Continuing on our recent trend of cooking a lot of Japanese food, here is a classic. Onigiri are rice balls (or maybe more specifically, compressed rice with filling in it). They can be made in many shapes, and with many fillings (or just plain with salt). They can be shaped by hand, or using a mold. They are a convenient food to make ahead of time and then take with you somewhere, and they are pretty and pleasant to eat. Because you can fill them with almost anything, they are also very diverse, and can be made sweeter, more savory, or salty and pickled, depending on how you’re feeling. They are often wrapped with a piece of nori (seaweed) on the outside, both for aesthetic purposes, and to allow you to hold the onigiri without the rice sticking to your hand.
For ours, we were just using what we had on hand. We had used some katsuobushi recently to make a somen noodle dipping sauce, and that involved soaking the katsuobushi in soy sauce, mirin, and some other things, so we strained out the katsuobushi, squeezed it out, and kept it for filling. We didn’t have any nori on hand, though I do usually prefer wrapping a small piece around the onigiri. We did have some nanami togarashi (a ground spicy pepper and sesame seed mix), so I used that to decorate the onigiri, and provide a little extra zing when eating them.
Other fillings we have used in the past include miso paste and pickled vegetables, miso pork and pickled ginger, and ginger chicken, but really you can put anything in there that will fit. Soy-soaked shiitake mushrooms chopped finely would be delicious. Any other cooked and chopped vegetables would be nice. Other types of dried or cooked fish could also be good.
The process is very simple. You just need rice and filling. For six onigiri (using the mold we have), I made 2 cups of rice.
If using a mold, moisten the inside, and press enough rice in the bottom to fill it up about halfway, then press a divot into the center. If doing it by hand, moisten your hands, and take a large bunch of rice in your hand, and press a divot in the middle.
Fill up the divot with filling.
If you’re doing this by hand, roll the rice around the filling, and then form it into whatever shape you like. If using a mold, press more rice in on top of the filling.
Then press the top of the mold in firmly but gently – not enough to smash the rice, but enough to press it together.
Tip the mold upside-down, and squeeze the onigiri out.
Now, no matter whether you’re doing it by hand or using a mold, decorate your onigiri using nori, togarashi, sesame… whatever you like.
And that’s it. Let them cool so that the rice kind of congeals and sticks together well, then wrap them up and take them away, or eat them then and there.