One of the most common ways of consuming Sweet Rice is in the form of “mochi.” A traditional Japanese preparation, mochi is made by pounding steamed sweet rice in a large mortar (an “usu”) with a heavy mallet. A Mochi-tsuki (literally “mochi making”) typically takes place shortly before the Japanese New Year. After the steamed rice is pounded into a smooth mass, small individual “cakes” are quickly formed. Mochi is typically consumed fresh. Alternatively, it may be air-dried or frozen for later use.
During the Mochi-tsuki, two special cakes are formed for the Kagami-Mochi, an ancient New Year decoration. A smaller rice cake is stacked atop a larger rice cake. Their rounded shapes are supposedly suggestive of the heavenly mirror of the Three Sacred Treasures legend. Kagami-Mochi can be seen in various configurations that may include a tangerine, orange, white paper, boughs of pine, seaweed, lobster, and fern. Kagami-Mochi offerings are typically seen at public shrines, Buddhist temples, and private homes.
Increasingly popular, mochi is now consumed year round. Mochi is very mild, and the variations for preparation are numerous. When eaten fresh in its soft form, it is often combined with grated raw daikon (a Japanese white radish) and seasoned with soy sauce and lemon. As a confection, it can be eaten with a sweet condiment such as kinako (roasted soy bean “flour” mixed with sugar) or flavored with a myriad of sweetened seasonings. In the form of manju, tender cakes are filled with sweetened Azuki red beans or other ingredients. The air-dried form of mochi is sometimes roasted over a brazier before being added to soup preparations or dipped in a mixture of soy sauce and sugar, or other dipping sauces.
Today, mochi can be made at home using automatic “mochi makers” which are designed to steam sweet rice and “knead” it into mochi. A good facsimile can be made with sweet rice flour in the microwave.
Mochi made with automatic mochi makers is suitable for freezer storage. When the mochi maker finishes its process, transfer the mochi to a shallow baking pan lined with plastic wrap dusted with sweet rice flour. The mochi should be no thicker than one inch for ease of slicing. When cooled to room temperature, the mochi can be sliced into “bricks” with a sharp knife. Before freezing, liberally dust all cut surfaces with additional sweet rice flour. Alternatively, the traditional storage method requires hand-forming palm-sized servings of mochi into round “cakes,” dusting liberally with sweet rice flour to prevent sticking. Once cooled to room temperature, the cakes can be frozen.