Onigiri is a name for rice balls in Japanese. Onigiri is simple, convenient and delicious lunch and snack to take. This is the ultimate and only Onigiri guide you will ever need including rice, fillings, seasonings, shapes, and how to store Onigiri rice balls.
What is Onigiri?
Onigiri is Japanese rice balls also known as Omusubi in Japan. They are the best selling food items in Japanese convenience stores and there are many different rice balls in terms of fillings and seasonings and are readily available to eat as lunch or snack on the go.
The best rice for Onigiri
The best rice for making onigiri Japanese rice balls is short-grain Japonica “Koshihikari”. This Japanese rice is available from Japanese/Asian grocery stores and also you can get this rice from major supermarkets in Australia. The brand is Sun rice.
Koshihikari rice is best for making rice balls because it absorbs the optimal amount of water which helps the rice to stick together. It is also important to cook rice like the Japanese make. Read here how to cook rice the Japanese way.
Japanese rice balls can simply be seasoned with just salt then wrapped with nori seaweed. However Japanese love rice balls and rice seasonings Furikake, there are a variety of seasonings that can be mixed into cooked rice unlike Furikake sprinkled onto the rice. You can purchase them from Japanese/Asian grocery stores or online stores.
Popular brands are Mizkan Omusubiyama and Marumiya. Flavours are Wakame seaweed & salmon, Daikon leaves, Pickled plum & Bonito flake, Tuna Mayo, grilled cod roe etc. It is easy to use. Just add and mix into hot just cooked rice and leave them for a while. The dry seasoning ingredients will be steamed by residual heat from rice and become soft and delicious.
Another way to make rice balls more interesting and delicious is to fill the rice balls with Umeboshi pickled plum, salted and grilled salmon, Salmon Soboro, grilled cod roe, Kelp tsukudani (Kelp boiled in sweetened soy sauce), Bonito flakes, Tuna Mayonnaise (called Tuna Mayo) etc. These are just examples. If you visit any convenience stores there are many different and unique fillings you can find.
The Japanese love of onigiri made rice balls evolved into many variations. Not just using different seasonings and fillings but also you can fry rice balls which are called Yaki(grilled) Onigiri. My favourite flavour is Miso Butter. Melt butter in a frying pan over medium heat and brush with sweetened miso while rice balls fried or grilled.
Also, you can make different rice dishes into ball triangle shapes such Sekihan azuki bean rice, Sekihan with chestnuts Ketchup rice, Mentaiko Yaki Onigiri, and Takikomi gohan. If you wrap the ketchup rice with a thinly fried egg, you can make Omurice omusubi. This is actually sold in convenience stores in Japan.
How to make Onigiri
Basically, grab a handful of cooked rice and squeeze into balls with your hands. However, you need to choose good rice. If the rice is too dry and does not hold moisture, it will not stick together. You need to wet your hands before you handle cooked rice. Then shape rice balls with your hands while you are squeezing.
Shapes of Onigiri
You probably have seen the triangular ones before, though there are other shapes as well. Commonly there are three shapes; triangular, round, and cylinder (called Tawara).
This shape is probably the easiest to shape. Wet your hands so that the rice will not stick to your hands, and shape it into round balls. You can make it like a glove or squash it a bit to make it flat round. You see this round shape of Takikomi gohan and Sekihan azuki beans rice into this shape at convenience stores in Japan.
Shaping into triangles may be a little difficult. You squeeze the rice same as shaping round rice balls. Then put it on one palm and the other hand form like one triangle corner and keep rotating the rice ball on the palm while you squeeze every rotation.
Tawara (round cylinder) shape
This shape is not as difficult as a triangle shape. Start with a round shape and squeeze into a cylinder shape. This shape is known as Tawara which is straw bales.
Ok, if you are like my daughter and still not sure how to shape rice balls, there are moulds available to shape onigiri. I don’t have any triangle Onigiri Mold because I can shape triangle quite well without mold but I have a small round one and cylinder shape one. They are available from Japanese/Asian grocery stores or online. When you use a mold, you also need to wet the mold before you put rice in the mold.
How to store onigiri
Unlike convenience stores’ rice balls, homemade rice balls do not contain any preservatives. Also if you make with your hands without using cling wrap, even though you wash your hands before you make the rice balls, it is recommended to eat the rice balls on the same day. Contact with your hands will introduce germs which shorten the life of the rice.
If you choose to wrap the onigiri with cling wrap instead of the nori seaweed, it increases the life of the rice. You can keep them in a ziplock freezer bag. It stores in the freezer for a month.
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- 2 cups rice (uncooked)
- 1 seeded umeboshi pickled plum
- 10 g of bonito flakes
- 1/2 tsp soy sauce
- 1/2 tsp mirin
- 1 nori sheets seaweed sheets
- 95 g tinned tuna
- Cook 3 cups of rice according to your rice cooker or if you don’t have a rice cooker, follow the instructions here *4.
- Transfer the cooked rice in a separate bowl to cool it down. I used a Japanese wooden bowl*1 for sushi making.
- Prepare all the fillings that you are going to use and set aside. *2 see some suggestions
- I used Umeboshi (pickled plum), Okaka (bonito flakes), and Tuna. For Umeboshi, deseed the plums then divide the meat into three chunks. For Okaka, place bonito flakes into a small mixing bowl and combine with soy sauce and mirin. For Tuna, drain the brine or olive oil and mix with 1 tbs mayonnaise.
- Prepare seaweed sheet (nori). ＊3
- Place cling wrap over a rice bowl.
- Place half a cup of cooked rice over the centre of the cling wrap.
- Put about 1tsp of umeboshi (or any fillings of your choice) on the centre of the rice then top with another half cup of rice.
- Wrap the cling wrap over the rice and squeeze and mould the rice into a triangle shape with your hands.
- Remove the cling wrap and cover the bottom of the rice triangle with a nori sheet and set aside.
- Repeat the same steps as above to make an onigiri with the bonito flake filling.