Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the stovetop in a pot

As part of my weight loss efforts, not to mention generally trying to 'eat better', flirting with 'makurobi' (the Japanese word for macrobiotic, and also meaning a 'hipper' version of macrobiotic cooking) and such, I've been cooking more brown rice as opposed to polished white rice. Fortunately my rice cooker has a gen-mai (brown rice) cooking setting. If you don't have a rice cooker with this setting though, it can be a bit tricky to make brown rice that is soft and plump, sticky enough to stick together for things like rice balls (onigiri) and sushi rolls, and most importantly, cooked through properly with no raw center. After some trial and error, consulting many cookbooks and web pages, I've come up with a method which has proved to be pretty reliable.

lecreusetpot.jpgThere is one caveat though: you need a really heavy bottomed, thick-walled pan. A plain old thin-walled saucepan simply won't cut it. I used a 24cm diameter or medium-sized round Le Creuset French Oven, pictured here. It's a wonderful pot that I use just about every day for various things. (It's not an exaggeration to say that it's the best investment I've made, kitchen-equipment wise, and I'm saving up my pennies now to buy both the smaller and larger versions.) It is expensive if you buy retail (if you have a Le Creuset outlet store near you be sure to check them out) but worth every penny. And, it is cheaper than a good rice cooker and more multi-purpose too.

As an alternative, you can use a heavy cast-iron pot. In fact, rice was traditionally cooked in cast iron pots in Japan (tetsugama), and recently some manufacturers have introduced high-end rice cookers with cast iron inserts in Japan.

Whatever pot you use, be sure it has a heavy, tight-fitting lid. A light lid will dance on the pot and rise up, causing the steam to escape, which you don't want to happen. If you don't have a tight or heavy lid, put an inverted plate inside the pot as a sort of second inner lid, followed by the regular pot lid. You want to keep the steam inside as much as possible. There's a picture showing this on this (Japanese) page. (They are using a ceramic pot there but the principle is the same.)

It does take quite a long time to cook brown rice properly. However, you can freeze it in portion-sized batches, and nuke each pack in the microwave covered in plastic wrap - it revives itself wonderfully. So I have taken to making 4 to 5 cups worth of dry rice at a time, and dividing it up. This helps in the portion-control race too.

Basic brown rice in a pot

brownrice1.jpg

  • 5 cups rice
  • 7 to 9 cups cold water
  • a pinch (or about 1/8th tsp.) salt

Briefly rinse the rice and drain well in a colander or sieve. (Unlike white rice there's no need to polish-wash it.)

Put the rice, water and salt in the pot. Note that the ratio of rice to water is about 1 to 1.5, up to about 1 to 1.8. The lesser amount makes a firmer rice; I prefer to put in about 8 cups to every 5 cups of rice.

Put on the lid and leave to soak for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours or longer (up to about 8 hours). This soaking is necessary to ensure even cooking of the grains. Putting it to soak in the morning and cooking in the evening works, __as long as it's not too hot in your kitchen__. In the summer you may want to put the rice to soak in the refrigerator. If it's too warm the rice may start to ferment and turn nasty.

Put on the heat to medium - no higher - and slowly bring the pot up to a boil. (You heat it at medium heat to prevent burning on the bottom.)

As soon as the water is bubbling somewhat briskly, turn the heat down to low. Put the lid back on, and leave to simmer slowly for at least one hour. Depending on how dry your rice is to begin with, and how long you soaked it, it may take 2 hours or more, but if you've soaked it enough it shouldn't take more than an hour.

At the end the rice should have completely absorbed the moisture. If not, turn the heat up to high for a couple of minutes to evaporate the excess moisture.

Turn off the heat, pull the pot off the heat source (important especially if you are using an electric range), put the lid back on and leave to rest for at least 15 minutes. This resting time can't be skipped if you want to have really plump rice.

Remove the rice to another container (a wooden ohitsu is ideal, but a bowl is fine) and fluff up the rice with a spatula.

If your rice develops a crusty bottom, just carefully take the non-crusty rice off and put it into another container. Scrape the crusty bottom off the pan - it should come off fairly intact. This part is called the okoge and many Japanese people consider it to a sort of delicacy. You can put it into ochazuke, serve with vegetables in sauce like crispy noodles, or crisp it up even more in a little sesame oil and pour a few drops of soy sauce over it to make a kind of rice cracker. (Some people even dry roast it even further until it's a very dark brown, and grind it up for a sort of brown rice 'coffee'. I don't like this at all myself, but to each his own!)

