The delightfully simple prize of the bento box -- Japanese rice balls, or onigiri -- are anything but complicated. They're literally sushi rice wrapped around a flavorful filling -- but they let you get oh so creative with flavors.
Prep the Filling
You can use any fully cooked ingredient as an onigiri filling. If you want to go the traditional route, consider teriyaki salmon, cod roe, pickled plums with bonito flakes or bonito flakes moistened with soy sauce. If you're thinking something a little closer to home, minced beef, chicken or vegetables work. Use a well-seasoned filling. Although sushi rice is flavorful, it isn't flavorful enough to carry an unseasoned filling. Have the filling ready to go before you make the rice.
Make the Rice
Things You'll Need
1/4 cup rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 tablespoon finely ground salt
- 2 cups japonica rice
Mix the vinegar, sugar and salt to make the traditional dressing, sushi-zu, and set it aside.
Add the rice to a mixing bowl and cover it with a couple of inches of cold water. Swirl the rice using your fingers until the water turns cloudy. Drain the water and repeat the rinsing process four more times, or until the water remains clear.
Drain the rice and add it to a saucepan. Add 2 cups of cold water and bring it to a boil over high heat. When the water boils, lower the heat to medium and cover the saucepan. Cook the rice 10 additional minutes, then reduce the heat to low. Cook the rice for 10 more minutes, then take the rice off the stove.
Let the rice stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Transfer the rice to a mixing bowl.
Pour half the sushi-zu over the rice. Fold the mixture into the rice using a rubber spatula. Add the remaining sushi-zu and fold it in. Separate the grains using a cutting motion with the spatula. Cover the rice with a moist tea towel.
Form the Onigiri
Set a bowl of water at your work area and moisten your hands. The water prevents the rice from sticking.
Spread a scoop or two of rice -- equal to the size of a small fist -- on a square of plastic wrap. Lay the ingredients down the center of the rice. There isn't a set amount of filling to add to each ball. For aesthetic purposes, don't add so much of an ingredient you can't form a respectable ball with the rice.
Lift the corners of the plastic wrap and bring them together. Gently twist the plastic wrap to tighten it around the rice (without compacting the rice) and shape it into a ball. Unwrap the rice ball, set it aside and continue shaping the remaining rice in the same manner. Moisten your hands with the water if the rice sticks and before you begin the next onigiri.
Garnish the onigiri if desired. A sprinkling of black sesame seeds, a strip of nori or even a tart piece of pickled ginger placed on top might give your onigiri that little push that makes them sensational.