Furikake, the savory and salty Japanese seasonings for sprinkling on rice, merits an entire section even in Manhattan’s tiniest Japanese markets.
And if you’ve tasted one, you understand why: Furikake enlivens a plain bowl of rice: Add some mayo and a fried egg and you can call it a meal. I relied heavily on furikake when I lived in a dorm room with just a rice cooker for making dinner.
Furikake tastes good on almost any savory food you can imagine; you’ll find yourself shaking it onto salad, popcorn, and soup.
Since a whole industry seems to exist around furikake, you’d think it must be tricky to make at home; in fact, it’s a simple as mixing together ingredients and putting them in a jar.
When you compose your own mix, you get to control what’s in it, and put in as much or as little each ingredient as you like. Most of the store-bought furikake contain M.S.G; even if health concerns surrounding M.S.G. have been disproven, I still consider it cheating to use it: The key ingredients of furikake are already intensely umami—they don’t need a synthetic boost, just a pinch of salt and sugar.
The simplest versions of furikake include as few as two ingredients, usually dried fish and seaweed. That might sound like a very fishy flavor, but it’s more salty and umami (think miso soup, not canned sardines).
You’ll see mixtures with bits of dried egg, shrimp, salmon roe, shiso, wasabi, and, in Hokkaido, even buttered potato (I doubt that last one is natural). They come in jars for shaking into your bowl and in packets that are meant to be mixed with rice for omusubi (rice balls).
Making up your own furikake recipe is fun. If you can go to a Japanese grocery store, walk the aisles looking for anything dried and savory that might be good on rice. Take a peek in your cupboards for inspiration, too; if you want to add crushed Corn Flakes or smoked salt, go for it. If you have a freeze-dryer, go wild! And if you’re not shy about using a pinch of M.S.G., get it in its purest form by seeking out Ajinomoto brand at the Japanese market.
For me, the point of making my own furikake is to choose natural ingredients with clear flavors. My basic recipe starts with sesame seeds, katsuobushi (bonito flakes), and toasted nori seaweed. You can use flavored nori to add the flavors of soy sauce or teriyaki. You can also used pre-flaked nori, but I prefer sheets like you would use for sushi.
If I can find tiny dried anchovies or shrimp, I’ll add those too; I especially like shrimp for the pretty color they add. I season mine liberally with salt and sugar, but if you use flavored nori, you may want to back off on the salt.
Here’s a recipe to get you started:
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
- 2 sheets roasted nori (unseasoned)
- 1/4 cup packed bonito flakes (katsuobushi)
- 1 tablespoon tiny dried shrimp (hoshi ebi), optional
- 1 tablespoon tiny dried anchovies (niboshi), optional
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
In a dry frying pan over high heat, toast the sesame seeds, constantly shaking the pan, until they smell toasty, about 1 minute.
Immediately transfer them to a bowl so they don’t continue cooking. If your nori is not crisp enough to crumble easily, you can toast it for about 30 seconds by waving it over a gas flame, or placing it under a broiler. Be careful not to burn it!
Crumble the nori into the bowl with the sesame seeds. Crumble the bonito flakes into the bowl with the sesame seeds and nori. Add the tiny dried shrimp and anchovies, if using.
Season the mixture with salt and sugar, and mix thoroughly. Transfer it to an airtight jar. This will keep indefinitely, but the flavor is best in the first month or two.
What do you put in your furikake? Tell us in the comments!