Why Wash Rice?

Nothing goes to waste in the Japanese Kitchen. Nothing. I have internalized this appreciation that I have learned from Andoh sensei years ago in our very first encounter. After a while it becomes not only a daily practice and routine, it also becomes kind of a hobby to find out how much (more) you can (re)use from an ingredient.

I usually consume white rice. It cooks and behaves widely different than brown rice – and – admittedly because I like it better. Though I do make sure to get my nutrients back in eating nuka zuké (Japanese vegetables pickled in rice bran) and adding different grains to my rice. Which leads me directly to using food – in this case rice – fully. Nuka (rice bran) is a byproduct when milling rice. It is being used as a pickle medium for vegetables and also in the cooking liquid (nuka-jiru) for e.g. fresh bamboo shoots to neutralize the natural occurring toxic and bitter components.

Some of the nuka remains on the rice and this is why you should wash your rice thoroughly before cooking or it will not cook as well. Coming back to my favorite Japanese kitchen mantra ‘Nothing is going to waste in the Japanese kitchen’: Save that water (togi-jiru) and dedicate it to a useful purpose. Need ideas? Here are my top five ways to reuse the water from washing rice

Togi-jiru for CookingCooking: The rice oils and the starch in togi-jiru neutralize bitter enzymes that allow the sugars in the vegetable to be more noticeable. Use togi-jiru instead of water to cook e.g. daikon, sweet corn or burdock for a palate-pleasing sweetness.

Togi-juru as creamBeauty: Carefully pour off the water after the sediment has formed on the bottom. Feel it. It is soft and silky.  A wonderful cream. I use it for my hands, as it doesn’t leave a greasy film behind and it doesn’t have artificial ingredients that I wouldn’t want to get on my food. Even better: it removes unwanted odors like fish or garlic.

Togi-jiru for plantsPlants: Frugal cooks also save the second and third wash to water their plants. The containing nutrients really perk them up.




Togi-jiru for pottery


Kitchen Hygiene: Togi-jiru is  effective in removing odors from your pots and pans (e.g. after cooking fish). It can also be used in cleaning the tiny contours and crevices of earthenware pots, rice bowls and teacups.


Togi-juru for cleaningCleaning: So far I have always used my togi-jiru up for cooking, as a cream or for my pots and pans. But apparently it is said to be also great for giving a nice shine to your floors, shower, bathtub, or toilet. So if you happen to have any left over togi-jiru put it in a spray bottle when wiping down your house.

You can keep togi-jiru for up to five days in the fridge an. This way you can collect the water from washing your rice for several days. The sediment at the bottom of your jar will thicken with each addition, when you pour off the water above it to make room for the new washing water.

Miso Madness: Marinated Fish

Today was one of those days. An overflowing to do list and whatever I started seemed not to end precisely where I wanted. Adding to the distraction that comes with a not-so-much-sleeping-anymore-baby my oldest one joined in, as she couldn’t go to school either. Those days would normally be destined for some take out food or home delivery. Normally. If take out wouldn’t take so much time to pick up, given that I have to take the entire kids-gang with me. If delivery services would make tasty food. If I would find a delivery service that has food for every taste and age. If I would find a delivery service that serves the food either super fast or in a reliable time frame to arm me for the witching hour when my girls transform to kidzillas. But so far I haven’t found one. And on those days I cannot afford to stir a pot on the stove while consoling one, two or three girls at the same time close to tears myself. On those days I need a kitchen lifesaver. Quick and easy soul food. Comforting, healthy and satisfying.

One of my all time favorites in this situation is succulent Saikyo Yaki (Miso-marinated grilled fish), served with a steaming bowl of freshly cooked rice and a savory miso soup. As usual, I have some fish in its marinade in my fridge waiting patiently for those days to come. Now all I need is a tiny bit of preparation to bring out the smiles again with a yummy dinner on the table in about 10 minutes elapsed time. How does that sound?

So whenever you have a moment during the day wash the rice, put it in the rice cooker and keep it warm until you need it. At the same time soak some kombu (kelp) in water and make dashi (basic stock) within a couple of minutes (see recipe here), putting you in the pole position to whip up a miso soup while the fish, that you just need to take out of the marinade, is broiling. That’s it.

Certainly no remedy against the witching hour, but a way to make your life easier in the heat of the moment. Admittedly, I almost always have some salmon marinated in miso sitting in my fridge. Just to be prepared. Also because it simply tastes wonderful and keeps for about five days in the marinade.  And even if I don’t have one of those days, I don’t mind a yummy and healthy dinner that only takes minutes to get on the table.

