Onigiri, Omusubi, or Nigiri-meshi

Onigiri on a plate

Onigiri literally means taking hold of (something) with your hands. Onigiri is made by cupping hot, freshly cooked rice in your hands and pressing down on it so that it is firm on the outside and soft inside. Onigiri usually have something—a treat— inside, but they are about the fine flavor of the rice.

Don’t mistake onigiri for sushi: sushi is also rice sometimes wrapped around a filling, but sushi rice is seasoned with a vinegar dressing to preserve and compliment the vegetables and fish eaten with it, and good onigiri depends on very good plain rice. It is usually wrapped with nori to make it an easy-to-eat-without-mess finger food, like a sandwich. A good sandwich is made with good bread.

The most popular shape of onigiri is triangular, but onigiri are also made into spheres, cylinders, rounds, or molded into “cute” Japanese shapes. Onigiri do not always have a filling. Sometimes the rice is tossed with katsubushi, omeboshi, finely chopped green onions, or sesame seeds and eaten with no other flavor enhancement.

The nori acts to keep the rice from drying out, but then of course the nori can then absorb the moisture from the rice and become soggy. If you like crisp nori and don’t plan to eat the onigiri right away, then take a hint from Japanese convenience stores and wrap the onigiri in plastic. Add the nori just before eating your rice ball.

You can freeze your onigiri, wrapped tightly in microwavable plastic; a quick zap and you can have fresh-tasting treat anytime! Or you can make yaki-onigiri by pan-fying the onigiri, brushing the surface with soy sauce or barbecue sauce.

Onigiri and Salad

Click on the picture above to see fillings for onigiri!

Not feeling terrificaly imaginative, I used tuna and wasabi mayonaise with capers. Mr. Tess is not fond of mayo, so perhaps this was an opportunity. The 5 ounce can was enough to fill the half-recipe of rice I made.

Rice Balls in Crisp Nori

Onigirimakes 15 small onigiri, (1/2 cup of rice)
page 130

  • 2 1/4 cups white short-grain Japanese rice
  • 2 2/3 cups + 2 teaspoons water
    • (2.1 pounds cooked rice)
  • 3 ounces smoked salmon
  • 2 umeboshi (pickled plums),
    Onigiripitted and chopped finely
  • 1/3 cup tsukemono, diced finely
  • 1 Tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted
  • 3 or 6 nori sheets
  • 1 teaspoon salt dissolved in a cup of water
    • a cup, the size you want your onigiri to be and plastic wrap

(Ms. Shimbo’s method to cook the rice, coming soon.)
While the rice is cooking, place the smoked salmon slices on lightly greased aluminum foil, and broil until the surface is lightly charred. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces.
In a bowl, combine the chopped plums and pickled vegetables and the toasted sesame seeds.
Toast the nori by putting 2 sheets together, shiny sides facing each other, and hold them on one end. Quickly pass the nori over a high flame. Then hold the other end, and pass the untoasted area through the flame. Don’t burn yourself or the nori!
As soon as the rice has finished cooking (it must be hot!), divide it into thirds (this recipe is making 3 kinds of onigiri). Following is a description of how to make the rice balls. (Or click on the pictures.)

onigiri_5646Plastic wrap in a cupPoke a hole in the riceTwist the plastic wrapRice ball in plastic wrapOnigiri being shapedOnigiri on a plate

Push a piece of plastic wrap into your cup with the edges and corners draped outside. Brush the inside of the cup (on the plastic wrap) with the saltwater, and scoop hot rice to fill the cup. Don’t pack the rice. Poke a hole into the rice and add a bit of the filling to the inside of the rice. Gather up the corners of the plastic and twist to securely enclose the rice. Pull the ball of rice from the cup. Hold your non-dominant hand so your thumb and fingers form an “L” shape. Press the rice ball into the “L” to make the rice into a triagle. Turn and press to re-enforce another corner of the triagle. Turn and press. Gently press the flat sides of the triangle.

⇐ Previous Post Next Post ⇒
Sesame Noodle Sauce Cooking Japanese Rice on a Stove

8 thoughts on “Onigiri, Omusubi, or Nigiri-meshi

  1. Tess:
    Great site. My family eats asian cuisine at least three nights a week. We’re REALLY hooked on Pad Thai with Shrimp lately.
    Do you have a preparation for that?

    • Sorry to disappoint, but I don’t really know how to make Pad Thai.

      While I’ve wondered off from just cooking from my project book (Hiroko Shimbo’s The Japanese Kitchen), I’ve not wondered to Thailand. There used to be a small family run grocery a few blocks from my house called Thai and Lao, and they guided me toward some products they had, but I was a very casual cook.

      Could I interest you in Crisp Chuka Soba with Vegetables and Seafood, or Hiyashi Chuka Soba: Japanese Summertime Noodles?

  2. Tess,

    For the nori sheet for the rice ball, I was told to use Yaki Nori. I make the rice balls to take on picnics and if they sit for a couple hours, the nori became very tough to break went I’d bite into the rice ball. Then I was told to use Ajusuke nori. That’s a little better. But still doesn’t seen right. Is that the right nori to use for rice balls?

    • I’ve tried several kinds, and you are right, the nori always gets tough and hard to bite. Toasting the nori yourself (even yaki nori, which is already toasted) helps a little too.
      Putting nori wrapped onigiri into the fridge, for even a short time, makes it especially tough.
      This way of making onigiri with the plastic wrap is nice because like the little triangular pre-made, imported ones from Japan, the nori can be added just before you eat it—before it gets soggy.
      I bought a package of non-nori wrappers called SushiParty Soy Wrappers. They come in colors: yellow, orange, green and white—look like fun, but haven’t tried them yet.

  3. Pingback: Onigiri: Ready to eat Japanese food « Tess's Japanese Kitchen

  4. thank you so much! I am makeing this for a girl scout project. they talk about this in tokyo mew mew.

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