, rice paddle, long chopsticks for cooking

1. Cook rice normally, loosen lightly with rice paddle. Remove stones from pickled plums and tear into chunks.

2. Serve rice lightly in bowl. Make a depression in center, place pickled plum and cover with rice (PHOTO A). This way, the filling will sit in the center.

3. 1/8 tsp salt is used per rice ball. Sprinkle half the amount on spread plastic wrap. Place rice on top and sprinkle remaining salt (PHOTO B).

4. Hold four corners of plastic wrap, close together and hold lightly with both hands in the shape of a ball. Form a triangle with dominant hand, using the other hand to create the desired thickness, pressing from above. Rotate rice ball toward you by shifting the spikes and shape nicely (PHOTO C). Remove plastic wrap and cool.

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Akiko Watanabe is a cooking expert specializing in Japanese cuisine.

Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairperson of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.

ARRANGED VERSION

<Fried soy sauce-flavored rice ball>

Fry the rice balls until they turn golden. They will nicely complement some drinks or serve as a snack. Since a rice ball must be turned when being toasted, shape tightly to prevent it from falling apart. Mix 1 Tbsp soy sauce and 1 tsp sweet mirin sake (for two rice balls). Thinly coat frying pan with oil and heat for 1 minute or a minute and a half. When lightly brown, turn and cook for about 1 minute. Remove and place on plate and apply sauce on both sides. Return to pan and cook briefly.

<Fried miso-flavored rice ball>

Mix 1 Tbsp miso and 1/2 Tbsp sweet mirin sake (for two) and apply on rice balls instead of the soy-based sauce.

COOKERY SCIENCE

If the same amount of salt is used, the saltiness is felt more strongly when it is sprinkled on the outside instead of being mixed in the rice. At first, the taste of salt is strongly felt in the mouth, and as you keep munching, the saltiness mixes with the rice and the overall taste becomes even. Simmering vegetables such as pumpkin in dashi stock and pouring seasoned thick sauce on top is one way to increase satisfaction with less salt.

Q&A

Question: What should we be mindful of when using a frying pan on an induction cooktop?

Answer: Typically, the pan becomes hot straight away owing to the high thermal efficiency of induction heating. According to a spokesperson for Tefal, which sells frying pans processed with fluorine resin, the coating tends to come off easily with continuous use over high heat. The company recommends turning the heat on after greasing the pan with oil.

Since the bottom of the pan itself is induced to give off heat in induction heating, the heat cannot envelop the entire pan as in gas heating. When asked for tips on using iron frying pans, a spokesperson for River Light, a manufacturer, said extra oil should be poured in the pan, the heat should be increased gradually so the oil can correct the uneven heating, and oil should be allowed to spread in the pan before cooking.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column