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Top Rated Onigiri Recipes
My family was vegetarian from 1998 to 2004 while my cousin from India was living with us and attending college. Coincidentally, my mom was teaching a cooking class at the time she called “The Occasional Vegetarian.” I used to go with her every week to prep beforehand, chopping piles of garlic and onions, and pretending to do homework while she taught, but secretly listening in. I wasn't surprised (or upset) to find these in my lunch box the day after the rice ball class.Click here to see 8 Easy Vegetarian Dishes.
How To Make Onigiri – おにぎり- (4 Easy Recipes!)
Whether you call it Onigiri – おにぎり – or musubi, there’s a lot to love about Japanese rice balls! Salted and lightly compressed rice filled with goodies like pickled plums or okaka and wrapped in sheets of nori. YUM! Learn about the origins of onigiri, the best rice to use and step-by-step directions to form your own perfect rice balls at home. Plus four delicious, easy to make onigiri recipes!
“Let’s go to 7-Eleven,” are words that commonly come out of my mouth when I’m in Japan.
Whether it’s in response to my Mom asking me what I want for lunch, or a gentle (not so gentle) suggestion to Ben when he asks if I’m peckish. I tend to say it a lot!
You see, the Japanese konbini (convenience store) is worlds apart from its North American counterpart.
Instead of a predictable aisle of chips, frozen burritos and the same old soft drinks – it’s a place you can go to get everything from fresh soba, katsudon, takowasa, melonpan, oden, fried chicken, whisky, amazing ice cream bars, a dizzying array of energy drinks to an emergency umbrella if it’s raining.
Heck, you can even pay your gas bill there.
In fact, it would probably be easier to list what they don’t have than cover everything they do!
But if I had to narrow it down to one thing that, if they stopped appearing on the shelves, would make me absolutely LOSE IT, it would be onigiri.
Yep. The most simple seeming of all konbini fast foods – Japanese rice balls – are what I end up craving the most.
And onigiri are way more than just the sum of their parts. There’s a magical elevation that seems to happen when cooked and salted rice is stuffed with things like sashimi-grade spicy tuna, and is then wrapped in nori (seaweed sheets).
Whether as a snack or as part of a meal, onigiri tend to be flavor packed and super satisfying. My fave!
Today, we’re going to unwrap the mystery on how to make rice balls at home.
And we’ll level up your onigiri game with three easy to make onigiri recipes – along with a simple bonus preparation.
Itadakimasu! Let’s eat!
1. Make the Rice
Unlike sushi, which is made with rice seasoned with rice vinegar and sugar, the rice for onigiri is simply cooked sushi rice. Although a rice cooker is typically used, you don’t need one. Simply rinse the rice, then cook it at a 1:1 ratio of rice to water. (The key here is to use warm rice it will be difficult to form the balls with cold rice.)
Once the rice is cooked, you can either leave it plain, or mix in chopped herbs, such as scallions, parsley, or cilantro seasonings like sesame seeds, furikake, or spices or finely chopped steamed vegetables or meats.
This onigiri recipe is easier to prepare than it looks. The only time-consuming part is cooking the rice and letting it cool enough so that you can shape it with your hands.
- Cook the rice.
- Let the rice cool until it is cool enough to handle.
- Use a mold or your hands to form the rice into the traditional triangle shape, putting some of the filling in the center.
- When ready to serve or eat the onigiri, wrap them in the nori and enjoy them at room temperature.
Sushi rice can be used instead of jasmine rice if desired. Salt can be replaced with garlic salt, seasoned salt or a mix of Chinese five-spice powder with salt.
If adding a filling, gently push on the rice ball in step 3 to create a small pocket for the filling.
It's important to shape rice while still warm otherwise it won't stick as well. This takes lots of practice and patience so don't be discouraged if you don't get it right the first time.
Nori is commonly used in sushi and can be found in most grocery stores or Asian markets. I usually cut into strips with scissors. Nori has a distinctly fishy smell and taste so if you don't like fish or sushi I would recommend not adding it.
