The Art of Crafts

Onigiri 101: How to Make Japanese Rice Balls

By • March 12, 2014 • 23 Comments

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Every other week, Anna Hezel talks about the innovations, decorations, and other quiet touches that make a party memorable.

Today: Everything you need to know about making this food truck treat at home.

Onigiri 101: How to Make Japanese Rice Balls

Onigiri are a type of Japanese rice ball made from sushi rice packed tightly around a salty filling of seafood or vegetables. Compact and practical, these little savory packages have long been a staple of bento boxes and Japanese delis. Recently, they have enjoyed a surge of popularity among food trucks, where they are made fresh and grilled lightly to order.

More: 10 lunches that pack in 5 minutes (or less).

While the food truck variety might set you back $4 or $5 a pop, making onigiri at home is irresistibly economical and easy. For the price of a small piece of fish and a cup of rice, you can create for yourself a full week's worth of lunches. With the addition of some seaweed, a pair of scissors, and a touch of creativity, you can craft all sorts of kid-friendly varieties, ranging from pandas to pigs to ninjas.

If you're in the mood for a warm meal, just toast your onigiri lightly for 2 to 3 minutes per side on a pan brushed with sesame oil. The outer layer of rice will get toasty and golden-brown and a little bit crackly.

Japanese rice balls

Traditional fillings:
- cod roe
- pickled plum
- teriyaki salmon

Variations to try:
- smoked salmon and scallions
- sauteed kabocha squash
- Trent Pierce's Miso-Creamed Kale

Toppings:
- seaweed (sushi-style nori)
- black and white sesame seeds
- shichimi togarashi (a Japanese spice blend made up of ground sesame seeds, orange peel, and chili pepper)

Japanese rice balls

Instructions:
Cook a pot of sushi rice, and keep the rice slightly warm. 4 cups of cooked rice will be enough for about 10 to 12 rice balls. Set a bowl of cold water at your work space so that you can continuously wet your hands as you form the rice balls. This will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands.

Wet your hands and scoop up a small handful of the rice. Flatten the rice into a dense, thin, oblong layer in the palm of your hand. Scoop a small spoonful of the filling into the center of the rice, and gently fold the rice around the filling. Using both hands, pack the rice into a firm ball and then gently press it into whatever shape you'd like. I like flattened triangles because they are easy to bite into.

Japanese rice balls

At this point you can roll your rice ball in some sesame seeds, sprinkle with shichimi togarashi, or wrap a strip of seaweed around it. If you want to be fancy, you can use your kitchen shears to cut little shapes out of the seaweed. Two semicircles, two ovals, a little triangle of a nose, and a pointy little sliver of a mouth gives you a panda.

Photos by Anna Hezel

Jump to Comments (23)

Tags: diy, how to, onigiri, rice balls, Japanese, snacks, how-to & diy

Comments (23)

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6 months ago kai

check out cookpad! although they're waaay too cute to be eaten...
I dunno how Japanese people can make such cute creations and gobble them without a thought.

https://en.cookpad.com...

20130914_from_jay

6 months ago batbean

Excellent, excellent choice for this week! If anyone else is interested in reading more about onigiri, I urge you to head over to Maki's blog at justhungry.com and justbento.com... I'm a huge fan of her easy take on Japanese cuisine. She's done multiple pieces on onigiri. You should check them out!


http://justhungry.com/2003...
http://justbento.com/handbook...
http://justbento.com/handbook...

Will definitely be making this teriyaki salmon this week! Thanks for the inspiration!

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6 months ago Anna Hezel

Thanks for these links!

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6 months ago amymm

Well shoot. You done did it. Cutest, healthiest, homemade lunch box additions ever. Will try these for kinder lunches!

Stringio

6 months ago Alice Spaulding

We ate onigiri all the time when I was growing up; my mother is from Japan. We would put a bit of salt in the water/in our wet hands when forming them. This is plain rice, not sushi (vinegared) rice. My daughter preferred onigiri over sandwiches in her lunch box when she was little.

Stringio

6 months ago Alice Spaulding

* (we used plain short grain rice, not sushi rice)

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6 months ago Anna Hezel

What do you usually put in yours? I'm always wondering about kid-friendly fillings.

Stringio

5 months ago Alice Spaulding

Sorry for the delay...a mixture of katsuobushi (dry flaked bonito) and shoyu (soy sauce) was her favorite as a kid.

Stringio

6 months ago Matt Yan

This seems like a great lunch idea, but how well do they keep? Can I make a bunch at the start of the week to use as lunch all week? Or do they need to be made fresh daily?

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6 months ago Anna Hezel

As long as you're not using raw fish as a filling, and as long as you wrap them tightly in some kind of plastic wrap or in an airtight container, they will taste pretty good for a full week.

Stringio

6 months ago Matt Yan

Just made these for lunch and they were awesome! (I still need some practice making them less ugly though...) Even better was that my wife shared some with her sixth-grade students who hate everything, and they loved them as well.

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6 months ago Anna Hezel

That is so awesome to hear!

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6 months ago rizzle

These seem possibly too adorable to eat!

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6 months ago Anna Hezel

And yet, into my belly they go.

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6 months ago yjZuk

Sweet, love the panda theme. going to make these with my nieces

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6 months ago Anna Hezel

Cute! You should also check out all of the ninjas and pigs and other little rice ball creatures that are all over Pinterest. Your mind will be blown.

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6 months ago Deathandfood

No vinegar in the rice?

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6 months ago Anna Hezel

I've read that you don't traditionally add vinegar to the rice for onigiri, but I'd be curious to know why and how it affects the outcome. Anybody else know?

20130914_from_jay

6 months ago batbean

It's only because of taste! Once you add sushi vinegar to your japonica rice, it becomes classified as "sushi" in the Japanese culinary view. Still tastes wonderful, though! It obviously doesn't detriment the stickiness at all.

Baci1

6 months ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

Those pandas would be a welcome addition to any bento box.

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6 months ago SallyM

This is a very cute idea. Thank you. Is there a brown rice sushi rice?

Baci1

6 months ago HalfPint

HalfPint is a trusted home cook.

@SallyM, I do believe there is because I've seen brown rice sushi at Whole Foods. Maybe they just use a short grain brown rice and make sushi rice by adding seasoned rice vinegar.

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6 months ago Anna Hezel

Taking a look at a few recipes for brown rice sushi, it looks like most of the recipes do call for short grain brown rice, as HalfPint suspected. I bet that would achieve the right stickiness/chewiness, but let me know how it goes if you try it!