今晩は！おひさしぶりですね？Yay for another Japanese food post! I’ve actually made お握り(onigiri) or “rice balls” many times since my return home (read more about my time in Japan on my first Japanese food post: 南瓜とマヨネーズ or Kabocha to Mayonnaise. I ate them so often in Japan that I almost immediately missed them. They are so convenient, yummy, versatile, and cute! Now that I’m feeling the time crunch of being back in school, as well as having the same small budget to work around, these little snacks are great for food-on-the-go. You can fill them with anything you desire. Chicken salad, tuna salad, and umeboshi were the usual fillings I saw in 四国 (Shikoku). My Japanese friends often made theirs without fillings, but rather mixed black sesame seeds or edamame into the rice itself before forming it into the characteristic spade shape.
The traditional snack uses nori strips to help keep your hands clean (as well as adding a kick of flavor). Now, if the nori is left in contact with the rice, it absorbs the moisture and becomes soft and – eventually – soggy …think a PB&J after being in a backpack all day. You should see the ingenious wrappers the Japanese came up with to keep the dry, paper-thin folds of nori separate from the sticky rice until the plastic is opened. You can’t tell from this photo, but consumers must open numbered corners in the correct order so that the plastic lining can be pulled out from in-between the rice and nori without ripping the latter. I totally failed the first time I encountered this snack, haha.
1 rounded Cup medium-grain white rice
1 – 1½ C water,* plus extra for shaping
pinch of salt
1 C filling of your choice (chicken salad, tuna salad, olives, umeboshi, mushrooms, salmon, etc.)
6 strips of nori, if using
* Note: I say 1 – 1½ because I think it depends on your rice. The standard measurement is 2 parts water to 1 part rice, but I find that this always results in soggy rice for me. After a few batches of a new rice brand I usually have the ratio down and it’s normally around 1.5 parts water to 1 part rice.
- Wash your rice. That’s right: give it a good scrubbing in cool, running water. You’re trying to scrub the glutenous layer away from the outside of the grains. It’s this glutenous layer that creates gooey, slimy rice so scrub, scrub, scrub! If you are from a traditional Japanese family (or out to impress) you will scrub until the water runs clear. If you aren’t feeding anyone but yourself, three good scrub/rinses will do. If you’re interested, you may want to check out the benefits of saving your rice water.
- Cook your scrubbed rice with water and salt in either a rice cooker (for those of you like me who canNOT keep from stirring any other way) or in a saucepan over medium heat. If using a saucepan, keep rice covered and do not stir – lifting the lid only once all the water has been absorbed and little holes or pockets have formed amongst the grains.
- Fluff the rice a bit, remove from heat, then allow to cool until it is cool enough to handle (about 15 minutes).
- Once your rice has cooled, set it in a bowl beside a cutting board (or another clean, dry surface) along with your filling, and a cup of extra water. Moisten your hands with the water and grab a small handful of rice (a bit smaller than a baseball) and shape it into a triangle shape on the cutting board. Don’t worry here about getting the shape perfect. I tend to roll the rice into a sphere first, then place it on the board, flatten it into a disk about 1″ thick, and point three sides.
- Using your thumb, make a shallow dent in the center of your triangle. Scoop a tablespoon or so of filling into the dent and cover with a small disc of rice. Again, don’t worry too much about shape here. Just gently press the rice disc cover over the filling as best you can to try to keep any filling from peeking through.
- Here’s the trick to shaping: grab about a 6″ square of cling wrap and gently cover your onigiri, then lift it from the cutting board. Wrap the plastic all the way around and use it to help shape your rice ball into the spade shape.
- From here you can either leave the cling wrap on the onigiri (if you’re planning to eat it later) or unwrap the rice ball and place a strip of nori under the bottom before eating.
お握りis a lot of fun to make and is a great snack to make with kids. Check out these faces!
Please don’t feel obligated to stick to the traditional shape and methodology, either. The blog Just Bento has some great ideas and Makiko does a fantastic job explaining both the traditional onigiri snack and popular variations. I really enjoyed the sprinkled kind when I was in Japan, although I didn’t see it often. I would also definitely recommend her Number 7: Yaki Onigiri (grilled onigiri). As a spin off the traditionally cold rice ball, yaki onigiri are grilled and served warm; they are staples at many summer BBQs in Shikoku. Being an American, I’m wondering what a deep-fried rice ball would be like… 😉
Overall Enjoyment: ♥ ♥ ♥