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Posted on Feb 26, 2007 | 22 comments

Speed Bento Technique: Freezing Rice to Fit Your Container

Speed Bento Technique: Freezing Rice to Fit Your Container

In a previous post I described freezing onigiri to make a bento stash for busy mornings. In a twist on that, you can freeze fresh rice in the shape of your bento box to speed up the making of a normal lunch when you don’t have fresh rice made.

Freezing rice for bento

Lay some plastic wrap in your bento box (or in a smaller container that fits into your box or Laptop Lunchbox), pack in the warm, fresh rice, and wrap up the rice. Freeze the wrapped rice right in the smaller container to help it maintains its shape while freezing — then you can remove your bento container once it’s frozen (leaving the rice in the freezer). You can still freeze rice shaped to fit your bento box even if it doesn’t have smaller containers — just mold the plastic-wrapped rice with your hands up against the side of the box, and pop the whole box in the freezer. For long-term storage, put the frozen wrapped rice in a freezer bag and suck the excess air out with a straw before sealing (think do-it-yourself Food Saver vacuum packing).

When you’re packing your bento in the morning, just put the wrapped rice in your microwave and nuke it until it’s soft and warm again, unwrap and pack it in the box. This works with a variety of rice: plain, fried, mixed with furikake or other flavorings, etc. — whatever you like. (EDIT: If you’re concerned about microwaving food wrapped with plastic wrap, unwrap the frozen rice, place it in a bowl, then cover the bowl with a lid, microwave-safe cover or plastic wrap that doesn’t touch the surface of the food. Then microwave until warm.)

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  1. mmmm. you are so good.

  2. Thank you so much. I enjoyed reading your site. I have to pack bento lunches for my 3 year old. She goes to a japanese preschool in LA. I don’t read japanese, so it’s great to find tips in english!
    For example, how the size of the bento box in ml, relates to calories! Wow! How big of a bento should a 3 year old have? Can you post something about that? Thanks!
    Julie

  3. @2 from julie: Welcome! I’m actually preparing for the same thing — to send my son to a Japanese preshcool in San Francisco that requires me to send along daily bentos!

    Somewhere I saw a full-on table with children’s ages and the appropriate size bentos/calories (I’ll look for it), but for the moment I did find this: A 3-5 year old requires 1350 to 1500 calories per day, and the lunch bento should account for 1/3 of those calories. So you should be aiming for a total of 400 to 500 calories in the bento (so a 400-500ml box, or a smaller box with a side snack container with fruit, etc.). Hope this helps for now, and I’ll look around for that complete table.

  4. Hi ss_biggie,

    I enjoy reading your blog entries on packing bento boxes alot! You put in so much effort to see that your son gets the most nutritious and well-balanced meal out of that cute lil bento. :)

    Just one question, is it safe to microwave food wrapped in plastic? Doesn’t the plastic wrap melt or something and releases toxins into the food?

  5. I had no idea about the ml’s. Today, my daughter ate much more of her food because I packed less of everything! I also tried freezing onigiri, and you inspired me to freeze other lunchbox treats. I will look around for a 400-500 ml lunch box. Gotta make a trip to Marukai!

  6. @4 from anonymous: Honestly, I haven’t seriously looked into that aspect of microwaving food wrapped in plastic. I’ll take a look. If it’s concerning to you, I suppose you could unwrap the frozen rice, place it in a bowl or plate, cover it with something non-plastic, and nuke it that way.

  7. I doubt that it would be toxic if the plastic isn’t melted on to the food. Otherwise, would they say it’s microwave safe when it’s not (FDA would have something to say about it I think).

    However, I do believe they caution you on the packages to no over heat plastic containers/wrap. It’s meant for you to just reheat items, not cook them. Just be careful to only use a high enough power to reheat.

    -Annie

  8. Oh, and Battambang (sp?) in the Tenderloin for Thai ingredients — it’s a hole in the wall and in a scary neighborhood, but has truly excellent Thai pantry items that I can’t find elsewhere. And there’s another Middle Eastern market (in addition to Queen of Sheba) near Army on Mission, I think, where I get unusual ingredients and gear (i.e. huge mezze serving platters, 3-foot long flat skewers for kebabs, etc.). There’s a better Middle Eastern market in Berkeley off of University Avenue, but I don’t get out there much.

