Looking for the perfect onigiri recipe? Follow this easy, step-by-step guide, and you'll be in for a delicious rice ball! Get ready to enjoy your delightful onigiri!
You're in the right place if you've ever craved these Japanese rice balls but weren't sure where to begin.
I'll walk you through the ingredients you will need and straightforward shaping instructions for traditional triangular Onigiri, along with a variety of delightful six fillings. Let's get started!
- This recipe is for you if:
- You love onigiri (rice balls).
- You want to learn how to make rice balls.
- You are looking for onigiri filling variations.
Let me walk you through the ingredients and instructions. If you want to check the recipe, please use the link below. Let's dive in!
About This Recipe
- How to make Onigiri rice balls
- Use Japanese short-grain rice
- Six classic fillings and many more
- Vegetarian fillings
What is Onigiri?
Onigiri, omusubi, or rice balls, is a Japanese food made of steamed Japanese rice filled with ingredients, formed into a triangle shape, and wrapped in seaweed.
I can say that It's our comfort food! We Japanese people all grew up eating it!
Onigiri is perfect for an obento (lunch box) or a quick snack. You can hold it in one hand like a sandwich so you can eat it easily at the park, school, office, or train. Also, it's a great snack between meals, especially for hungry kids.
They are all onigiri! Traditional onigiri is usually wrapped in a sheet of nori seaweed, but you can make it without it or shape it like a cylinder or round shape.
Here are the ingredients (amounts are in the recipe card below).
- Japanese short-grain rice
- Nori seaweed
- Filling of choice
Let's go over each ingredient in the following section.
The best rice for onigiri is Japanese rice, also known as Japonica rice. It's short-grain, sticky, and rich in starch, making it perfect for creating these Japanese rice balls. Long-grain varieties like Jasmine and Basmati lack the required stickiness for onigiri. I recommend using Koshihikari or sushi rice for the best results.
New to cooking Japanese rice? Discover how to prepare Japanese rice on a stove to achieve perfect results for your onigiri.
Freshly cooked rice is ideal when making onigiri, but if you're using frozen or leftover rice, warm it up before forming your rice balls. Onigiri is best made with warm rice.
Nori Seaweed Sheets
Nori is a type of seaweed that's dried, crispy, and sold in sheets like the picture above. Get this full-size nori sheet (8.3”x 7.5” or 21 x 19 cm in general) at a grocery store. This size is too large for onigiri (perfect for a sushi roll, though), so we are going to divide it into 3.
Nori has two sides: a shiny and rough side and the shiny side will be outside when wrapping.
Filling of Your Choice
I'll introduce you to the six popular and classic onigiri fillings and how to prepare them. These variations are certain to satisfy your taste buds, and you can choose one or two for your onigiri.
Salmon is a popular choice for onigiri. Its tender and flaky texture makes it a delightful filling. Grill a salmon fillet until it's cooked through. Once cooled, break the salmon into flakes. You can also use store-bought salmon flakes for convenience.
Tuna mayo combines the rich, savory taste of tuna with the creamy texture of mayonnaise. Use water-packed canned tuna or oil-packed tuna. Drain the tuna and combine it with mayonnaise. For an authentic flavor, opt for a Japanese mayonnaise brand like Kewpie.
Umeboshi, or pickled plum, is known for its unique salty and sour flavors. It pairs wonderfully with plain Japanese rice. Remove the seed from the umeboshi, which can be quickly done using plastic wrap. You can use it as it is or create a paste by chopping it with a knife.
Kombu tsukudani is a flavorful side dish made from kombu seaweed. It's often enjoyed as an accompaniment to rice. You can make it by simmering the kombu with sugar, mirin, and soy sauce until it becomes tender, or use store-bought kombu tsukudani as your filling.
Tarako, also known as salted cod roe, is prepared by marinating cod roe in a blend of salt, soy sauce, and other seasonings. The spicy tarako is called Mentaiko. Gently separate the tarako from its thin membrane or skin before using it as a filling.
Katsuobushi, or Bonito flakes, add a delightful umami flavor to your onigiri. We also call it okaka. Add soy sauce to the katsuobushi and combine it to create the filling for your onigiri.
Which fillings would you like to sample? Choose one or more and get ready for shaping homemade onigiri!
🔪How To Shape Onigiri Step By Step
Gather all your ingredients ready, and let's make a triangle onigiri! I'll walk you through the step-by-step process of making it, or you can choose to watch this recipe video.
- Gather cooked Japanese rice, a nori sheet, a filling of your choice, a bowl of water, and salt. I use a small bowl to measure the rice.
2. Fill a small bowl halfway with rice, create a small dent in the center, and add your filling.
3. Fill the rest of the bowl with more rice.
4. Wet both hands with water, put some salt (2 fingertips of salt) on your palm, and rub between your hands.
5. Once you place the rice in your palm, use both hands to bring the rice together.
6. Bend your upper hand at a 60-degree angle and hold the rice with your lower hand. Mold it into a triangular shape by pressing from four directions: using the fingers and palm of your upper hand (the blue arrows) and the fingers and palm of your lower hand (the yellow arrows).
7. Rotate it by 60 degrees and press it into a triangular shape. Repeat this process three times.
8. Change the side position and repeat the pressing three more times.
9. It will be shaped into a triangle like this.
10. Wrap the rice with nori, ensuring the shiny side faces outward.
Here you go! Just grab it and enjoy! With your freshly made onigiri in hand, savor the flavors of Japan.
Let's review how to make onigiri again!
6 Onigiri Variations
Which one would you like to try? From the left, tarako onigiri, salmon onigiri, tuna mayo onigiri, umeboshi onigiri, katsuobushi onigiri, kombu onigiri. If you can't pick one, then try them all!! The filling amount is up to you, so feel free to add as much or as little as you prefer.
