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It's Sushi Week here at Serious Eats, so I figured I'd go over the basic tools you'll need to make it at home. There aren't many, and fortunately, two out of three of them are extraordinarily cheap.
Bamboo Paddle and Rolling Mat
A flat-headed bamboo paddle is the best tool for scooping rice. Because it's soft, it doesn't crush or cut individual grains the way a metal spoon can when blending the vinegar and sugar mixture into the rice. Additionally, it's porous, so the rice comes right off it it. There are modern plastic versions that feature a non-stick textured surface meant to mimic bamboo, and they work fine, but personally, I like the warmth of a bamboo paddle, and the way it wears a little with age. I feel about the plastic paddles the same way I felt when they introduced plastic Mr. Potatohead—neat, I guess, but what was wrong with the original?
The other bamboo tool you'll need is exclusively for making maki. Made of a series of thin bamboo skewers all woven together into a single mat, it is unique in that it is completely flexible if bent in one direction, but strong and stiff if bent in the other, allowing you to easily make straight, even, tightly-packed rolls. If there have been any innovations in bamboo rolling mat technology in the last 200 years, I am unaware of them.
If you live near an Asian market, you can find both of these tools dirt cheap. Or you can just hit up the always dependable Joyce Chen for a two for one deal ($7.95).
In many ways I am a Luddite. I like sweeping better than vacuuming. I still like my toilet seats to operate manually, and I still love the look of those old-fashioned full-page websites as opposed to the iPhone-optimized version.
Rice, on the other hand, is something I've never learned how to cook properly the old fashioned way. Even with a great pot and a tight fitting lid, it inevitably comes out slightly unevenly cooked or burnt at the bottom. Growing up in a half-Japanese household, rice was on the menu nearly every day, and it was alwayscooked in a rice cooker. Even my late grandmother used one before moving on to that great salsa jar in the sky. There are many on the market, but nobody really touches the quality of the Zojirushi brands. They are a little pricier than others, but are worth the extra pennies for their evenness of cooking and ability to hold warm rice for a long time.
Even the cheapest, simplest models, like the White Rice Cooker ($42.95) will cook your rice with a minimal amount of fuss. Add the rice, add the water, put the lid on, and push the button. Sensors detect when the water has finished evaporating, turn the heater element down to a warming mode, and alert you when the rice has fully absorbed the liquid. Because it doesn't make a particularly good seal, models like this with a glass lid will only hold warm rice for about 2 hours before it starts drying out and staling. It also tends to leave a slightly browned layer on the very bottom (personally, I like this semi-burnt rice). This is a great way to go if you're on a budget.
If you've got a bit more cash to spend, you can buy a model with a slightly larger capacity like the 10-cup Automatic Rice Cooker and Warmer ($109.95), which heats more evenly (no more browned rice), stays completely cool to the touch, and has a locking latch-down plastic lid that'll help keep your rice warm and fresh tasting all day—start the machine in the morning, and have hot rice ready for you when you get home from work.
Still not enough for you? The Neuro Fuzzy Rice Cooker ($194.95) is the intellectual king of rice cookers. If only it had a mouth, it could give university-level lectures on the flaws of Bayesian logic and set theory. Don't believe me? Just take a quick look at what it knows and you don't.
Apparently the sensors and microprocessor inside will automatically adjust cooking times and temperatures to ensure perfectly cooked, worry-free rice every time. With automatic start-up and shut-off, this thing'll have rice ready for you even before you know you wanted it.
Personally, I don't like owning appliances with more than three buttons on them, so I stick with the middle-ground cookers. A Luddite is as a Luddite does, huh?