The last 2 months of circuit breaker has seen a massive increase in home cooking. Where my feed used to be flooded with restaurant recommendations, I now see recipes popping up everywhere. What that means is, instead of the old dining trends, I'm now seeing loads of cooking trends. We've got Basque burnt cheesecakes, tons and tons of cookies, crinkly fudgy brownies...and this takikomi gohan.
You've definitely seen instastories of these one-pot rice cooker wonders, where raw ingredients are laid over some uncooked rice, conveniently placed in a rice cooker, and magically turns into a beautiful pot of tasty rice once the timer sounds. That's Takikomi gohan. It is basically a Japanese rice dish, where the rice is cooked together with your choice of ingredients. Very simple and fuss-free, minimal washing (my favourite), and utterly delicious.
In the (very heavy) Kirei Food mystery box I recently received from Shopee, I found a bag of Daichi Calrose Pearl Rice. I have to admit taking a look at that and yelling "TAKIKOMI GOHAN!!!!" I've always wanted to try my hand at this dish, but could never be bothered to buy Japanese short grain rice; so this got me exceedingly excited.
Now let's talk rice.
To be clear, calrose rice isn't really your standard Japanese short grain rice. It is a medium grain rice grown in California, developed by Japanese-Americans as an inexpensive rice of choice. It's not a true Japanese rice, but its moderately stickiness and well-balanced flavour makes it a popular choice for sushi rice and other dishes. Considering how a 4.5-5kg bag of Nanatsuboshi/Koshihikari rice costs more than $40 on average, I'd say this calrose rice makes a rather decent substitute at half the price if you don't specifically require high grade short grain rice.
As a rice dish, the rice is obviously one of the most important ingredients here. It's crucial to properly prepare your rice so you end up with plump, tender, and moist grains, instead of having them be mushy on the outside and hard in the middle. All it takes is 3 very simple, albeit slightly time consuming, steps: rinse, soak, and drain.
Start by rinsing your rice well. You want to place your rice in a large bowl, cover it with water and gently wash it by hand. Discard the cloudy water, and repeat this for 3-4 times till the water runs clear. Rice absorbs water really quickly when you start washing, so don't dally here and let the rice reabsorb the cloudy water.
Once the rice is well rinsed, soak it for 30-60 minutes. This hydrates your rice without the use of aggressive heat, making for fluffy, tender grains that better absorbs flavours and seasonings.
After proper soaking, drain your rice for at least 15 minutes. This makes sure that there isn't any excess water going into your rice cooker that could dilute your seasonings, or tilt the rice to water ratio. You don't want to dry your rice for too long and cause the grains to crack either, so 15-30 minutes will suffice.
Another thing to take note of is the amount of ingredients you add in. We all think more meat more vegetables = more shiok right? Wrong. Adding too many ingredients would tip the balance and detract from the star of the dish: the rice. I used just chicken and mushrooms here because my rice cooker is abysmally small, so feel free to add more vegetables — cabbage and root veggies would be lovely — but limit them to about 30% of the final rice dish.
I have to first declare that my takikomi gohan isn't completely traditional. I'm a big fan of toasting your grains as in pilaf rice, and I love skin-on chicken pieces, so my recipe is tweaked to include these.
The soaked and drained rice was first fried together with my aromatics in some butter till it's slightly browned, then placed in the rice cooker with my broth. I seared my marinated chicken skin side down to brown that a little and render off the fat, then pour that, pan juices and all, on top of my rice. Get the rice cooker started, and leave it to cook 5-10 minutes more than usual to get those blackened, charred bits on the bottom.
Not that many extra steps, and I promise they add so much depth and flavour to the dish. Of course a traditional takikomi gohan is plenty delicious as well, but in a more simple and clean Marie Kondo Japanese-y way (geddit geddit?). L loves strong punchy flavours, so my take's definitely steered more in that direction. I even made a side of ginger scallion sauce to serve on the side so he can't complain there ain't enough flavours going on.
Ginger scallion sauce is a staple in our pantry. It's so easy to make, keeps rather well, and when you're feeling lazy this works wonders with a bowl of hot noodles. I make it so often I pretty much eyeball everything, so yknow just follow your guts when making it at home.
