When you dine out there’s a lot of mystery and “magic” that goes on in the kitchen, behind closed doors. But in hibachi restaurants, chefs are cooking directly in front of you, up close and personal.
So it should be easy to see exactly what they’re doing so you can replicate at home, right?
Well, not exactly.
These guys are pros, and they seem to move at the speed of light. So, even something as seemingly simple as fried rice gets loaded with secret seasonings and sauces in the blink of an eye.
Lucky for you, I’ve done some digging to find out what hibachi chefs use on rice. Not to mention the countless bowls of fried rice I’ve made working in the industry as a line cook and chef.
Let’s dig in.
What Is Hibachi Cooking?
Hibachi cooking is a form of Japanese grilling where food is cooked on a grate over coals. But, here in the states, we tend to lump Hibachi in with Teppanyaki and use the terms interchangeably. Especially when we’re talking about a specific type of Japanese steakhouse.
Teppanyaki replaces the grill grate with a flat, iron griddle (called a teppan). And usually involves a chef who cooks for guests sitting directly in front of or surrounding them. Instead of dinner and a show, dinner is the show.
Hibachi restaurants will often serve food that is prepared over a hibachi grill, but many of the dishes including the fried rice will be prepared on a teppan instead.
The sauce is what we’re all here for, but using the right type of rice is an important factor when you’re trying to imitate the real thing.
While each hibachi restaurant will be different, most of them use short or medium-grain rice for their fried rice. Shorter grain rice tends to be more sticky than long-grain varieties, causing it to clump together after it’s cooked.
Medium grain rice is perfect for fried rice because it’s sticky enough to easily eat with chopsticks, but you can still get individual grains which are important for even cooking and seasoning.
One key step to making the best fried rice is using day-old rice rather than fresh rice that’s still hot. Letting the rice cool before using it for fried rice allows a lot of moisture to be released. This helps keep grains separate while stir-frying. So everything cooks evenly and gets evenly coated in whatever seasonings you’re using.
Dry rice is also less likely to stick to your pan.
Whether you’re using a teppan, a wok, or a frying pan, day-old rice is the way to go. And the best way to cool your rice is to spread it thinly on a sheet tray before placing it in your fridge.
This will allow more moisture to escape, and minimize any large clumps that you’ll have to break up before cooking again. Plus, it will speed the whole process up quite a bit.
The Secret Sauce
Now, this will also vary from restaurant to restaurant, but the most common “secret” ingredient that hibachi chefs use on rice is…garlic butter.
Butter is not generally something we think about when talking about Japanese or any Asian cuisine, but it works beautifully with rice.
My Chinese grandma would often serve steamed rice with butter and soy sauce as a simple snack. A combination that is definitely better and more complex than the sum of its parts.
Hibachi chefs have an entire arsenal of seasonings and sauces at their disposal. All in nondescript squeeze bottles ready for action. Garlic infused butter is just one of the ways they make their rice taste just a little different than anywhere else.
Some hibachi chefs will also infuse additional flavors like ginger and lemon into their butter as well. But, there are other ways that they can enhance the flavor of their rice too.
Some use sake, which is always on hand for doing theatrical fire tricks like the infamous onion volcano.
The classic combination of soy sauce and sesame oil is often at play. And the ever-controversial MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is like pure, concentrated umami.
Other Ingredients To Add To Your Rice
While the sauce may be mysterious, the other ingredients most hibachi chefs use are generally very simple.
You’ll usually find vegetables like onion, pea, and carrot. Plus scrambled egg, and maybe an additional protein. And, while you can use highly flavorful garlic butter to finish your rice, you should still use a high-heat, neutral-flavored oil as your primary cooking oil.
Keeping it simple is often the best recipe. If you start adding too many additional ingredients you can end up with competing flavors and too much moisture in your fried rice.
Different hibachi restaurants and chefs will each use their own unique blend of sauces and spices for their rice. But, the most common addition that adds that certain je ne se quoi is garlic-infused butter.
Also, remember to keep your ingredient list short and use cold, day-old rice for the best results. And since making good rice might be the most difficult part, do yourself a favor and let one of these Japanese rice cookers do the hard work for you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What’s The Difference Between Hibachi And Teppanyaki?
Hibachi uses an open grate over coals to cook, similar to an American BBQ grill. Teppanyaki on the other hand involves cooking on a flat, iron griddle. While the two methods are quite different, the names are often used interchangeably when talking about a specific type of Japanese steak house.
What Kind Of Rice Do Hibachi Chefs Use?
Most hibachi chefs use a medium-grain white rice as the primary option for steamed and fried rice.
Should I Use Fresh Or Old Rice To Make Fried Rice?
Using cold, day-old rice is the best choice for fried rice. The cooling process gets rid of excess moisture in the rice which makes it less prone to sticking and provides a better texture once it is stir-fried.