A rice spoon is a spoon designed for mixing rice with seasonings; such spoons are an integral part of the preparation of sushi rice and other seasoned rice dishes. You may also hear a rice spoon called a “rice paddle,” which is a more accurate reflection of its design, and in Japanese, this utensil is called a shamoji. Stores which stock sushi supplies often carry rice spoons, and they are sometimes included in sushi kits as well.
The design of a rice spoon is quite simple. The spoon is wide, flat, and broad, so that it can be used to gently turn rice while seasonings such as vinegar are mixed in. The design ensures that the seasonings will be distributed as evenly as possible without crushing the rice or breaking the grains. The rice spoon still needs to be handled carefully to keep the rice fluffy and well-seasoned, and it usually needs to be regularly dipped in water so that it will not stick to the rice.
In addition to being used to season rice, a rice spoon is also used to serve or measure out rice. In sushimaking, the rice spoon is used to transfer rice to a sheet or nori, and to shape the rice before other ingredients are added and the sushi is rolled. Rice spoons can also be used at the table to serve rice to guests. In China, rice spoons are sometimes used to shape rice for rice balls, dumplings, and other dishes, so that cooks do not need to handle the food directly.
Traditionally, rice spoons are made from wood, typically bamboo. The wood may be plain or lacquered, and sometimes the handle is decorated with Chinese or Japanese characters. It is also possible to find plastic and sometimes ceramic rice spoons. Metal, however, is not used, because metal can react with seasonings, especially vinegar, generating a strange and often very unpleasant flavor. Metal spoons can also damage the wooden bowls traditionally used to season rice.
Caring for a rice spoon is very easy. If the spoon is made from wood, it should be washed after use, ideally without soap, and then patted dry and hung in a cool dry place so that it will not crack, split, or become damaged by banging around in a utensil drawer. Plastic rice spoons can usually be run through the dishwasher or washed by hand and dried on a dish rack, as can ceramic spoons.