Occasionally you may find an interesting ingredient called “rice starch water (ssal-tte-mul, 쌀뜨물)” in Korean soup or stew recipes, such as in Doenjang Jjigae.
Rice starch water is basically the water that you used to rinse the rice. Due to its starch component, it is often used as a natural thickener in stews or other dishes. It also adds depth to the flavor of the dish.
Besides working as a thickener, rice starch water also helps get rid of fish odor. I can’t explain scientifically how rice starch water reduces fish odor, but many Koreans use it to treat the fish smell. For example, see my Braised Mackerel with Radish recipe to learn more.
Making rice starch water is very simple. You don’t have to make an extra effort to create it as long as you are cooking rice to serve with your Korean dish. You will need to first wash the rice prior to cooking anyway. All you need to do is to collect the rinsed water.
Here’s how you do it.
- Pour some water over uncooked rice in a bowl.
- Run your fingers through the rice a couple times to rinse the rice, then drain the water. Discard this first rinsed water.
- Swirl the rice around for 15 seconds with your fingers to loosen the starch coating on the rice grains.
- Add the amount of water the recipe needs and rinse the rice. You will see the water turn milky.
- Pour the second rinsed water into another bowl and reserve it for your cooking needs.
- Continue to rinse your rice a couple more times before cooking it by your usual rice cooking method.
NOTE: Rice starch water can be stored in the refrigerator up to a week. The starch will settle to the bottom, so shake it before you use it.