Onigiri is a popular Japanese food. Although it’s a simple combination of a ball of rice filled with some other delicious meat, fish or vegetable, it takes some experience to get to know this snack deeply in all its combinations. Of course, Japanese people all know what they like when it comes to onigiri, but how much could a foreigner get into this kind of food?
To get a sense of this, we met with an American named Chris who is visiting Japan to do some surfing, and gave him a taste test to rank his nine best onigiri fillings.
・Chris makes his own onigiri
Just giving Chris some pre-made onigiri bought at a convenience store could have worked, but we really wanted to immerse him in the culture of these awesome rice balls. So we got him to make his own.
・Dude knows how to clean rice
Getting started he began cleaning the rice. His form was quite good as he polished the grains without damaging them with a motion like washing his hands. It seems he had learned this technique from a Japanese girlfriend.
・But doesn’t know how to work the rice cooker
Chris finished washing the rice like a pro, leaving just the right amount of water in the pot for cooking. However, after loading the machine he wasn’t sure which button to push to get it going. After thinking it over for a moment he asked his girlfriend to push the right one.
・Molding the rice ball is a struggle
Most first-time onigiri makers often underestimate the struggle of molding the rice ball into a beautiful triangle shape like we see sold in stores. Getting coaching from his girlfriend, Chris gave it his best to create a tidy triangle and… Well, the ones his girlfriend made looked very nice.
With everything prepared we had nine onigiri ready to go. Let’s see what Chris chose as his nine best rice ball fillings.
9th: Mentaiko & Mayo
“I don’t like cod roe so much”
8th: Takana (Japanese mustard plant)
“It tasted like pickles, but it was okay.”
7th: Kombu (kelp)
“I liked the salty-sweet flavor of it. It tasted pretty good.”
6th: Tuna & Mayo
“I’m into tuna.”
5th: Boiled Shrimp
“The sweet and spicy blend was good. It smelled and tasted like Teriyaki.”
4th: Ume (Japanese Apricot)
“I like these sour pickled plums. I also love natto!”
3rd: Momoya’s Spicy, Not Spicy, Kind of Spicy Chili Oil
“First it’s crunchy with a garlic taste, then you’re hit with spiciness! I wish they sold this in America!”
2nd: Okaka (bonito flakes blended with other ingredients)
“I really like the sweet taste of this one.”
1st: Salmon & Mayo
“I like salmon.”
Granted this is just the opinion of one guy, but it gave our Japanese reporter a rare glimpse into the tastes of the average American. Our reporter would also like to sincerely thank Chris for helping out with this article to showcase some of Japan’s most delicious onigiri fillings. Now off you go to make some of your own!
Original Report by Sekai No Shogo with Christopher Hertler
Rice Provided by Takema Furusato Promotional Council
Onigiri with Beef Shigureni Recipe
If you are tired of Katsuobushi (bonito flakes) or Umeboshi (pickled plum) Onigiri rice ball, try this one with a little twist. Beef Shigureni is seasoned strongly with soy sauce, sugar, and ginger, and goes very well with rice, therefore, it is perfect as an Onigiri filling!
You don’t know how to make Onigiri? Watch our Onigiri video for more detailed instructions. I used brown rice here, but you can certainly use regular white rice. Great snack or light lunch!
- Put some rice in a rice bowl.
- Wet hands with water and add salt. Place rice in one hand, put beef in the middle of rice.
- Add some more rice over beef. Press and form into a triangle shape
- Wrap with a sheet of roasted seaweed.
Noriko was born and grew up in Osaka, Japan. She has lived in Southern California since 1994. Noriko went to San Diego Culinary Institute, studying baking and pastries with Master Pastry Chef Bo Friberg. She has worked in several commercial kitchens as a pastry cook. She is married with one child and one budgie, and is now a stay-home mom enjoying cooking both Japanese and American food for her family.
- For best results, make your onigiri while the rice is still warm. This will help the rice stick together better and make it easier to form the traditional triangle shape.
- To make your fresh onigiri look more authentic, add a slice of nori around the base. It looks great and tastes great too!
- If you’re making onigiri ahead of time, it’s a good idea to store the nori separately from the rice until you’re ready to eat, otherwise it will go soggy.
