Home Cooking: Nori Rice Paste for Japanese Woodblock

a blog.

Rice paste, called nori, is an essential part of water based woodblock printmaking. In Japan nori is a pretty universal substance used in all sorts of ways from laundry starch to safe glue for infants (eating glue must be a common problem, I certainly ate glue at my kindergarten – it tasted of almonds, yum). It can be bought everywhere and is dirt cheap.

applying white nori to the block for printing

Imagine my dismay when I came home to find that here nori is a rare and expensive thing. It was like blundering into the the fifties and finding that olive oil was back in Boots in 4oz bottles. Concerned and mean, I looked for alternatives.

The traditional recipe involves a lot of soaking, grinding and pushing of reluctant gloop through muslin. About 10% made it into my nori pot and seemingly 150% splattered the kitchen. Then I found a recipe suggesting rice starch – taa daa! Five minutes on the internet and I had a kilo and a half of fine milled white rice flour (turns out I bought enough flour to keep Hokusai’s print shop in business for a year, but it was so very cheap)

The recipe follows, it’s dead easy, takes about ten minutes and you can wean a baby along with printing if you wish. It’s only rice and water so has no preservative. I’ve done the experiments and can tell you that it doesn’t freeze (turns into water and a lump of something very odd). It’ll keep for about four days at British warm for spring temperature before going watery, at five days it’s got a fur coat. In the fridge it will last a week.

Mix 20g rice flour with 100ml of cold water
Stir until smooth and milky
Bring 150ml water almost to the boil in a pan
Add the paste mix in a smooth ribbon and stir
Bring to the boil and keep stirring constantly until the mix goes translucent (about five mins)
Cool, stirring from time to time

This excellent recipe comes from ‘The Art and Craft of Woodblock Printmaking’ ISBN 951-558-085-4

Brave New World

As you’ll have gathered, I have a new web site. That meant many days spent drawing facsimiles of every page onto layout paper with stuck on text and big arrows to show which page went where. I see this gets me credit for being the designer, though I feel it is possibly not how they do it at Apple. The other consequence was having to turn a mixed up plan chest of prints into an accurately captioned on-line portfolio.

I have good intentions, I really do. I used to run a photographic library with fair efficiency. Indeed I once walked the tightrope as researcher in a news agency holding pictures by both Murdoch and Maxwell’s teams. Believe me you didn’t want to get anything mixed up or wrongly credited there: I still have nightmares where I’ve sent Mail pictures to the Mirror. However, the plain fact is that the plan chest wasn’t pretty. Too many enthusiastic ‘look at this, and this, and this’ as I pulled prints out at random to show visitors.

Today I grasped the nettle and with my long suffering brother-in-law Simon (he gets a credit for coding the website which in my book puts him squarely in Matrix country) sorted through my prints, measured them and entered them onto a spreadsheet. You can now see my gallery in all its accurately captioned glory while I have all the worthy glow and evangelical fervour that goes along with being organised. How long the plan chest will stay just so is anyone’s guess…