Takikomi Gohan (炊き込みご飯)
Traditional Japanese cuisine is hyper-local and seasonal, and when autumn rolls around, Takikomi Gohan is a home-cooked favorite. That's because autumn is the season where shinmai(新米) or new rice is released after the harvest, and it's when rice is considered to be at its best.
The name Takikomi Gohan literally means "cooked with rice," so there are a lot of variations, but most of them involve other autumn ingredients like mushrooms, chestnuts, or sweet potatoes. The style-of Takikomi Gohan I want to show you in this recipe is also known as Gomoku Gohan because it includes a variety of mixins.
It's often made with chicken and dashi stock, but for this recipe, I'm using a shiitake mushroom-based dashi along with other umami-packed ingredients to make a vegan-friendly Takikomi Gohan that's brimming with flavor.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Dried shiitake mushrooms naturally contain a high concentration of guanosine monophosphate (GMP). Both sake and konbu (kelp) contain glutamic acid. Together these compounds synergize on our taste buds to trigger our umami taste receptors.
- The soaking liquid from the shiitakes is essentially shiitake broth, so I've used it to cook the rice, which gives it another umami boost.
- By sauteing the veggies and mushrooms, we're able to get some Maillard browning on them that contributes even more umami.
Ingredients for Takikomi Gohan
- Dried Shiitake mushrooms - If you've worked much with dried mushrooms, you probably know that they tend to be more potent than their fresh incarnation. This isn't just a result of the water being evaporated and concentrating the flavors. The chemistry of the mushroom changes as it dries, which boosts the total amount of umami-producing nucleotides in the mushrooms. This is why dried shiitake mushrooms make an outstanding plant-based stock when rehydrated in water.
- Japanese short-grain rice - Although you could technically use long-grain rice for this, but since this is a Japanese dish, the sticky texture of short-grain rice is an integral part of the dish. If you can't find it, medium-grain rice would still be a better alternative to long-grain.
- Maitake mushrooms - I like adding some fresh maitake mushrooms to Takikomi Gohan for their texture and meaty flavor. Other flavorful mushrooms such as button, cremini, or porcini will work if you can't find them.
- Root vegetables - I like using a mix of carrots and gobo (burdock root) for this. The carrots provide color and sweetness, while the gobo adds a beautiful earthy flavor and texture to the rice.
- Aburaage - Aburaage literally means fried in oil, and it's made by pressing thin sheets of firm tofu and then deep-frying them until they puff up. This gives them a meaty texture which allows them to soak up flavors like a sponge. If you can't find it near you, you can skip it. Other plant-based proteins such as seitan or TVP will work here too. Konnyaku is a another common ingredient found in Takikomi Gohan.
- Sake - Sake contains a ton of amino acids such as alanine and glutamate, which create the taste of umami. The alcohol content of the sake evaporates while you cook it, so you don't need to worry about that. You could also use mirin, but the finished rice will end up sweeter than using sake (even if you omit the sugar).
- Soy Sauce - Soy sauce is the primary seasoning for the rice, and it also contains glutamate for a boost of umami.
- Sugar - Adding just a bit of sugar brings out the sweetness of the rice without making it obviously sweet.
- Konbu cha - Konbu cha literally means "kelp tea" in Japanese, and it's a savory kelp stock traditionally consumed as a tea. Most people these days use it as a natural way to add umami to food as kelp is extremely rich in glutamate. You can also also use konbu dashi granules or just add a whole piece of konbu to the water when you rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms.
- Mitsuba - This is a Japanese herb with a nice vegetal flavor somewhere between cedar, carrot leaves, and celery. It's a nice fresh contrast to the earthy Takikomi Gohan, but scallions or other chopped herbs will work if you can't find it.
How to Make Takikomi Gohan
The first thing you want to do is rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms in cold water. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, depending on the size of your mushrooms. You can also speed this up to about 10 minutes by using boiling water.
Once the shiitake has rehydrated, squeeze them with your hand to remove any excess water and then trim off the tough stems. Slice the caps up and and set both the shiitake mushrooms and soaking liquid aside.
Put the rice in a strainer and rinse them under cold water while agitating the rice with your hand until the water runs mostly clear. Shake the rice to drain it well and then transfer it to a deep, heavy-bottomed pot.
