by Jessica Thompson for USA TODAY 10Best

Mochi: What it is and how to cook with it

One of the country’s favorite ways to enjoy rice in all its starchy glory is mochi, a glutinous rice cake that has the caloric equivalent of a small bowl of rice packed into a matchbox-sized morsel.

Mochi has a long and storied role in Japanese cuisine. After making its first appearance over 2,000 years ago, it became an integral part of religious and cultural celebrations.

These days, mochi can be served as a sweet snack of its own or as an ingredient in a wide variety of sweet and savory dishes. You probably know the version that’s eaten as a sweet, which may be filled with paste, custard or ice cream.

That version of mochi is traditionally made with mochiko, a glutinous rice flour, or glutinous rice that is steamed then furiously pounded into a sticky mass by two people. (Mochi-making machines are becoming increasingly common.)

But this sticky mass can also be dried and used as an ingredient at a later stage. Kirimochi (cut mochi), as it’s called, comes in slabs that look like small soap bars.

Image courtesy of Jessica Thompson

One of the more popular traditional applications of kirimochi is isobe yaki. This izakaya staple features a baked mochi cake that’s basted with soy sauce, wrapped in a toasted sheet of nori and eaten with dinner.

Another common application is grilling mochi then adding it to soups, in particular, the traditional New Year’s soup ozoni, and a soup made of crushed adzuki beans, shiruko.

The Japanese have practically perfected textural contrasts in food. You too can harness the textural wonder that is mochi in your cooking with the following popular creative applications.

Bacon mochi

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Wrap a kirimochi slice in bacon, then skewer and grill it. Bacon mochi is a popular item at yakitori restaurants and yatai (street stall vendors) in Japan.

Mochi pizza

Kirimochi can be softened in the microwave to a dough-like consistency, then shaped into a disc and cooked in a frying pan for a chewy and crispy base. The Japanese like to top it with olive oil, wasabi and raw tuna.

Mochi gratin

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Use chunks of kirimochi in place of, or in addition to, potato in a creamy gratin.

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