How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

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From the archives: This is a foundation post for anyone interested in Japanese style bentos based around rice. Edited and updated to reflect some safety related questions. Be sure to read the linked bento safety posts too. Originally posted in October 2007.

Rice is the base carbohydrate for most Japanese style bento lunches, but the idea of cooking rice fresh every day may be rather daunting. If you have a rice cooker with a timer that can be set so that the rice is ready when you want to make your bento it is easier (and recommended if you make bentos daily). Of course this does mean that you need to rinse the rice the night before.

While I prefer to wash the rice the night before and set the timer on my rice cooker, I often freeze pre-portioned packets of rice to use on extra busy mornings. Rice freezes very well if you make sure that it’s still warm when you wrap up the portions. This retains the necessary moisture inside the plastic. It’s also a good idea to use sturdy, microwaveable wrap such as Saran Wrap.

I pre-portion the brown rice that I cook 5 cups at a time in a pressure cooker into 1 cup and 1/2 cup portions, using scoop-style cup measures. (I usually do this during the weekend.) After wrapping in the plastic wrap (cling film), I leave them until they have cooled down, then then double-bag them in zip bags and put them in the freezer. (For the environmentally conscious, the zip bags can be reused several times provided you don’t puncture them.) This amount lasts the two of us 2 to 3 weeks. To prepare a bento box, I use a 1 cup portion for myself and 2 cups or 1 1/2 cups for the bigger guy, re-heated in the microwave before stuffing into the box. Pre-portioning rice like this really helps to control portion sizes; when you’re in a hurry in the morning and scooping hot rice out of a cooker, portioning into a cup becomes a hassle.

You may choose to bring the frozen packet as-is, especially if you have a microwave at work. I prefer to re-heat the rice in the morning because I often find that the frozen packet is ice cold at lunchtime, which isn’t very pleasant.

If you do re-heat the frozen rice in the morning, be sure to cool it down again before closing up your bento box. Warm rice leads to condensation. Condensation within a closed bento box is the main cause of spoilage. I usually pack the rice in my bento box first, then leave the box open to cool down while I prep the rest of the contents.

If you want to be extra safe, pack the bento box with a small ice pack, and/or put a single umeboshi (salted pickled plum) in the middle of the rice. The umeboshi in rice is the traditional way of keeping rice fresh. Umeboshi are available at any Japanese grocery store. (You don’t have to eat the umeboshi if you don’t like it - just throw it away.) See also: Keeping your bento lunch safe.

A word about different kinds of rice

The shorter the grain, the moister the rice is and the better it seems to freeze and recover from freezing. So Japanese style ‘sushi’ rice or medium grain rice, round glutionous rice, other medium grain rices like arborio, vialone and ‘pudding’ rice, freeze well. On the other hand long grain rices such as jasmine rice, Carolina rice and basmati rice tend to get hard and dry. If this happens to your frozen rice, you can make it more edible by turning it into fried rice. See also: Looking at rice.

Freezing onigiri

Pre-made onigiri (rice balls), without the nori wrapping, can be frozen successfuly using the guidelines above. Just wrap each warm onigiri securely in plastic wrap and freeze. If you use the cling film method of making onigiri, you can use that to wrap up the onigiri as soon as you make it. Don’t freeze rice balls that have been wrapped in nori seaweed though, unless you like soggy nori!

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

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Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

I tried freezing brown rice and it worked perfectly! what a great idea! but I do have a question when portioning the rice do you pack it into the measuring cups or is it loosely in there? I want to make sure my portion sizes arent actually larger than I think they are because I pack my rice.

Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

Does anyone know how long will rice keep in the freezer?

Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

Pre-freezing and then microwaving rice is one of the best ideas I've gleaned from the website!

I've tried to use the microwavable wrap, but i don't really like using it though. Despite the assurances that it's fine working in the microwave, I'd usually prefer to just take the rice out and microwave it directly. If I need additional moisture, I'd just sprinkle some water on it and microwave.

So instead of using the microwavable wrap, I use some of those HDPE plastic bags (small ones) to store the rice and freeze it. When I want to use it, I'd just remove the whole block from the plastic bag and microwave.

Works for me!

Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

I tend to make my rice the night before, pack it (and the other things that don't need to be cooked the morning of, like eggs or something), and then just stick it in the fridge to bring out in the morning. Minutes wise it's not a "time saver" but it does save me time in the morning when I'm rushing around (plus I have two to make, too!). And it's not cold by lunch time. C: The rice isn't dry, either. Not as great as making it that morning but for the extra morning time I save, I don't mind.
I do want to try this rice freezing sometime, though.

Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

This is very useful for me. Whenever I make rice I seem to be the only one in the house to eat it and I end up with a whole bunch of cold rice in the fridge that's not very good re-heated. However, freezing the leftovers that I know I wont eat has worked out well. Thanks for informing me of this technique. n_n

Jasmine Rice

Hi there! Great tips you have here. I'm so excited to start making my own bentos. But I have Jasmine Rice at home, as well as normal rice. Do you think I could maybe freeze the Jasmine rice with a little bit of water inside it to keep it moist? What could I do?

Re: Jasmine Rice

Never freeze rice in a pool of extra water - it will get too soggy. Jasmine rice can be frozen with the basic procedures described here, but you may want to stir fry it or something for it to be good at lunchtime.

Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

I don't really wanna bring this up again, but since I'm really paranoid about food poisoning (emetophobia, look it up if you're bored - but I don't want a stupid phobia to stop me form making bento :<), just to check if I understood everything correctly (I don't read much on anything releated to cooking in English). I can't get a rice cooker or a microwave, so I can freeze the rice when it's still warm, let the portion of it I'm gonna use next day sit in the firdge overnight, then just put it into the box straight out of the fridge?

Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

"While I prefer to wash the rice the night before and set the timer on my rice cooker..."

I am inexperienced with rice cookers, do you mean that you rinse the rice with water, and leave both the water and the rice in the cooker overnight?

I would like to do this, but only if I just have to press the "on" switch in the morning -- if I have to measure out water to cook with first, I might consider freezing rice.

Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

Hm.
I've tried freezing rice quite a few times now, and while I admit that it is really convenient, especially since I don't have a rice cooker, I had a few problems with the consistency and taste after re-heating...

When I freeze the rice, I usually try to keep it fluffy, but somehow after re-heating it always turns out lumpy, with the consistency of chewing gum within the lumps.

The taste also seems to suffer a lot. I use white, round grains, so of course the taste isn't very strong to begin with, but when it's fresh or simply cooled off, it tastes a lot better than when I re-heat it after freezing.
By now, I only use the frozen rice for fried rice anymore...

So, long story short: is there a chance I'm doing something wrong?

does frozen rice HAVE to be reheated?

I've just found this site, bought the book, and am in full-fledged bento mode!
Apologies if this is a stupid question, or the answer is in here somewhere (i have looked), but i'm a little confused as to whether it is an important SAFETY step to reheat frozen rice before letting it cool down for the bento in the morning? or is it that the flavour/taste of the rice will be superior if you reheat first? i ask as I don't have a microwave and wondered as i would be eating the rice cold at lunchtime...i was thinking i would defrost ricein the fridge overnight then pack it in my bento in the morning and off i go?
is that ok?
thank you Maki, LOVE the site!

Re: does frozen rice HAVE to be reheated?

Hi Katie. Re-heating the rice is mainly done for flavor and texture. You can just let the rice defrost overnight in the refrigerator, and it will be ok to eat but not very tasty. Re-heating it then cooling it down makes it a lot more edible.

Re: How to: Freezing pre-portioned rice

I was wondering, can you use microwaveable bowls? they sell great little bowls that would be perfect single portions.

Perfect freezer/microwave rice container

I am lucky to live in a West Coast city that has two Japanese 100 yen stores - Ichibankan and Daiso. I have found 250 ml microwaveable containers with pop top vents that are perfect for freezing rice. The bottoms have indents that help in even reheating. When I invert the rice into my bento or rice bowl, the indent is a perfect spot in which to place an umeboshi or other garnish.

I've used them for well over two years and they have held up well. I also feel good about not having to wrestle with plastic wrap (which always makes me feel fumble fingered.) The only problem I have is keeping DH from putting other things in them.

I don't have a microwave

Hi...I'm new ... sorry to ask but pls help..I'm trying to prepare bento for my kids to bring to school..thank you.

1. After I cook the Japanese rice , is it have to put in some salt b4 I frozen?

2. I brought (sorry don't know the name in English) something like seaweed with sesame and sugar that can be mix into the rice... may I know can I add it in b4 I frozen the rice? And the col for the rice too...

3. Can I use a steamer to re-heat the rice? If I do so.... is it have to be very hot or warm... cos we still have to let it cool down ?

Thank you very much for you help... : )

Re: I don't have a microwave

Hi Lulu,

1. You can put salt into the rice any time you like, or not add any at all. Japanese people usually eat rice plain with other foods.

2. You are probably talking about furikake. Furikake is sprinkled onto rice just before eating, to enjoy the crunchiness.

3. Sure, you can re-heat the rice in a steamer until it's warmed through. Let it cool down a bit before packing for bento, and let the rice cool down completely to room temperature before closing the box lid. Too-warm rice will cause condensation inside the box, which will make the rice spoil faster.

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