We recommend using koshihikari sushi rice which is stickier and will hold its shape better. Medium grain rice or short grain rice works best for onigiri as the grains tend to stick to each other better than long grain rice (such as jasmine rice).
Onigiri are best enjoyed fresh. If you need to store them overnight, we recommend wrapping in plastic wrap or popping in a small airtight container before storing them in the refrigerator. Doing this will help retain moisture in the rice and stop the surface from drying out. You can also wrap them in an extra layer (such as paper towel or a regular towel) to stop the rice getting too cold and hard.
If you plan to eat them with a nori seaweed sheet, we recommend keeping it separate until you’re ready to eat.
If your onigiri have dried out a bit but are still good on the inside inside, you can bring them back to life as yaki-onigiri – also known as grilled onigiri. Baste them in a little soy sauce, then fry them in a pan with sesame oil. The heat will crisp up the outside leaving the inside tender and moist. Yum!
Onigiri Recipe: Chicken & Spicy Mayo
Onigiri (Japanese Rice Ball) is such a versatile meal – and one your kids will love! Try this easy chicken onigiri recipe with sriracha mayo for your next lunch or snack!
- Author:Caroline Phelps
- Prep Time: 7 minutes
- Cook Time: 8 minutes
- Total Time: 15 minutes
- Yield: 4 onigiri 1 x
- Category: Snacks
- Cuisine: Japanese
- 1/3 pound boneless chicken breast (preferably thinly sliced)
- 1 thumb size ginger (peeled and sliced into thin strips)
- 1 small carrot (peeled, sliced into thin strips the same length as the ginger)
- 1 stalk scallion (chopped into thin strips the same size as ginger and carrot)
- 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sake
- 1 tablespoon vegetable or canola oil
- 2 cloves garlic (minced)
- 2 cup cooked Japanese rice
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
- nori sheets
- kosher salt
- Add chicken, garlic, soy sauce and sake in a bowl and mix well. Marinade for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, mix mayonnaise and sri racha sauce together in a bowl and set aside.
- Add salt to the rice and using a plastic or wooden spoon, fluff the rice (do not over mix or toss) until salt is evenly mixed in.
- In a small pan over medium heat, add oil, carrots and ginger and fry for 2-3 minutes, until vegetables are soft but still yielding a slight crunch. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
- Using the same pan, add chicken and cook on medium for 5 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Set aside.
Assembling the onigiri:
- Set a bowl of water next to your ingredients.
- Wet your hands (this prevents the rice from sticking) and grab a small handful of rice. Flatten the rice and shape it into a triangle.
- Make a dent in the center of the nigiri and spread a little sir racha mayonnaise all the way to the tip of the nigiri.
- Lay a few strips of scallions, ginger and carrot in the center of the dent.
- Finish by adding one or two pieces of chicken on top of the vegetables.
- Lay the onigiri on top and in the center of a sheet of nori. Fold in half and serve onigiri individually or on together on a plate.
You can refrigerate the ingredients for this Onigiri Recipe separately for 3-5 days.
Popular onigiri fillings and flavors, single Bento Boys, and more
Married guys and single women take homemade bentos to work as a matter of course, but up until now single guys have relied on bought bento from convenience stores (conbini) and so on. But now it seems that more single guys are bringing homemade bentos too. Sales of utilitarian bento boxes, even 'Tupper' (=Tupperware) are on the rise. Reasons given by these "Bento Boys" as they are dubbed include the worsening economy/to save money, health concerns and for ecological reasons (combini bentos come in landfill-cluttering plastic or styrofoam disposable containers). According to this Japanese article, the hip Single Guy these days saves money where he can, but doesn't stint on splurging on his hobbies and interests. Presumably these single guys make their own bento (the article says that many rely on readymade bento components that are sold by weight at conbini and supermarkets, and cook their own rice. Rather like buying deli meats and assembling your own sandwich I guess.) (Via the always interesting Mari Diary). You could follow their example and become a hip, intelligently economizing Bento Boy or Girl too!