Edit: Dealing with small amounts of rice

This past year (2009) I've been making rice in much smaller amounts, because I've been living all over the place in holiday apartments, which lack adequate freezers. I have found that for small amounts of rice, a much lower ratio of rice to water works better. Also, the amount does vary quite a bit depending on the kind of rice. If you are making up to 2 cups of rice, try a 1 to 1.2 ratio of rice to water (so, 1 cup of rice and 1.2 cups of water) instead of the 1 to 1.5 recommended above for large amounts. If that still results in too-wet or gooey rice, try lowering the ratio to 1:1.1 or even 1:1. It might be useful to note down the ratio that works for a particular kind of rice.

Note: If you cook brown rice in a rice cooker with a 'keep warm' feature, don't leave it in warm! Brown rice kept at a warm temperature too long will quickly turn very nasty.

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Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the stovetop in a p

I have a rice cooker with a genmai setting, but I haven't used it yet. My tummy seems not to tolerate brown rice very well, even if it's properly cooked, so I stick to white rice in its various forms.

yoko | 11 January, 2007 - 21:31

Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the stovetop in a p

About the crusty bottom. My hispanic friends like that, and start the rice wih olive oil so that at the end you get the sizzle and crust. My friend de Puerto Rico calls that pegado, which means "stuck", and thinks it's the best part. My friend de La Republica Dominicana calls it raspa, which is "scrape" and thinks it's the best part. So if your rice doesn't stick, you are a great rice cook, and if it does, you have made an excellent international treat. Yay, you go.

haknot | 12 January, 2007 - 10:30

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

I realize this is late, but your comment just gave my wife (who is a fantastic cook that NEVER screws up..... except for rice) a huge confidence boost.
She never believed my family (Dominican/Cuban)raised me on what she calls her "epic rice failure".
Your comment is proof. Many thanks for your optimism :D

anon. | 17 June, 2011 - 22:02

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Oh my gosh. I'm Puerto Rican, and what the previous poster says is true-Pegado is extremely popular in Hispanic families. My mother and cousin both LOVE rice pegado. Personally, I think it's so nasty!!!

Funny enough my wife who's of Native American and Sicilian descent loves it, too. I'd usually throw that rice away, but luckily it doesn't waste with her around...

Too funny. xD

Ash | 27 May, 2012 - 03:04

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Mmmmmm. I thumbs up for pegao'. Puerto Rican here too.

Anomalous | 26 March, 2013 - 10:06

Brown Rice Availability in Japan

I will be moving to Japan this summer. Is brown rice readily available in Japan? Can it be found in common supermarkets or neighborhood markets?

Thank you

Andy | 18 March, 2007 - 02:34

brown rice in Japan

It sure is available, not to mention things that are not so available outside of Japan like sprouted brown rice (hatsuga-mai) which is supposed to have all the nutritional benefits of regular brown rice but be as easy to cook as white rice. Have fun in Japan!

maki | 18 March, 2007 - 07:18

thanks maki, one more question if I may

I am glad to hear that brown rice is readily available in Japan. It is an importabt part of a healthy diet. How about 100% whole wheat bread? Can it be found in regular markets or bakeries. I will be living in Kobe.

andy | 18 March, 2007 - 12:18

whole wheat bread in Japan

Andy I can’t vouch for the specific availability in Kobe, though it is a major city. In the Tokyo area though it’s very commonly available though so I assume it’s the same in Kobe. Look for zenryuufun pan (全粒粉パン) .

maki | 19 March, 2007 - 14:19

I’ve had some success

I’ve had some success using a regular rice cooker if I presoak the brown-rice overnight with a little more water (mayb 15% more).

Anyways, great site!

Matthew Lau | 24 March, 2007 - 03:32

Thanks!

I found your page doing research on bento box lunches. Thanks for the clear and easy rice instructions in particular, but all the recipes look yummy! Looking forward to trying some of them.

Deb | 13 April, 2007 - 20:44

Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the stovetop in a p

Hi, I just found your site and so far I love it, your recipes are very helpful.
I have a question about the pot you have to cook the rice in, I don’t have any cast-iron pots but I have a glass pot thats pretty thick, would that be ok?

Bryan | 24 May, 2007 - 05:22

even heat

Bryan, I don’t have any experience with glass pots, but if it heats evenly and retains heat well, it will be fine.

maki | 24 May, 2007 - 05:55

Brown Rice sold here ..

