Onigiri is one of those foods that has beauty in its simplicity. Like its boujee distant cousin sushi, onigiri is all about taking a few simple ingredients and treating them right. But those simple dishes are the ones that will always trip up beginners. There’s nothing to hide behind, so the smallest of mistakes in cooking the rice, or forming the onigiri can throw a wrench in your designs...
But I’m here to help
As someone who likes cooking but isn’t particularly skilled at it, I love taking difficult tasks and finding easy and replicable ways to do them. That is exactly what i’ve done here. From cooking the rice to shaping the onigiri, every single step has been thoroughly examined and reworked to make the process of making authentic onigiri replicable and easy for even the most novice of home cooks. We’re giving the “convenience” in convenience store food a whole new meaning.Jump to Recipe
How to cook perfect rice. (every single time)
Cooking good rice is all about two things: water and timing. First, wash the rice multiple times until the water runs clear. You can discard the washing liquid, or save it for the base of kimchi jjigae. Then, add fresh water to the ratio of 1 part rice to 1.5 parts water.
The first option for cooking rice is on the stovetop. First bring the water up to a boil on high heat. Cover and let the rice gently steam on the lowest burner setting for twelve minutes. turn the heat completely off and let sit for a further ten minutes. It’s crucial to not remove the lid at any point during the cooking process as the rice is getting a nice steam bath and you don’t want to disturb it. After the required ten minutes of rest time, the rice is ready. It can also be left on a backburner set on its lowest setting and it’ll stay hot and ready for hours.
The second option is to use a rice cooker. (duh)
Getting in shape
If making good rice is the first major hurdle to good onigiri, forming the onigiri is undoubtedly the second one. So many things can go wrong. Rice can fall apart, filling can leak, and even if everything goes right you might still end up with unevenly sized onigiri. Lucky for you, I have developed a foolproof method for shaping that guarantees perfect shapes and uniform sizes.
Before you begin, WET EVERYTHING. Water is the best substance to use to prevent rice from sticking. I’d recommend having a bowl of water off to the side for wetting everything right before it comes in contact with the rice. Including but not limited to your hands, utensils, containers, and flat surfaces.
- Mold – Instead of shaping the onigiri entirely by hand, use a loaf pan to pre-compress the rice into an even shape. Though don’t go too hard, the less compressed onigiri rice is, the tastier it is to eat! A few medium presses with a rice scoop should do the trick.
- Divide – Flip the rice onto a cutting board and divide into even rectangular pieces. This ensures every onigiri is equal in size.
- Season – Take a thumb sized amount of salt and spread it on your flat hand. Pick up a section of rice. This will season the outside of the onigiri.
- Fill – Place about a tablespoon of the filling of your choice right in the center of the rectangle.
- Wrap – Fold the sides of rice over the filling, fully covering it on all sides.
- Shape – Using both hands, gently compess the rice into a rounded triangle
What fillings to use?
There are more possible onigiri fillings than there are atoms in the universe. Okay maybe not, but the possibilities are almost endless. Here are some of my favorites. They’re very simple and the ingredients can all be simply mixed together to taste:
Spicy Salmon: Cooked Salmon, Green onion, Japanese mayo, Sriracha
Tuna Mayo: Canned tuna, Japanese mayo, Black pepper
Pork Floss: Pork floss, Japanese mayo
Umeboshi: Umeboshi (just remove the pit)
Nori, aka dried seaweed, gets the best supporting character award. Not only does it provide a nonstick surface, allowing onigiri to be eaten by hand, good quality nori is satisfyingly crisp and fresh tasting. Since this dish is so simple, don’t cheap out on the nori. Go for the good stuff. I tested various brands and this one is very good for its price. If you want crispy nori, apply it right before you eat. Moisture from the rice will soften the nori the longer it rests. Which is perfectly fine if that’s what you’re going for.
Easy Combini Style Onigiri
2 cups short or medium grain white rice
3 cups water
Filling of your choice
- Place rice in a pot. Wash rice three to five times or until water runs clear. Drain and then replace with three cups of fresh water. Cover and heat on high until it reaches a boil. Immediately turn the heat to low and let simmer for 12 minutes.
- Turn the heat off, but keep the cover on and let steam for at least ten minutes.
- Wet the bottom of a loaf pan to prevent rice from sticking. Scoop enough rice into the pan to fill it up about an inch high. Press rice into pan lightly until evenly spread.
- Flip pan out onto a wet cutting board. Divide the rice into three or four even pieces depending on how big you want them. Let cool briefly for two minutes.
- Wet hands completely. Place the thumb of your off-hand into salt and spread salt onto the palm and fingers of the opposite hand. Place one rice rectangle on that hand.
- Press a small divot in the center of the rectangle and place about a tablespoon full of filling. Wrap the remaining rice around and over the filling.
- Compress the rice ball lightly with both hands, rotating to form the three sides.
- Wrap the rice ball with nori and enjoy immediately.