Onigiri are handheld, portable rice balls that are Japan’s equivalent to the sandwich. Japanese sushi rice is compacted into all sorts of different shapes, but you probably see triangular onigiri the most. Onigiri come plain or filled but my favourite way to have them is grilled. Yaki onigiri has a crispy, almost burnt rice crust that gives way to fluffy white insides. Handheld rice is a truly a fantastic invention.
Yaki-onigiri is so popular you can find it in the frozen food section of Japanese grocery stores, just like pizza. Making it at home is super simple, all you need is cooked Japanese sushi rice, soy sauce, oil, and a pan.
You can use your hands, a cookie cutter, or onigiri mold to shape the rice. Traditionally you’re supposed to make onigiri with piping hot rice, but I let mine cool down a bit so I don’t end up with blistery red hands.
Make sure you wet your hands and the molds because sushi rice is super sticky. Making onigiri is a personal thing, so if you like giant rice balls, go for it! If you prefer something tiny and petite, go for that!
I started out by making some cubed onigiri because Mike prefers eating rice in cubed form. Cubes are pretty easy to shape with a square cookie cutter: stuff some rice into the cutter, compact it down and push it out. Ta da! Cubed rice!
Onigiri molds work in pretty much the same way: pack the rice in, insert the top part of the mold, squish down and release your onigiri. You can buy a variety of onigiri molds at Daiso.
If cookie cutters and onigiri molds don’t appeal to you, just go the old-fashioned route and use your hands: scoop some rice into your hands and compact into a ball shape then gently pat the sides to form a triangle. If your rice ball falls apart, just stick with a ball shape, it works too!
After you’ve shaped your onigiri it’s time to “grill.” I don’t have an indoor grill so I use my cast iron skillet, which works just as well. Heat your skillet or pan on medium heat with a tiny bit of oil. Fry each side of the onigiri until the rice forms a crisp skin. Turn the heat down if your onigiri is browning too fast.
When all the sides are grilled, brush on the soy sauce. Use a pastry brush to evenly coat the rice with soy sauce. When the onigiri is coated you need to grill all the sides again. The onigiri will be done when it’s been grilled twice.
I used some left over chicken wing sauce to brush my onigiri and the rice cubes and triangles were deliciously crisp, sweet, and spicy.
It’s hard not to love onigiri. You can stuff it with a million surprise fillings and its compact portability makes it perfect for snacks, picnics or just eating with your hands.
Yaki Onigiri Recipe
cooked Japanese rice
1. Shaped hot rice into desired onigiri shapes
2. Grill in a lightly oiled medium-low pan until all sides form a crispy crust
3. Brush all sides with soy sauce and re-fry all sides