Updated: Sep 17, 2020
One of our most popular menu items, onigiri, or rice balls, are perhaps, the quintessential Japanese snack food. Eaten throughout Japan by people of all ages, onigiri are both simple and delicious. They are also incredibly versatile, able to be customized to fit almost any taste or flavor palette with only a few simple adjustments. They are also relatively easy to make, requiring no necessary special equipment. To make onigiri, all you really need is cooked, short grain white rice, a little bit of salt, and water.
First, make sure that the rice has had some time to cool after cooking. This does two things-- the cooled rice has a slightly tougher texture, so it will not get mushy too quickly when you stir the salt in, and also will make it comfortable to handle when rolling onigiri with your hands.
Transfer the rice to a large bowl and add the salt. You can either salt by taste, wherein the rice should be noticeably but not overpoweringly salty, or by weight. To salt by weight, add 1 teaspoon of salt per pound of cooked rice.
At this point, you will want to make sure you have a bowl of water, or a lightly running faucet nearby. Keeping your hands and any utensils you use to handle the rice wet will prevent rice from sticking to you or whatever you’re using to mix it.
Stir the salt in using a rice paddle, or if you don’t have a rice paddle, a rubber spatula will also work. To stir you will want to use a folding motion, first cutting down the center of the rice, and then flipping some of it over. Rotate the bowl 90 degrees, and repeat the motion until the salt is thoroughly mixed in. You want to avoid pressing the rice as you stir, as this will agitate the gluten in the grains and make the rice kind of chewy.
Once the salt is evenly mixed throughout the rice, you can start rolling out the onigiri. If you happen to have an onigiri mold, this part is super simple. Make sure the mold is wet, and then scoop rice into the mold until it is about even with the top edge. Then, using the lid of the mold, gently press it closed to compress the rice. You want to press it hard enough that the rice will stick to itself, but not so hard that it becomes tough to bite. Then remove the lid, and turn the mold upside down so that the rice is facing down. Use the depressed areas on the top facing part of the mold to dislodge the finished onigiri.
If you don’t have an onigiri mold, that is perfectly fine. They are easy to make using only your hands, although with this method, they will not come out in the typical triangle shape. Instead, they will look round and slightly oblong-- almost like a rice grain, but much bigger.