THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Got rice?

columnist-logo_ryantatsumoto_FINALAs far back as I can remember, the Tatsumoto clan always had rice in the house. There was the one 25-pound bag of rice “in use” stored in the mini plastic garbage can and the reserve 25-pound bag sitting next to the washing machine. If it seemed like there might be a possible Matson strike, sometimes there were two or even three reserve bags of rice. And yes, way back when there were only three bag sizes of rice available, 10, 25 and 100 pounds. And the bag in the Tatsumoto household was always Hinode in the yellow bag. Of course, rice bags back then were always sewn closed and I never learned the secret handshake to undo the sewn closure. If you knew the handshake, the ends of the two strings could simply be pulled apart to “unzip” the bag … if not, knots galore.

And because most of this rice was mainly for Dad — he always had to finish a meal with rice, even if we had take-out pizza — so he always went through the laborious process when filling the can with a new bag of rice. First, he poured the leftover rice on the garbage can cover to rotate the old grains from the new grains in the new bag, then he slowly poured the new bag into the can stopping to remove any bits of rubbish or stones then finally adding the old rice back on top of the pile.

Laborious cooking

Because rice was essential for every meal that Dad consumed, cooking the rice also required extra effort. I’ve noted in previous columns that the Tatsumoto family never used electric rice cookers to cook rice because earlier models sometimes left a mucilaginous brown film at the bottom of the pot that Mom detested. Thus, we cooked all of our in an old school aluminum rice pot, measuring the water with an index finger joint. You had to make sure that the water used to wash the rice ran clear before soaking it for the next 30 to 60 minutes. Once the cover rattled after turning the heat to high, you reduced it to low to steam over the next 20 minutes. And Mom’s rice pot was so well used that the threading holding the cover knob was reduced to a smooth exterior so that a wooden clothespin was used on that smooth nipple to raise or lower the cover. Because we never used an electric rice cooker, I had to ask for directions when living in the college dormitory on how to use “this rice cooker gizmo.”

Time moves on

In the third-generation Tatsumoto household, rice still holds a place in our pantry and on our table, though its nowhere near to the extent of the second generation. Our pantry doesn’t contain a plastic garbage can to hold 25-pound bags of rice, but a modest Tupperware container that simply holds smaller 11-pound bags of California-grown Koshihikari grains. And rice doesn’t grace our dining on a daily basis; our starch is more likely to be bread or pasta. In fact, we usually only cook rice once every two or three weeks. Perhaps that’s why washing the Tatsumoto rice is for more than simply removing powdered starch granules, it’s also to remove those miniscule little critters that thankfully float to the surface with the cold water for simple elimination. Because we don’t consume a lot of rice, I tend to purchase the pricier Koshihikari or Yamadanishiki from our local Marukai Wholesale Mart, though I also always keep a bag of Gen Ji Mai’s 12 whole grain blend along with (gasp) Shirakiku individual portion microwave rice. Sometimes you want fried rice that can’t be made at the spur of the moment, unless you use microwave rice.

I even splurged for one of those new-fangled Zojirushi induction heated, microcomputer controlled cooking vessels since it does a superlative job on whole grain rice. But I never sampled freshly milled rice … until now.

Rice samples. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

The Rice Factory

Located in the heart of Kakaako, The Rice Factory sells four to five different varieties of rice originating from small family farms in Japan. What differentiates their product from an artisanal rice from Marukai is that the rice is actually milled at their store right after you purchase it. They offer no milling (pure brown rice), 50 percent milled, 70 percent milled and 100 percent milled (pure white rice) in 5-, 10- and 15-pound bags. You’re also instructed to refrigerate the freshly milled rice and that you should consume it within one month (up to two months if it’s a winter harvested batch). Here’s what they offered on the day we visited the shop:

Nanatsuboshi from Hokkaido

Light taste, less sticky

Used by Hoku’s at The Kahala, 3660 on the Rise, Restaurant Suntory, Izakaya Gaku

Yumepirika from Hokkaido

The most famous rice in Japan

Used by MW Restaurant, the Halekulani Hotel

Tsuyahime from Yamagata

100 percent organic with balanced taste, aroma and stickiness

Koshihikari from Nagano

The “king” of rices

Otoro and sake. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Since we normally have a small bag of Japan grown Koshihikari in our pantry (though not stored in the refrigerator), we purchased five pounds of totally milled Koshihikari along with five pounds of 50 percent milled Yumepirika (supposedly it’s like eating hapa rice or half brown, half white). And since we can’t live by rice alone, we also purchased a small block of otoro (fatty tuna) and sake (salmon) sashimi and a fresh carton of local Waimana eggs.

After letting the Koshihikari soak for 60 minutes, my Zojirushi cooker did the rest (it actually did the timed soaking also). Once the rice was ready, I immediately sampled it as is, freshly cooked. OK, I’ll turn in my local-boy and my Nikkei membership cards. Maybe it’s because I was raised on Hinode rice. Maybe because we hardly consume rice now days. But other than being a little sweeter, I couldn’t tell the difference between the “old” rice in my pantry and this new harvest, freshly milled rice. But it was still superb as tamago meshi (egg and rice) and with those succulent slices of o-toro and sake.

The milling unit. photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

On another day, I performed the same routine with the 50 percent milled Yumepirika rice also stored in the refrigerator. This sample was a little more interesting than the fully milled Koshihikari rice because though its appearance was like brown rice, the texture was softer probably due to the partial milling and unlike pure brown rice or even “hapa” rice, the flavor was also a little sweeter and tasted like fully milled rice.

The big question is whether I’ve been converted from supermarket pre-bagged rice to freshly milled rice. Hard to say. I did notice the difference with the 50 percent milled rice and having to refrigerate rice does possibly prevent those tiny critters from infesting your grains but it also does mean keeping at least a five-pound bag of rice in your chill chest that you should consume within the month. But it does keep another local business in business so I’ll probably continue to purchase the freshly milled variety.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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