Onigiri is a Japanese rice ball that comes in many different flavours. It's tasty, filling and great for on the go. The best thing about onigiri is how customizable they are! If you want to try making your very own onigiri but don't know where to start, you're in the right place. I'm gonna tell you everything you need to know about onigiri and teach you how to achieve the perfect shape!
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What is an onigiri?
In short, an onigiri is a rice ball. It's made from sticky Japanese white rice, the same kind that we use to make sushi. Onigiri are most commonly shaped into a triangle with rounded corners, but they're sometimes completely round too.
What flavour is onigiri?
Just like a sandwich, onigiri is so customizable and it can be any flavour you like. There's different ways to flavour them too!
- Seasoning - The most basic onigiri of all - salt. And it's one of the most popular types too! The salt helps preserve the rice and adds great flavour. It's easy, no fuss and you could add other seasonings like black pepper, aonori, sesame seeds or herbs!
- Mixing - Another easy way to flavour onigiri is to mix the ingredients into the rice before shaping. I use this technique for my salmon onigiri and soboro chicken onigiri. Just keep in mind the water and fat content of your ingredients, if it's too wet or greasy the rice might lose it's stickiness and your onigiri might not hold its shape.
- Filling - A little bit more tricky to do, but an extremely common way to flavour onigiri is to place a filling in the centre. This is great for ingredients that are too wet to be mixed into the rice. I use this technique for my tuna mayo onigiri recipe.
- Cooking - Cooking the rice with other ingredients such as meat, vegetables or in stock instead of water, adds great flavour to the rice ball! Great flavour, but might be harder to shape.
- Frying - We even have a fried onigiri called yaki onigiri. You can even deep fry them too!
The sky is the limit when it comes to flavouring onigiri. You can keep it simple, you can make it elaborate, it's totally up to you! Here are some popular fillings to give you a few ideas.
What kind of rice do I use to make Onigiri?
As I mentioned earlier, onigiri is always made with Japanese short grain white rice. This rice has a sticky texture so it's easy to make shapes that hold together by themselves. In fact, Japanese people love this rice and we eat it nearly every day.
Because of it's stickiness, it clumps together and is easy to eat with chopsticks or shape into rice balls. Not to mention it's the most delicious kind of rice in my opinion!
We usually cook the rice in a rice cooker, but if you don't have one, check out my post on how to cook Japanese style rice on the stove.
Can I use brown rice?
If you want to use brown rice, you will need to find Japanese short grain brown rice instead. It's the same type of rice but still has a layer of bran that adds flavour and nutrients to the grain. Japanese brown rice has the same sticky texture as the white variety, but it can be hard to find. Also, it needs 2-3 hours of soaking time.
You can't use regular long grain brown rice to make onigiri, the grains don't stick together so it will only fall apart.
You could try mixing a small amount of brown rice or multi-grains in with the white rice so that the onigiri can hold its shape, just be aware that in most cases you will need to cook them separately because the cooking times are different.
Watch how to make onigiri step by step video
How to shape onigiri
There are three main ways to shape onigiri. I'm going to go through each method in detail.
1. Shaping by Hand Only
The simplest way to make onigiri is using your hands. Here are some pro's to making onigiri by hand.
- No need for extra equipment
- No waste (good for the environment)
- Easy to make different sizes
STEP ONE Set up a station with your cooked rice, a bowl of ice cold water and a small dish of salt.
STEP TWO Wash your hands thoroughly and then hold them in the icy water for 15-20 seconds.
STEP THREE: Rub 2 pinches of salt over your palms and pick up a small handful of rice.
(If you're adding a filling, flatten the rice out on your palm and make an indentation with your fingers, place the filling in the middle and fold it over before shaping.)
STEP FOUR Cup your hand and push the rice into your folded palm, then turn the rice ball and push again. Once you have 3 edges, keep pressing and turning until your rice ball is firm and holds it's shape.
2. Shaping with Plastic Wrap
Shaping an onigiri using plastic wrap is a common method in Japan. You can also use the same plastic wrap to wrap it up and put it in a lunchbox and keep it intact.
Here are a few benefits to shaping with plastic wrap.
- You can re-use the plastic and wrap it for later
STEP ONE Break off a piece of plastic wrap and lay it on a flat surface.
STEP TWO Sprinkle the plastic wrap with 2 pinches of salt and place the rice in the middle.
(If you're adding a filling, flatten the rice out, make a dent in the middle and place the filling in the dent. Fold it over before shaping.)
STEP THREE Wrap the rice up and cup your hand. Push the rice into your folded palm, then turn the wrapped rice ball and push again. Once you have 3 edges, keep pressing the edges until your rice ball is firm and holds it's shape.
3. Shaping Onigiri with Molds
If you're not confident in your onigiri shaping skills, I have some options here for you! Here I will explain how to use onigiri molds.
Plastic onigiri molds usually come in two or three sizes and are especially great for when you're adding fillings. I bought mine at Daiso (100 yen shop in Japan) but you can find them on Amazon here. (Affiliate link)
Here are a few pro's for using plastic molds.
- More consistence shape and size
- Different shapes for fun bentos
STEP ONE Mix salt into the rice before first.
STEP TWO Push the rice into the mold about ⅔ of the way up. (The lid needs to be touching the rice when we place it on.)
(If you're adding fillings, add half the rice, push it down, add the filling and then the other half of the rice.)
STEP THREE Press the lid firmly down and then take it off.
STEP FOUR Remove the rice ball from the mold by pushing the tab at the back. Pull the mold away and the onigiri is complete.
A bit more old fashioned, but a lot sturdier is the traditional Japanese wooden onigiri mold. I bought this in a hardware store in Japan, and I can only seem to find them on Amazon Japan here.
The pro's to using a wooden mold are:
- Consistent shape
- Wooden molds are sturdy and less likely to break
There are usually multiple slots so that you can make more than one onigiri at a time too!
STEP ONE Soak the wooden mold in warm water for 10 minutes, this is to prevent the rice from sticking.
STEP TWO Mix salt into the rice
STEP THREE Place rice into the slots and press it down. (Make sure to push enough rice into the corners.)
(If you're adding fillings, make an indent in the middle with your fingers. Place the filling in the dent and then pinch the rice around the edges over the filling, closing it up.)
STEP FOUR Flip the mold over, press the onigiri firmly down and pull the mold up and away.
Check out my Onigiri Recipes
I've got lots of delicious onigiri recipes for you to check out.