White rice is of course a staple of Japanese food, to be found in the majority of meals. Most often, it is just that: White rice, in a bowl (or perhaps under a slice of fish?), providing contrasting flavor and texture. Sometimes, however, rice steps up to be a focal point of the meal. One of these delicious cases is kamameshi, which can be translated to mean “iron pot rice.” Thankfully, this flavor adventure is much more exciting that the name may lead you to believe.
Inside smallish iron or clay pots, rice and a supporting cast of tasty characters are placed. Typically, chicken or fish are the go-to proteins, with mushrooms inevitably called in to provide that earthy depth to slow cooked foods that they so wonderfully do. Japanese green onions and carrots can also be added, which makes for a slightly sweeter tasting final product. Into the pot, instead of just water, a soup base is added to the rice and vegetables. Some of the usual suspects also splash on in; mirin and sake (different types of Japanese rice wine), as well as soy sauce, meld everything together with ease.
With everything in the pot, the lid is affixed, and the pot is put on the fire. Once the steam is a steamin’, the heat is lowered for around fifteen minutes of additional cooking. Kamameshi should have a nice crustiness to its edges, so after most of the water has been absorbed, the heat is blasted for a final minute to get just a bit of burn on. Finally, the heat is killed, and the kamameshi is left to its own devices for about fifteen minutes.
Once you open the lid on a kamameshi dish, you’ll soon see why it’s a star of the rice dish world. The smell immediately seduces you, and the flavor then seals the deal. The rice is no longer white, and no longer plain, but fused with flavor, and altogether earthier.