(in Malaysia) I guess is different from the Japanese type in the sense that the size of the grain is longer. Neverthless, I’ve developed an obsession with brown rice after replacing it with white rice for a month. I just love the nutty, peculiar taste. I cook it with onion sauteed with butter, added the rice and then added beef broth and italian herbs. I like it slightly fluffy ^_^ yummy!

Well, I’d like to share a tip with everyone. My mom taught me to cook rice since I was 7 so basically, using thin or heavy bottomed pan is fine either way but the trick is to control the fire. Start with medium heat and when the water is almost dried up, lower the heat to the lowest you can get and close the lid. At this stage, just before closing the lid, my grandmother would give the rice a good stir, (maybe to make sure that the rice is evenly cooked?) and then close the lid for a few minutes, until all the water is evaporated and the rice looks fluffy.

Sara Ahmad | 23 October, 2007 - 06:28

Short-Grain brown rice

Hi-
Which brown rice do you use? We pretty much only eat short-grain brown rice at our house. Moist rice is accomplished without much production, I find. In a pan with a tight-fitting lid, I put 1 cup short-grain brown rice, 2 1/4 cups water, salt, and (optional) margarine or butter. Bring to boil, cook for 45 min., and it’s done. It makes rice balls using the plastic wrap method that are just fine.

David Levinson | 24 January, 2008 - 05:59

Thanks!

I was wondering why my rice cooker rice (white or brown) wasn’t turning out so well. Thanks for this and the white rice post! One of the things I miss about Japan (I was a high school summer foreign exchange student) was the consistently fantastic rice. And since deciding to eat healthier, the whole brown rice thing had me stumped, too. Anyway, thanks a bunch! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this and your bento blog this weekend and subscribed to your RSS feeds. :)

elaine | 27 January, 2008 - 06:34

Rice

Where can I buy brown rice coffee?

anon. | 5 April, 2008 - 05:25

Brown Rice

Dear Sir.

We are looking for Brown Rice from Japan, So any interested firm should feel free to contact for immediate business transaction.

Regards,

Mark Chidi

Mr Mark Chidi | 10 April, 2008 - 19:47

le creuset burns!

I have a creuset set and always always always burnt rice with it. I also cannot cook oatmeal in it, unless i stand there and stir the pot constantly. don’t get me wrong, it is a GREAT pot, but i wouldn’t use it for rice, and esp. not brown rice. I thought for a while about getting a heat diffuser for our gas stove, but have resorted to cooking rice in our stainless steel pot. has anyone tried cooking with a clay-pot?

anon. | 18 August, 2008 - 22:31

A diffuser might help with

A diffuser might help with the burning. Traditionally, clay pots aren’t used for cooking rice in Japan (they’re used for other things, like stews) but cast iron pots are. You might also have success with a pressure cooker.

maki | 19 August, 2008 - 06:42

brown rice and more

Hi! Such great sister sites! (I found this one via the bento one.) The other excellent brown rice cooking option is a pressure cooker - as a vegan I use it constantly also for all kinds of beans - the cooking time is super reduced (25min brown rice, perfect onigiri stickiness, no soaking ) You’re clearly all set with the Le Creuset, but for other readers who are potential cookware investors…

Helen Mirra | 7 September, 2008 - 20:18

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

hey I have a question, why do you add a pinch of salt to the rice?

irugnotmis | 24 February, 2009 - 04:07

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

This helps the brown rice cook more evenly, I believe.

baka.tom | 26 May, 2009 - 01:50

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

These proportions and times didn't work well for a small batch of rice, 1.5 cups dry. It was incredibly gluey with excess water and very overcooked even under 1 hour. I guess for my small pot I will have to try and see what works.

Just being one person making 5 cups of rice is crazy. I don't even have much of a freezer.

Amber | 14 October, 2009 - 05:16

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

For small amounts, try a 1:1.2 or even down to a 1:1 ratio. I've encountered this problem when I've been cooking in holiday kitchens this year.

maki | 14 October, 2009 - 10:06

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Is there a good rice cooker available for cooking brown rice?I want to free up stove elements for other things. I tried a rice cooker a few years ago and didn't like the way so much rice stuck to the bottom and sides and was wasted. Any ideas please?

Margot. | 16 October, 2010 - 05:12

Brown Rice rice cooker

We have a Sanyo 10 cup capacity that makes amazing brown rice, never sticky or gluey. It has convenient water level markers, so even though we lost the specific measuring cup that went with the rice maker, the rice still comes out perfectly! It also had a very effective non-stick coating (you do have to be gentle when washing these, or else it's usefulness vanishes) so there isn't any waste. The end of the article mentioned that brown rice does not do well when the rice cooker is on "Keep Warm," but I haven't noticed any drop in quality after leaving it on this setting for several hours. I would highly recommend this rice cooker for brown rice.