  9. Annie, thanks for the info!

  10. Great to hear! And enjoy your excuse to buy another bento box! ;-)

  11. That’s such a wonderful idea! Will definitely use it. Thanks for posting. :D

    I’ve added you, by the way.

  12. Wow, thanks for the add! Enjoy the tip — it definitely broadens my lunch choices when I’m packing up in the morning as I don’t usually have a fresh batch of rice ready in the rice cooker (I make rice maybe once every 10 days or so).

  13. Hey _lovelovelove_!

    I just went to Daiso again today, and they just got all new inventory in! GO NOW before a local eBay bento seller buys all the good bento stuff up and sells it at six to ten times the price!!! They’ve got totally different baran/dividers, picks, special foil cups (extra-thick ones for cooking in, antibacterial ones, and special ones for fried food that absorb excess oil — look for the drawing of the fried shrimp on the package). They’ve also got new bento bands, all of the Urara boxes, Femmio Valentino (sp?) boxes, special plastic wrappers for onigiri to hold the nori (plus they give you a mold), little packages of antibacterial sheets that you lay on your child’s bento to prevent it from spoiling (Ciao! brand, says “Don’t eat” on the upper left hand side), tiny cutters in the baking section, etc.

  14. oh! awesome!! i went the other day (tuesday i think), and they had some things i’d never seen before, but nothing as awesome as you’re describing. i think i’ll rush down there tomorrow. i actually bought my favorite bento box there a while ago – it’s white and yellow, and has some adorable fruits and veggies smiling happily on it.

    thanks for the tip!

  15. Hey, I found that full-on table with bento box size guidelines by age/gender/height/physical activity level. I translated them and wrote up a blog entry.

  16. Great tips!! Thank you for sharing! I have a problem with the rice (Japanese rice) becoming dry after it has been refrigerated. When microwaving I sprinkle water over it and cover with saran wrap, but my husband always complains about it being dry.. Would you happen to have any tips that you can share for that?

    Also, I was wondering– where did you get this particular bento? I have been looking high and low for similar with different container sizes inside, but I haven’t had any luck! I looked in daiso (SF and SJ) but couldn’t find anything like that.

  17. @18 from FUYU: Be sure to refrigerate or freeze your rice as soon as possible once it’s done — if you leave it in the rice cooker or pot for hours it’ll start to dry out and won’t be as nice once it’s microwaved. Wrapping the rice tightly for the freezer or refrigerator is also important, as well as keeping it tightly covered when you microwave it.

    I got that particular bento well over a year ago at Kamei (on Clement St.), but they don’t have them anymore. When last I checked, http://www.sugarcharms.com did have some in stock with blue sub-dividers. Good luck!

  18. Hey biggie!

    Do you have any experience with freezing nori? I’d like to make up a large batch of spam musubi to grab as I leave (it’s a Hawaiian treat that is part of my family…

    http://www.flickr.com/photo_zoom.gne?id=2156887933&size=o

    They are a slice of spam fried in shoyu and sugar (or in oyster sauce) and pressed onto rice, then wrapped in nori.

    I could easily freeze the rice with the spam, then add the nori after the morning reheat, but I was just curious if i could do the whole thing!

    -shen

  19. Hello! Your site has such great tips and ideas! Thanks so much for posting them! I have a question though. When I froze my rice and microwaved it, the rice seemed just a little bit gummy… Is this because of something I did wrong or does it just get like that after freezing and microwaving?

  20. @20 from Shen: Ooh, sorry about the delay in replying — this slipped through the cracks. I haven’t frozen onigiri pre-wrapped with nori; cookbooks advise freezing them naked, then wrapping them fresh after they’ve been nuked to defrost/warm.

  21. @21 from Chiisaichi: Hmm, was the fresh rice a little gummy as well? When you microwaved it, do you let it get nice and warm to fully restore the texture, or did you take it out a little early? Did you keep it tightly wrapped when you microwaved it? Let me know and I’ll think about it some more.

  22. Hi again. When I made it it wasn’t gummy. It was still hot when I tightly wrapped it, then I put it in the freezer. It was pretty hot when I took it out of the microwave and seemed to be good… but I don’t know if letting it sit in the bento box for a few hours dried it out a little and made it gummy… I’m not sure.