Ochazuke (Rice with Green Tea)
I used to live in Japan, and now when I miss it, the Japansickness usually comes wrapped in memories of umami aromas and steaming white rice. The best temporary cure for this ailment is a good home-cooked meal full of more vivid reminders of some of my favorite Japanese flavors.
Ochazuke is an eclectic dish that manages to squeeze in quite a few of these flavors without any of them seeming overwhelming or out of place. O-cha means ‘tea’, and the tsuke or zuke part means to ‘soak or pickle’. Basically the name of the dish refers to rice being ‘submerged in tea’. In other words, you take a bowl of rice, decorate it with a few savory toppings, and then pour over hot green tea (or dashi), which then serves as the broth for the soup.
It might seem a little odd to pour green tea over rice– my roommate was skeptical that I wasn’t just making the whole thing up, until I wikipedia-ed it for her– but the flavors all blend together so nicely, you will not even notice that you are getting caffeinated by the slurp. Not to mention, brewing a pot of tea is much much easier than extracting your own seaweed dashi or fish dashi, or simmering up some other stock for soup broth.
The most popular ochazuke topping choices are usually either salted salmon or some kind of pickles, especially umeboshi, super-sour Japanese pickled plums, which– in my opinion– make the dish. Other optional toppings include fried salmon skin, tuna or shrimp, wakame seaweed, poached or fried egg, enoki or shiitake mushrooms, crumbled rice crackers, kizami-nori (shredded nori seaweed), and furikake.*
In Japanese restaurants, especially the izakaya variety, a small bowl of ochazuke is often eaten at the end of a gigantic meal. Don’t ask me why something as filling as a bowl of rice gets saved until the very end of the evening, when everyone is already stuffed, but it works. At home, ochazuke stands on its own as a nice dinner (or midnight snack). I even think it’d make a nice breakfast.
* Furikake is a salty Japanese condiment that comes in almost any combination of ground dried shrimp, salmon, or bonito, seaweed, egg, sugar, salt, and sesame. It is most commonly eaten sprinkled over rice, and especially used as a way to spice up day-old rice leftovers. It can be found at many Asian grocery stores.
Ochazuke (Rice with Green Tea)
For the Rice:
~ 1 cup Japanese rice (short-grained sticky rice), or other type, such as brown rice
~ a little over 1 cup water (I use a 115% water-to-rice ratio for white rice, and up to 130% for brown)
~ small splash of vegetable oil or thin pat of butter
~ dash of salt
For the Tea/Broth:
~ 3-4 cups boiling water (or dashi or other broth)
~ 2 Tbsp. Genmai-cha (green tea with roasted brown rice, which gives the broth a nutty flavor)
~ 1-2 tea bags Houji-cha (Japanese dark roasted green tea), or any kind of green tea you have!
~ 2-4 small pieces of canned/grilled/fried salmon or salmon skin
~ 4-6 fresh pickled plums (umeboshi)
~ several shakes of your favorite type of furikake (I used one with wakame and rice crackers, and one with shrimp)
~ pinch of wakame (or other dried seaweed, that expands in liquid, if not already in your furikake)
~ pinch of sesame seeds (if not already in your furikake)
~ pinch of kizami-nori (shredded nori seaweed, to sprinkle on top)
~ dash of wasabi, to taste
~ 2-4 small pieces of canned/grilled tuna or shrimp
~ poached or fried eggs
~ 1 bunch raw enoki mushrooms
~ several dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms
~ crumbled rice crackers (if not already in the furikake)
How to make it:
1. Make the rice: place rice, water, oil or butter, and (optionally) salt, into a rice cooker or a small saucepan with a tight-fitting lid.** Briefly stir the oil/butter and salt into the rice, then cover the pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Keep a close watch– it should only take 2-3 minutes to boil because of the small amount of water.
As soon as it comes to a boil, give it one more stir, then replace the lid, and bring the heat down to the lowest it will go. Simmer covered for 15 minutes for white rice (slightly longer for brown rice), until it looks like all the water has evaporated, but before the rice starts looking dry. Then remove the pot from the burner, but keep the lid on, letting the rice steam for another 5 minutes until fluffy.
2. (OPTIONAL) Grill or pan-fry a small cut of salmon or tuna, then break it up into smaller pieces to use as toppings.
3. Make the green tea: boil some water, then pour the hot water directly over the tea leaves or tea bags– rather than lowering the tea into the water. (If you don’t have a large enough teapot, you can simply brew it in a saucepan with a lid). I like to brew green tea for between 3-6 minutes before removing the tea leaves/bags.
4. Spoon some rice into each bowl, then top with salmon and/or pickled plums, furikake, wakame seaweed, sesame seeds, and any other toppings of your choice.
5. Pour the hot green tea over each bowl until it nearly covers all of the rice. Sprinkle with kizami-nori, and add a dash of wasabi to the side of each bowl, to mix into the soup as you like.
** I prefer using a non-stick saucepan to a rice cooker because the rice doesn’t end up as dry, or as stuck to the bottom.