Making onigiri is simple. They are rice shaped by hand into a ball, filled with a bit of savory something, and often finished off with a wrap of nori. Onigiri are similar to nigiri sushi; in fact, both nigiri and onigiri mean the same thing: “to mold.” Broadly speaking, sushi is rice seasoned with vinegar and salt and topped with a piece of fish. Onigiri is made with a greater emphasis on the rice. Think of a burrito, but daintier, with surprises inside and out. Sushi is prepared by a chef; onigiri is made by moms. Onigiri is both a comfort food and the darling of convenience stores. I don’t know of another snack that enjoys this dual status. It comes in infinite flavor combinations and shapes—once you learn the technique, you’ll soon be inventing your own delicious flavors.
This onigiri will teach you how to build flavors. The fillings are peas and umeboshi, also known as salt plums. You can omit the umeboshi and just serve the onigiri plain. If you wrap your onigiri but want your nori to stay crisp, keep it separate from the onigiri and wrap it just before you eat.
Makes 6 triangular onigiri
2 sheets or 6 bite-size rectangular pieces nori
1 C water
2 1/2 t sea salt
3/4 C fresh or frozen peas or edamame
6 umeboshi, pitted and chopped (optional)
2 T minced peeled ginger
1 recipe White Rice or Haiga Rice, Brown Rice, or Multigrain Rice
3 T Sesame Furikake
How to Asemble Your Onigiri
1) If wrapping the onigiri, cut each nori sheet lengthwise into three strips. Set aside in a dry place.
2) In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the water and 1/2 tsp of the salt to a boil. Add the peas and cook for 1 minute. Drain and set aside in a small bowl.
3) Have ready a large plate or cutting board to hold the finished onigiri. Prepare a small bowl of water for wetting your hands, a small bowl containing the remaining 2 tsp salt, and a bowl containing the umeboshi (if using). Arrange near the plate.
4) Fold the peas and ginger into the rice, combining gently, without mashing the grains.
5) Divide the rice into six equal portions. Scoop one portion into a small teacup or bowl.
6) Using your fingers (it doesn’t matter which fingers are used here), press an indentation into the rice. Add one-sixth of the chopped umeboshi into the indentation and mold the rice around it.
7) Moisten your hands with the water to keep the rice from sticking to them. Lightly dip the tips of the index, middle, and ring fingers of one hand into the bowl of water, then into the bowl of salt. Rub the salt onto your palms. You should have a light coating on your palms.
8) Gently tap the teacup or bowl to loosen the rice into your palm. Cup one hand to hold the rice ball. Press gently with your other hand, cupping your hand around the rice, to create one corner of the triangular shape. Using your index finger, middle finger, and thumb as a guide, press the sides. Turn the ball and repeat a couple more times to give the onigiri three corners and three flat sides; it will be about 1 inch thick. Don’t press too hard; the onigiri should be firm on the outside but soft and airy on the inside. Place the finished onigiri on the prepared plate. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
9) Hold an onigiri in one hand and wrap a piece of nori around it like a robe, starting at the back of the triangle and ending in front. Press gently to fix the nori in place. Repeat with the remaining onigiri and nori. (If you are using the rectangular pieces, wrap a piece of nori around the center at the triangle.) Sprinkle with the furikake.
10) Eat immediately, wrap tightly in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 6 hours, or refrigerate for up to 12 hours. If refrigerating, microwave to warm before serving.
This is excerpted from Rice Craft, by Sonoko Sakai.