Saikyo Yaki


  • 4 pieces á 100g  Fish (e.g. Salmon, (Spanish) Makarel, Cod)
  • some saké (optional
  • Sarashi or cheesecloth, big enough to wrap the fish
  • Non-reactive vessel that holds the fish in a snug fit layer


  • 450-500g saikyo miso (sweet, light miso)
  • 80 ml Mirin
  • Zest of one yuzu, lemon or orange


Rinse the fish under cold water and pat it dry. If you want to hedge your bets rinse the fish with sake and pat it dry. Mix the ingredients for the marinade and put half of it in a non-reactive vessel. Place the sarashi or cheesecloth (in a double layer) on top of the miso in the vessel, press down slightly and add the fish (snug fit). Enclose the fish with the remaining piece of sarashi/cheesecloth, put the second half of the marinade on top of it and close the lid or cover with a sheet of plastic wrap. Let the fish marinate at room temperature for a minimum of six hours or in the fridge for up to five days. The longer the fish marinates the firmer it will get and the more intense the salty-sweet miso flavor will become.

To cook the fish scrape off the marinade on top of the sarashi/cheesecloth (save the marinade for another use in a glass jar) and remove the fish from the container. Place the fish skin side down on a piece of aluminum foil and grill it for about three or four minutes (the skin will bubble and char a bit). Turn and grill for another 2-3 minutes. If you use a broiler start with the skin side up (to protect the fish against the heat). If you have neither use a pan and sear the fish slowly (skin side down first) on medium heat, being careful not to let it scorch. Remove the fish from the heat when being slightly crusty and golden on the outside and still juicy and succulent on the inside and serve it right away or at room temperature.

Stay tuned for more kitchen lifesafers and more Miso Madness recipes. Sign up for the newsletter and you will get them directly to your inbox.

Sake is Sake

I usually encounter raised eyebrows when I mention anything about sake breweries, because people are puzzled that ‘rice wine’ is actually brewed. Others are irritated because they assume that sake is distilled, as it can be quite strong. So what is sake?

Sake is the traditional Japanese beverage that has been brewed for 1.000 years like it is today from rice and rice alone. Of course you need yeast, water and koji (a mold that is grown on rice to break the starch into sugar) for the fermentation, but no other grain than rice is allowed. The fact that sake is brewed from a grain makes it more a beer than a wine. But given its complexity of flavors and the amount of flavor nuances (about 400), sake relates more to wine (which has about 200 flavor nuances). And even though sake has a natural alcohol content of 16-20%, is not distilled and not even remotely related to any spirit. In the end sake is sake. A beverage of its own. Subtle, diverse, complex and very enjoyable.

So how is sake made in a nutshell?

Rice is being polished, washed, soaked and then steamed in this order. Afterwards it gets mixed with yeast, water and koji in a small open tank and is then allowed to ferment for about two weeks (sometimes four). After those initial two (four) weeks that mixture (Moto) is transferred to a large tank and more steamed rice, water and koji is added three times in four days. This mixture is now called Moromi. The Moromi will ferment in a large open tank for the next 18 to 32 days after which it will be pressed, filtered, often pasteurized and sometimes blended.

Sounds pretty straight forward, right? So how can something so ‘simple’ develop such a variety of flavors? Because basically ANY variation in EACH and EVERY STEP in the process has an influence on the taste.

  • What type of water is used and its chemical composition.
  • Which type of rice is being used and where the rice has been grown.
  • The weather during rice growing season as well as during the brewing process
  • How much and how fast the rice is being polished.
  • How long the rice is being washed, how long it is being soaked (Japanese brew masters go down to adjust the time by seconds) and steamed
  • How the koji mold propagates on the rice (which is adjusted by humidity and temperature – again, in the 0,5 to 1 degree/percent- range)
  • What type of yeast is being used and the fermenting temperature

The list goes on and on, but I think you get the idea that brewing sake is an art and certainly not straight forward. All the adjustments are decided by the toji (master brewer) based on intuition, experience and his five senses. Machines and computers can only inadequately replace those skills and are therefore only used for ordinary, low grade sake. Thus it doesn’t come on a surprise that it takes decades for a young kurabito (brewery worker) to get the necessary experience and to sharpen his senses to become a toji – if at all.