Making Mochi by Hand for New Years
My family always makes handmade mochi at the end of the year. It turns in to party that starts at about 6:00am when we start to steam the mochi-rice. My father-in-law always hands me a beer and all the men stand outside waiting for the rice to be ready for a pounding. My wife and mother-in-law wisely stay inside working hard washing the rice and preparing the tables for the mochi.
Once the rice is ready we take it out and put it in a rock mortar (some people use wooden ones) known as an usu. We then breakup the rice genially using a wooden hammer called a kine. Once the rice is broken and starting to stick together we start pounding it. This is a 2 person job with one person pounding and one person turning over the rice. This second job takes skill and a lot of trust so I just pound. This process takes about 15 minutes or so to create one large ball of mochi.
Now this large ball has to be divided into smaller balls so the mochi heads inside and my wife and mother-in-law pinch it into the correct size. I tried this once and it is really hard work as you have to pinch the mochi between your thumb and forefinger. You must have strong hands.
We make about 8 to 10 batches of mochi and it takes most of the day. During the breaks between batches my father-in-law will make some larger mochi that we use for kagami mochi (new years mochi). Many people buy plastic versions but we prefer the real thing.
This is an all day event and many of my wife's relatives join in to make mochi and for the 6:00am beer (I am not much of a drinker but when in Rome/Amagasaki). The younger children also get in on the act and help pounding and pinching mochi.
Fresh mochi can be eaten just like this but in a day or 2 it gets hard. My favorite way to have mochi is in soup with udon or just in mizo soup. My kids like to put it in the toaster oven which creates a crunchy shell that surrounds the soft chewy mochi inside. We keep a lot of mochi frozen and enjoy it throughout the winter.