If you want go 100% traditional, just skip all the additional frying and browning and use skinless chicken thighs as well. Place the rice and broth in the rice cooker, top it off with the aromatics, mushrooms, and marinated chicken, and boom that's it. You can give the ginger scallion sauce a miss as well if that's not up your alley, but if you hold back on the furikake imma be really upset.
You can find the rice at Shopee's S-Mart, which is a great platform for food as well. They've got TONS of food and beverages products, from your daily groceries to ready-to-eat items like Kim Choo rice dumplings. You can check out their range here, and use the promo code SHOPEEXCEB that will give new Shopee users $7 off a minimum spend of $15 (valid till 11 November 2020 23:59).
Chicken Takikomi Gohan (serves 4)
2 cups Kirei Daichi calrose pearl rice/other short grain rice
500-600ml dashi/vegetable/chicken stock*
300g boneless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons sake
1.5 tablespoon soy sauce
0.5 tbsp fish sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced + 4 cloves garlic, whole
Handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon corn flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon white pepper
100g maitake mushrooms
30g ginger, peeled and sliced
Knob of butter
Sesame oil, for frying
Scallion, sliced, to serve
Hamaotome Iwashi furikake, to serve
Ginger scallion sauce
Handful of scallions, sliced thinly
2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
Chicken seasoning powder
Canola oil (any neutral oil with a high smoking point would work)
1. Rinse your rice well, then soak it in a fresh batch of water for at least 30 minutes.
2. While your rice is soaking, cut your chicken thighs into 1-inch chunks. Combine the chicken with the sake, soy sauce, fish sauce, 3 cloves of minced garlic, coriander, corn flour, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper. Mix well and marinate for 30 minutes.
3. Trim off the base of the maitake mushroom, but do not wash them as it will lose a lot of its flavour. Cut into smaller chunks, and set aside. You can use shimeji or shiitake mushrooms here as well. If you're using dried shiitake mushrooms, reserve the soaking liquid. Add extra dashi to the soaking liquid to make up 550ml, and use this broth to cook the rice.
4. Drain your rice and let it dry for at least 15 minutes. Once your rice is well drained, heat up a wide pan over medium-high heat. Add in the knob of butter, followed by the rice, 4 cloves of garlic (whole), ginger slices, and maitake mushrooms. Fry them for a couple of minutes until the rice looks slightly browned. Drizzle 1-2 tbsp of sesame oil into the pan and toss to coat.
5. Take the rice off the heat and transfer it into the rice cooker. Pour your broth over.
6. Give the pan a quick wipe/rinse, then place it back on the stove over medium-low heat. Add a little sesame oil, followed by the marinated chicken skin side down. Brown the skins for a few minutes, give the chicken a quick stir in the pan, then pour everything on top of the rice.
7. Without stirring or mixing, start cooking the rice. My cheap rice cooker only has the regular rice setting, so I leave it to cook for another 10 minutes once it's done to get the crisp charred bits at the bottom.
8. While the rice is cooking, get started on the ginger scallion sauce. Blend the sliced ginger with just a little water (~1-2 tbsp) until it's finely minced but not mushy. Alternatively, you can grate it. Place the minced ginger and sliced scallions in a bowl. Add a hefty pinch (~1ish tbsp) of salt and mix well. You can be pretty generous here, it's ok to go a little heavier on the salt cause it will mellow down once the oil goes in. Add in a pinch (~2 tsp) of chicken seasoning powder, and mix well. Heat some oil over medium heat until it just about starts to smoke. Pour the hot oil into the bowl — it should sizzle. Mix well.
9. When the rice is done, fluff it up with a rice paddle. Serve hot with some sliced scallions and furikake.
*The general guide for calrose rice is 1 cup of rice to 1 1/4 cups liquid. I added an extra 100ml of broth because I prefer a slightly wetter, stickier texture for my rice. If you like it drier, use 500ml of broth instead. I also used chicken broth because it's so immensely challenging to find dashi now — if you find it online, chances are you've gotta wait 2 weeks for a delivery slot. To make this with dashi, mix in 1 tbsp of soy sauce for more flavour.