Okowa: Japanese Sticky Rice
Okowa (おこわ) is a Japanese adaptation on Chinese sticky rice. It's wonderfully hearty and a versatile dish. If you're not ready to let go of all the mochi quite yet after New Years, this is the perfect dish. The ingredients can be really whatever you feel like. There are a million variations to this dish but because I love mushrooms and I had chicken on hand, I decided to share a chicken and vegetable okowa. I do almost always include carrots and shiitake though because that's what I grew up with.
It's a really easy dish to make, but you do need a little bit of foresight because the mochi rice needs to be soaked overnight. There are definitely shortcuts around it using microwaves but for this, I'm a stickler for the old fashioned way. If you can't find Japanese sticky rice (different from normally sticky sushi rice that we eat daily), Thai sticky rice is a good substitute. You'll notice that the grains of rice become whiter and puff up a bit after 8 hours of soaking (left: pre-soak | right: post-soak). You want to make sure it's thoroughly drained before you cook it so put the rice in a colander or sieve 30 minutes beforehand (I usually prep the other ingredients during this time).
Some people leave the vegetables in big chunks but I like to cut pretty small so that it mixes well with the rice. The easiest way is to cut the bamboo shoot and carrot into batons and the slice thinly to create thin square pieces. The shiitake mushroom is already flat so slice thinly and chop away. The shimeji just needs to be cleaned to remove the woody ends. The chicken can be larger than the vegetables but should be cut into small bite size pieces.
Mix 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp sake, and 1 tbsp mirin with water or dashi for a total of 6 oz of liquid. If you're going the meatless route, I would use dashi to help enhance the dish and add some umami but water is totally fine if you're using chicken, pork or beef. I usually eat okowa with other more saltier dishes so I hold back on the seasoning but if you want this to shine standalone, you could use 1.5 tsp of salt.
I hate cleaning dishes, so I use a wok to sauté and steam everything. Heat the wok well on medium high, coat with canola oil and sear or sauté the chicken first with two 3-fingered pinches of salt (sear if you want browning i.e. less stirring!). Once there's color on the chicken, add the vegetables with another pinch of salt and continue to stir for a few more minutes. Lastly add the rice and once toasted, pour in the seasoning broth and stir until all the liquid has been absorbed into the rice.
Line a bamboo steamer (or really any steamer) with cheesecloth or paper towel so that the rice doesn't fall through the cracks. Pour out the rice mixture into the steamer and even out so everything cooks at the same speed. Give the wok a quick wash and fill 1/3 of the way up with water and bring to a boil on high heat. Place the steamer on top and steam for 20 minutes (make sure that the water is not touching the steamer).
Lift up the lid and voila, you have yourself some Japanese sticky rice. Plate and enjoy!
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