Before we dive in – let me take a moment to tell you what onigiri is.
In many countries, when we want something to eat while we’re out of the house we will simply prepare or buy a sandwich. However, in Japan, there’s another food which fills the function of a sandwich – and that’s onigiri.
The first time I came across onigiri was when I stayed in the Japanese countryside. During my trip, a kind elderly woman reached out to me and asked me if I could help her make onigiri for the men going to cut down bamboos in a nearby grove the next morning. We met the next day before dawn at an exterior kitchen in the village. She arrived with a big pot of cooked rice (when did she cook it?! It was so early…) and taught me how to make the onigiri:
“We should wet our hands and take a medium-size portion of rice, then start to tighten it in our hands in a triangular shape. When we finish, we wrap it with a shiso leaf or a sheet of nori seaweed. The most important thing is to tighten the rice well, otherwise, the onigiri will fall apart.”
The woman asked me if we make onigiri in my country. I told her that we don’t and usually in these cases we would just eat a sandwich, which really surprised her: “A sandwich?! Aren’t you still hungry afterwards?”. Apparently, in Japan a sandwich is definitely not enough as an on-the-go meal during a working day.
That morning we prepared the onigiri between 5:30 AM and 6:30 AM, ready for the men to collect them at 7 AM before they went to the bamboo grove. They showed so much gratitude when they came to pick up the food which really made me feel it was well worth waking up at 4:20 in the morning.
Back to the onigiri…
Speaking generally, onigiri is a rice triangle (or a rice ball) made from round rice that is sticky and holds the onigiri together. Some onigiri have fillings like fish, dried plum, or seaweed, and sometimes they don’t – like the ones I made in the village.
When making onigiri without a filling, it is common to wrap them in seasoning (furikake in Japanese), nori, or shiso leaf as I mentioned earlier. Some onigiri are made from seasoned rice too – so you can definitely try out a version of your own.
Today I’m making a special version of onigiri – Yaki Onigiri!
In English, it can simply be translated to “fried onigiri”.
This onigiri will usually be sold in izakayas (Japanese bars), food stalls, or anywhere else that serves fresh food. After today you will also be able to eat it at home!
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 25-30 minutes
Serving: around 10 onigiri
Course: side dish/snack
Does it keep?: best to eat right away
- 2 cups of uncooked rice
- 500g champion mushrooms
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tbsp miso paste
- Oil for frying (I use grapeseed oil)
- 1 tsp ground black paper
- Cook the round rice following the packet instructions with no seasoning. When cooked, turn off the heat and leave the rice in the pot for 10 more minutes. Then open the lid to let it cool down, making it easier to work with.
- Meanwhile, cut the mushrooms into thin slices.
- Fry the mushrooms in just a little bit of oil – start with 1 tbsp and add a little more if that doesn’t coat all the mushrooms. Fry until they become golden, then add the soy sauce, stir well for one minute, and turn off the heat.
- Divide the rice into equal portions (roughly 10). The portion size will vary depending on the size of your hands, but don’t make them too large, otherwise they will fall apart.
- With wet hands start making a triangle shape from one portion. There are various techniques to make the triangle – in my IGTV video I show you the Japanese way. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what technique you go for – as long as the rice doesn’t fall apart.
- After making the triangle shape, make a little pit in the middle and fill it with a small portion of the mushrooms (about 1 tsp). Push the mushrooms in while covering it with rice from each side. Again, tighten the onigiri well and put it aside. Repeat with the rest of the rice and mushrooms.
- In a frying pan heat a thin layer of oil over a medium heat. When the oil is hot place several onigiri in the pan (you will need to do this in batches). Be sure to leave enough space between them, otherwise they will stick together and fall apart when trying to separate them. When the bottom is slightly golden, flip them over.
- Spread a thin layer of the miso paste on the upper golden side of the onigiri, and when the bottom layer starts to become golden too, lower the heat and flip them once more. For the next step, you’ll want to work fast because the miso layer might burn.
- Quickly spread miso paste on the top of the onigiri. Then flip them for the last time, give the miso layer 20-30 seconds to lightly fry, and then remove the onigiri to a plate.
- Personally, I like to season with black paper on top, but you can pretty much season with anything you like.
Serve and enjoy them while they’re still warm 😃