Introduction: Rice Balls (Onigiri)

About: I'm a 49 year old Systems Architect living in the Midwestern United States. After travelling the world for 20 years as a consulting architect I became disabled, as a result, I am now embracing a Slow life. F…

Our Saturday night dinners usually involve finger foods and a movie. This week we decided to do a dim sum night, and one of the things the girls were clamoring for was Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls).

The challenge is, how do you make 4 kinds of rice balls that are roughly bite-sized and easily tell them apart? If you followed a standard recipe, you would end up with fairly large ones and would be unable to tell one kind from another. Since we were doing regular tuna, spicy tuna, regular crab, and spicy crab, we decided the best way to tell one from another was to use different shapes. Fortunately, I have a collection of steel food molds that, surprisingly, were perfect for making small Onigiri in a variety of fun shapes.


For the sushi rice:

For the fillings:

For assembly:

  • Nori (toasted seaweed - I prefer Hime)


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Step 1: Sushi Rice - the Easy Way

Whether you are making rice balls or sushi, sushi rice is a bit more than simply cooking rice labelled "sushi rice" in a rice cooker and slapping it together. To get authentic sushi rice flavor, you need to do a couple more steps. Cook the rice according to the rice cooker's instructions and then let it cool for about 10 minutes after fluffing it a little. NOTE: While the rice is cooking you can skip ahead to the next step and prepare your fillings.

While the rice is cooling, measure out a half cup of rice vinegar and add to it 2 Tbsp of sugar. At this point most recipes will recommend heating it in a pot on the stove and stirring until the sugar is dissolved. I don't know if you have ever tried to heat and stir 1/2 cup of liquid in a pot or pan, but I don't own one that small. Instead, I nuke the mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds, stir, and nuke again (in 30 second increments) until the sugar is dissolved. This should only take about a minute total.

Once the rice is cool, add the vinegar mixture to it and quickly fluff and stir so the rice is evenly coated. Your sushi rice is now ready for action.

Step 2: Simple Rice Ball Fillings

The simplest fillings are just lumb crab with mayo and lump tuna with mayo. The proportion should be about 1 Tbsp of mayo per 6 oz can of meat. This keeps the filling from being too wet and dripping out of the rice ball once someone has bitten into it.

To make spicy fillings, use 1 Tbsp of mayo and just add a tsp of Sriracha and half a tsp of Togarashi per 6 ounce can of meat.

Step 3: Rice Ball Assembly

The assembly process will be a lot more difficult and a lot messier if you don't keep a bowl of warm water handy. Make sure the water is at least as deep as the tallest mold. Before starting, dip the mold in the warm water and shake off any excess. Do the same with your hands.

Decide which shapes you are going to use for which filling. The example in the pictures above is regular tuna using a hexagonal mold. The same process is followed regardless of shape or filling, except for the large rice ball.

Fill the mold a little more than halfway with rice, pressing the rice down to fill in any gaps. Using your finger or thumb, make a small hollow in the rice about the size of a tablespoon. Fill the hollow with about a tablespoon of filling. Add rice to fill the mold to the top, and using your fingers, press it in firmly to thoroughly fill the mold. Using a spoon, press the rice down along the edges of the mold while lifting the mold with your other hand. The rice ball should unmold easily and cleanly. The key is to work slowly and patiently.

Cut the Nori into strips and dip a strip in the bowl of warm water. Place the strip onto the rice ball as shown in the photos. The purpose of this is not only for decoration, but also to serve as a holder for picking up the rice ball without the rice sticking to your fingers.

If you would like to make a large rice ball, you basically follow the same process but the mold should come with a plunger to assist in unmolding the rice ball more efficiently.

Plate, serve, and enjoy!