Peter | 20 June, 2011 - 22:56

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

I have never seen brown rice sushi, does it work? If so do I buy a special brown sushi rice or can I use regular brown rice? Have you ever written here about this, I couldn't find a link...
Thanks!

Lianasd | 30 December, 2010 - 19:43

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Technically there is no such thing as 'regular' brown rice, since brown rice is basically ANY kind of rice that hasn't been polished and unhulled. To make sushi, you will need to use the unhulled/brown rice version of a medium-grain rice; long grain basmati rice for instance won't work. See Looking at rice for more details.

maki | 30 December, 2010 - 20:14

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Never tried it myself, but my mother told me about some brown rice sushi she tried. Apparently the vinegar didn't stick to the rice, and I suspect the texture was wrong too. She said it was terrible.

marnen | 24 August, 2011 - 06:48

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Just wondering, but does anyone know if it's possible to cook brown rice in one of those microwave rice cookers? I'm living in a dorm at university right now and we can't have any sort of heating appliance in our rooms other than a kettle, and the only sort of cooking appliance we have in the lounge is a microwave.

It makes me really sad not being able to bake or cook regularly. :'(

anon. | 11 January, 2011 - 08:25

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

I feel your pain! You can, though you have to play with the water/timing since every machine is a bit different. Try soaking the rice and switching out the water for water you've pre-boiled in the microwave, cover, and put everything in the microwave just long enough to reheat the water as necessary. It's finicky, but doable.

One thing I've found that helps is to sprout the rice first- put the brown rice in a bowl of warm water and leave it by the window for a day or three, and change the water once to twice a day. You wind up with a rice that is soaked, and has an inherently chewier consistency that's more forgiving in the microwave. :)

Oh! You know when the rice has sprouted because there will be a tiny root on some of the pieces, and occasionally a rice grain will turn green. Hope this helps!

Katie | 17 May, 2013 - 19:34

Brown rice in the oven?

Maki, I love your site! It's my go-to when I think about cooking anything Japanese at home. I made my very first onigiri tonight, using your techniques for cooking the rice and shaping them. They look and taste really good!

I'm wondering - would the oven method of cooking brown rice work here? It's how I usually cook it to prevent burnt bottoms, blown-out grains and the like. If I can find medium-grain brown rice the next time I go to the Japanese grocer, I'll report back on the results of any experimentation.

Kitty | 31 January, 2011 - 14:15

Re: Brown rice in the oven?

If you soak the brown rice for several hours beforehand, you can probably cook it with success in the oven.

maki | 1 February, 2011 - 20:41

Re: Brown rice in the oven?

Hey Maki, I wanted to mention that I make brown rice in the oven all the time and it turns out great!

I use 1 1/2 cups of brown rice (no soaking), 2 1/2 cups of boiling water, a tbsp of oil or butter and a tsp of salt in a casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake for an hour at 375ºF. It always turns out perfect for me. Sometimes I put a bit of bouillon in the water too.

I just can't seem to get the water ratio right in my rice cooker, but in the oven I can make 3 cups at a time and freeze it. I don't know if you can leave the oil out; never tried it that way.

seedbeads | 23 February, 2011 - 16:49

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Great post. Just curious if restaurant equipment grade rice cookers are better for this, or are they just meant to cook in larger quantities?

Alan | 10 February, 2011 - 19:28

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

thanks to this, I was able to do the brown rice. (There are also a series of pot stainless steel pots that in the lid you can switch to trap the hot air, which is the one I have). So I used 4 cups of rice, and 6 cups of water, then I freezed it.

Juan Carlos | 22 May, 2011 - 23:31

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Hi Maki, I'm very interested in making brown rice. From what I gather from your articles, soaking the rice in warm water for a day or so before cooking is required. I have an old "Tiger" rice cooker and the manual provides instructions for making assorted rice, sweet rice and porridge. Given the age, I doubt that it has a brown rice setting. Can I use the "keep warm" option to soak it, then wash it and finally cook it? Thanks!