Cheap bentos getting popular
Speaking of combini, in recent years some combini chains have come out with 'deluxe' onigiri retailing for 200-300 yen each, filled with expensive things like ikura (salmon caviar), tender beef filet, and uni (sea urchin), as well as makunouchi-style expensive bento lunches. Now the trend may be reserving: the Lotteria chain is coming out with small deep fried chicken rice onigiri (more like rice croquettes) that retail for 100 yen called "Koro Musubi". This adds to their lineup of 100 yen small bite offerings, which include the "Straight Burger Lotteria" (a heterosexual burger for homophobes. I'm kidding, I think they mean it's a no-frills burger), "Snack Chicken" and "Vegetable Life 100". Japanese link. Also, people are turning away from the deluxe bentos to more economic versions a department store in Kagoshima is having success with a line of 260 yen bentos (Japanese link.) The 'in' bento is the classic noriben - see my noriben recipe.
Nodame Cantabile star Juri Ueno in onigiri commerical
You may know Juri Ueno (上野樹里）as the star of the live-action version of the popular anime and manga Nodame Cantabile. She is going to be in a commercial for Food Action Nippon, a campaign sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (農林水産省, MAFF) that encourages eating local and promoting domestic food production (i.e. 'food self-reliance'). Here she is being interviewed, with a part of her commercial, where she shows her love of onigiri. (Yep I know, so kawaii. She's 22, for what it's worth.)
Popular onigiri flavors and fillings
Every year, various convenience store chains and the like hold surveys of popular onigiri fillings and flavors. They don't really change much, but perusing such lists can lead to inspiration for different onigiri fillings and flavors. though it looks like mayonnaise with something is overwhelming popular. The list here is fairly typical. Here are the most popular:
- Tuna w. mayonnaise
- Salted salmon (sha-keh) (how to make your own salted salmon)
- Umeboshi (pickled plums)
- Mentaiko (spicy pollock roe)
- Grilled tarako (salty, not-spicy pollock roe)
- Konbu seaweed
- Ikura (salmon caviar marinated in soy sauce)
- Mixed chicken rice
- Shrimp w. mayonnaise
- Takana (pickled vegetable)
- Tenmusu - shrimp tempura
- Mentaiko (see no. 4) with mayo
- Mentaiko with mustard
- (tie) Okaka (bonito flakes with soy sauce)
- Uncooked tarako (see no. 5)
- Sujiko (a non-marinated version of ikura)
- (tie) Salted salmon with mayo
- (tie) Raw tuna (maguro)
- (tie) Chicken karaage (recipe)
- Osekihan, sticky rice and azuki beans (osekihan recipe) Other suggestions include: green onion with miso (negimiso) yakiniku (grilled beef in sauce), kalbi (Korean bbq beef), cheese, tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet) and kimchi.
SPAM lands on mainland Japan, again
And last but not least: Hormel Foods, makers of the infamous Spam, announced that they are re-commencing a fullblown Spam assault on the mainland Japan market in 2009 (Japanese article). Spam as you probably know already is very popular in Hawai'i, especially as spam musubi. Since musubi (onigiri) originated in Japan, many people erroenously believe that Spam is also popular in Japan. Not so: it is indeed popular in Okinawa, where it was introduced to the local population by the American military (as it was in Korea), but so far Spam is only available as 'imported food' in some department stores and such. Here's how the Japanese version of Spam will look (this actually says 'with 20% less salt compared to Classic'):
So. will Spam conquer Japan? We shall see.
This is my last Just Bento post until after Christmas. Happy Holidays to you all! (And yep I'm still working out the details on the January Bento Challenge. Stay tuned for more details after the 26th!)
For us, ramen is a dish best served….. literally anytime, with anything. But, there’s just something especially tantalizing about the ramen shown in Ponyo, with its thin slices of bright pink ham, tasty egg and scallions… we’re drooling just thinking about it. Luckily, this Ponyo ramen is one super easy dish to recreate from home. Click here for a recipe via Ochikeron.
While cute little Totoros made of rice are a common sight seen in elaborate Bento Boxes around the world, a replica of the bento boxes from My Neighbour Totoro are just as fun to create. Best of all? Making these is definitely much easier than trying to craft a Totoro out of rice and sesame seeds… honestly, take our word for it, it’s not easy. Click here for an easy tutorial from Kristin Wagman on how to make one of these yummy bento boxes for yourself!