I added two teaspoons of each filling, so it's full!
- Remember to wet your hands before shaping the rice. This prevents the rice from sticking to your hands, making the process much smoother.
- When shaping, please refrain from applying excessive force. Squeezing too firmly will yield a tight and firm onigiri, which is not the desired outcome. The goal is to get a pleasantly soft texture.
- You can use plastic wrap if you find it challenging to shape the rice with your hands. This makes it easier to mold the onigiri without sticking. You can also use an onigiri mold (See below).
- Using a small bowl is convenient as it allows you to create uniformly sized onigiri every time.
Shaping rice might require a little practice, so if you have difficulty making a triangular shape, you can use an onigiri mold (onigiri press)! It's easy to shape Onigiri!
Onigiri is best when freshly made, but if you need to store them for later, follow these guidelines:
- Wrap each onigiri tightly in plastic wrap to maintain their moisture.
- At room temperature, onigiri can be stored for up to half a day.
- In the fridge, they can be kept for a couple of days.
- If you plan for longer storage, freeze them for up to one month. When freezing, avoid wrapping the nori sheet. Reheat in a microwave just before eating to prevent dryness; do not thaw at room temperature.
What to Serve With
Do you like Japanese-style meals? Then it's a good idea to serve with miso soup and vegetable stir-fry and tsukemono (pickled vegetable)!
Our three-year-old girl (now 5 years old!) enjoys her katsuobushi onigiri!!
More Onigiri Variations: Grab this eBook!
Let’s talk about onigiri variations! I've already shared six classic fillings, but if you love variations and are constantly looking for what to put in it, check out my eBook: 36 Fun and Flavorful Onigiri. You will discover a world of Onigiri fillings, from classics to creative options. This eBook has it all!
Japan's most popular Onigiri fillings are tuna mayo, salmon, umeboshi, tarako, okaka, and kombu.
Common fillings are fish, fish eggs, pickled vegetables, and seaweed. Intensely flavorful fillings are often added since the rice has a mild flavor.
It's fine either way. It depends on your personal preference. Onigiri is often eaten on the go, so many people eat it at room temperature. But people who live in cold climates like Hokkaido (the northern part of Japan) are more likely to warm onigiri up before eating.
Your rice might not be suitable for making onigiri. Long grains like Jasmine and Basmati would fall apart as they don't have the right stickiness to hold the rice together. I recommend using Japanese rice such as Koshihikari or sushi rice.
No. It's not necessary. We use vinegar for making sushi but not for onigiri.
Yes, you can make it without the filling. Some people prefer nothing in it, and it's called Shio onigiri (shio means salt). It's the simplest one made with salt, no filling, and no nori sheet!
The best rice for onigiri is Japanese rice (or Japonica rice), which is short-grain, sticky rice with more starchy than long-grain type and is easy to stick together. Koshihikari rice is the most famous and popular brand.
We use plain white rice for onigiri, but you can also use brown rice.
You can find Japanese short-grain rice at a Japanese supermarket or Asian grocery stores, or online stores. If you make onigiri with long-grain rice like Jasmine rice, your onigiri will fall apart, so I don't recommend using it.
If a package is labeled as "sushi rice," it's essentially regular uncooked Japanese rice, and therefore, it can be used for Onigiri.
The standard size is 8.3”x 7.5” (21 x 19 cm); you can cut it into various sizes. Third or quarters are the most common size for onigiri.
Thanks For Stopping By!
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Also, feel free to leave comments if you have any questions. I love hearing from you!
Chef JA Cooks is a Japanese food blog that shares healthy and straightforward Japanese home cooking recipes, including vegan and vegetarian. From traditional Japanese recipes to modern recipes with step-by-step instructions.
More Onigiri Recipes You Might Like
Onigiri Recipe with 6 Fillings (Japanese Rice Balls)Print Pin Save Saved!
Fillings of your choice (choose your favorite one *see note)
- 4 Umeboshi, Remove the seed and chop to make the paste
- 1 Salmon fillet, Grill and break it into flakes
- 2 tablespoon Kombu tsukudani
- 1 tablespoon Mentaiko, Remove from the thin membrane
- 6 tablespoon Katsuobushi, 10g and 1 tablespoon Soy sauce (Combine together)
- 5 oz Canned tuna, 140g and 2 tablespoon Mayonnaise (Drain tuna and combine together)
- Nori sheet: Divide a Nori sheet into three equal pieces.
- Filling of your choice: Refer to the ingredients section for preparation details.
- Collect ingredients: Gather cooked Japanese rice, the nori sheets, the salmon, a bowl of water, and salt.
- Rice and filling: Fill a small bowl halfway with rice, create a small dent in the center, and add 1 or 2 teaspoons of your filling. Fill the rest of the bowl with more rice.
- Water and salt on your hands: Wet both hands with water, put some salt (2 fingertips of salt) on your palm and rub between your hands.
- Shape rice: Place the rice on your hand and hold it with both hands. Form a triangle shape by pressing gently with both your palms and fingers while rolling it several times.
- Wrap: Wrap the triangular rice with nori.
- Equipment: Small bowl (This oxo tot small bowl is perfect for small onigiri)
- Storage: Wrap each one with plastic wrap, put it in a container, and keep them in the fridge for a couple of days and one month in the freezer.
- Japanese short-grain rice (starchy and sticky) is ideal for making onigiri. If you are new to cooking rice, see "How to cook Japanese rice on the stove."
- The filling amount is up to you, so feel free to tweak it for your preference.
- The nutrition label is for salmon onigiri.