Jen | 6 July, 2011 - 05:53

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

You seem to have misread my instructions somehow. You should never soak brown rice in warm water; regular cold water is fine, and in the summer you should even keep it in the refrigerator to stop the rice from fermenting or turning nasty as it soaks. The keep warm setting on your rice cooker definitely should not be used - it's the perfect temperature to grow all kinds of nasty bacteria in the rice-water mixture. Just soak your rice in a bowl for several hours - if in summer, or in a very warm/humid climate, in the refrigerator, then cook the rice. It should cook properly this way.

maki | 6 July, 2011 - 15:05

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

I will do so. Thanks for your prompt reply :)

Jen | 7 July, 2011 - 11:37

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Just FYI-it seems there is a broken link in your article. It is for the picture showing how to use a plate inside the pot if you don't have a heavy enough lid.

Thanks for all the wonderful work you do here on your site. I'll also never forget your useful and informative tweets during the 3/11 disaster. Kudos to you, ma'am.

Richelle | 21 August, 2011 - 16:54

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

My rice cooker has a "mixed" setting. Would that work for brown rice?

Alex | 21 August, 2011 - 19:18

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

I have cooked brown rice for years in my old quart-size revere copper-bottomed steel pot this way (works every time - easy - fast):
I prefer short-grain brown rice - unsoaked (I like Lundberg organic from California - many varieties, readily available)

Proportions: 2:1, water and rice

Pour 4 cups water into the pot
Bring to a boil
Add 2 cups rice
Add a dash of salt, if desired
Bring to a boil again
Cover tightly and turn down to simmer/low
Perfect rice in 45 minutes

anon.Frances Gregory | 23 October, 2011 - 17:16

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

I bought your Bento book this Christmas for my daughter, and we're really enjoying it.

Your brown rice recipe in the book (adding cold water part way through cooking) is BY FAR THE BEST BROWN RICE I'VE EVER MADE! (And I make about five pounds of brown rice a week.)

anonymous | 3 January, 2012 - 18:43

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

I'm glad you like the recipe! And thank you for buying the book ^_^

maki | 3 January, 2012 - 19:34

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Really appreciate your efforts, love to learn, esp about mankind's efforts, like to eat too, your site is ideal nexxus

Linden | 16 March, 2012 - 14:29

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

HI, I used to have a Vegetarian Sushi Business called O'Bento. 25 years ago!! before anyone was making sushi for the health food stores nor anywhere else, except Japanese restaurants. I made both white and brown rice Futo Maki Zushi. In making the brown rice as Sushi rice, I put the Mirin-Rice vinegar mixture into the cooking water and it did the job where I had Brown Rice FMZ with the same sushi taste (the best u can get using brown rice). I found that if I tried to coat the brown rice after cooking, like I did the white rice, it made it soggy. Nice to see your page. A friend wants me to show him how to make sushi, and I had to look up all the info again. It's been a while.

anon. | 21 May, 2012 - 11:36

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

HI, I used to have a Vegetarian Sushi Business called O'Bento. 25 years ago!! before anyone was making sushi for the health food stores nor anywhere else, except Japanese restaurants. I made both white and brown rice Futo Maki Zushi. In making the brown rice as Sushi rice, I put the Mirin-Rice vinegar mixture into the cooking water and it did the job where I had Brown Rice FMZ with the same sushi taste (the best u can get using brown rice). I found that if I tried to coat the brown rice after cooking, like I did the white rice, it made it soggy. Nice to see your page. A friend wants me to show him how to make sushi, and I had to look up all the info again. It's been a while.

anon. | 21 May, 2012 - 11:36

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Hi Maki!

I'm a little worried that I'm going to be one of those people with A Really Dumb Question, but ...

Does rice cooked in a rice cooker usually call for a lot more water than cooked on the stove? The brown rice I bought specifies that it's supposed to be cooked at a 1:3 rice:water ratio (!!!) in a rice cooker and I have found that using any less results in undercooked rice. Is it just because so much steam escapes from the cooker? (Or did I somehow buy entirely the wrong kind of rice? It is just labeled "premium grade brown rice; medium grain rice" ... it looks right, though, and the texture when cooked is perfect for onigiri with no smushing needed ...)

At any rate, the result is easily the tastiest rice I've ever had even with absolutely nothing added -- so thank you for emboldening me to try it (even if I abruptly diverged from your instructions as soon as I got home from the store ^_^;)

Ruthan | 4 June, 2012 - 05:33

Re: Basics: Cooking Japanese style brown rice on the ...

Maki- I have a question about rice. I picked up some short grain brown rice from the store and when I got home- I noticed little black bugs in the shopping bad. I immediately put everything in the freezer. Since I am going to rinse the rice, the bugs should float to the top and the rice should be ok to eat correct? Thanks!

KimG | 8 February, 2013 - 19:27

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