Measure 1 ¾ cups of the shiitake soaking liquid into the rice, being careful not to get the grit at the bottom of the bowl into the rice. Then let the rice soak for at least 30 minutes.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat, and then add the vegetable oil and the mushrooms and veggies. Stir-fry until everything has halved in volume and the veggies have started to wilt.
Add the sake, soy sauce, sugar, and konbu cha, and continue stir-frying with the seasonings.
Once the liquid has evaporated from the mushrooms and veggies, spread them on top of the rice. Be careful here not to mix them into the rice, or your rice won't cook evenly. Cover the pot with a lid and turn the stove on to high heat.
When there's steam escaping from the lid of the pot, turn the heat down as far as your stove will go and set a timer for twelve minutes.
Turn off the heat on the rice once the timer goes off and set another timer for 10 minutes. Do not open the lid as you need to retain the heat in the pot for the rice to properly steam.
Once the rice is done steaming, open up the lid and use a spatula or rice paddle to fold the veggies and mushrooms into the rice.
Other Rice Recipes
Takikomi Gohan (炊き込みご飯) literally means "cooked with rice" in Japanese, and it refers to a class of rice dishes where rice is cooked together with other ingredients. Depending on the part of Japan you are in, it may also be known as Kayaku Gohan (かやくご飯). This particular Takikomi Gohan recipe is for a specific type of mixed mushroom and vegetable rice that's also sometimes known as Gomoku Gohan (五目ご飯).
Takikomi Gohan is a six-syllable name that's pronounced as follows:
ta like tarp
ki like key
ko like corner
mi like meet
go like ghost
han like Han Solo
Not all Takikomi Gohan is vegan as it can contain meat or seafood, but this Takikomi Gohan recipe is vegan.
You can follow all the steps for preparing the vegetables and mushrooms. The amount of rice specified is 2 rice cooker cups. The only difference is that instead of measuring out 1 ¾ cups of shiitake soaking liquid, you can just add the soaking liquid straight to the rice cooker bowl up to the 2 cup marker. Then saute the veggies as per the recipe. When they're cooked, just spread the veggies and mushrooms over the rice (without stirring) and then set the rice cooker how you normally would.
If you end up with leftovers, divide and shape the remaining rice into onigiri while still warm. These make a great addition to a bento box lunch. You can follow my tutorial for shaping onigiri. Then you can wrap the onigiri individually with plastic wrap and refrigerate them or freeze them if you want to keep them for longer than a few days. Either way, you will want to warm them up in the microwave before eating them, as the cold temperatures will cause the rice to retrograde and get hard.
- 2 cups water
- 10 grams dried shiitake mushrooms (2 large mushrooms)
- 310 grams Japanese short-grain rice (1.5 US cups of rice or 2 rice cooker cups)
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 50 grams carrots (cut into thin matchsticks)
- 50 grams maitake mushrooms (stem discarded, and caps sliced thinly)
- 50 grams burdock (cut sasagaki - see video for technique)
- 1 sheet aburaage (deep fried tofu sheets, chopped)
- ¼ cup sake
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons evaporated cane sugar
- 1 teaspoon konbu cha
- Mitsuba (for garnish)
- Soak the shiitake mushrooms in 2 cups of water for at least 1 hour.
- When the mushrooms are rehydrated, squeeze any excess liquid out of them and trim off and discard the stems. Slice the caps up thinly and set the mushrooms aside and soaking liquid aside.
- Wash the rice until the water runs clear. Drain it well and add it to a deep, heavy-bottomed pot such as a Dutch oven.
- Measure 1 ¾ cups of the shiitake stock into the pot with the rice. Let it soak for at least 30 minutes.
- In a frying pan over medium-high heat, add the vegetable oil, along with the shiitake, carrots, maitake, burdock, and aburaage. Stir-fry until the ingredients have halved in volume.
- Add the sake, soy sauce, sugar, and konbu cha, and continue stir-frying until most of the liquid has evaporated from the pan.
- Dump the veggie and mushroom mixture over the rice, cover the pot with a lid, and bring the pot to a boil over high heat.
- When you see steam escaping from the lid, turn down the heat to low and set a timer for 12 minutes.
- When the timer goes off, turn off the heat, and let the pot rest undisturbed for another 10 minutes to allow the rice to steam.
- When the timer is up, open the lid and fold the Takikomi Gohan together with the mushrooms and vegetables.
- Garnish with mitsuba, scallions, or sesame seeds and serve.