Easy Onigiri Recipe

When Maxence and I traveled to Japan two years ago, one of the treats I indulged in on a daily basis was the onigiri, the ubiquitous rice ball that is a staple of the Japanese diet, eaten as a nicely portable snack and packed for lunches outside the home* and also called musubi or omusubi.

We mostly bought them from konbini, the 24/7 convenience stores that pepper the streets of Tokyo, and on one occasion from a specialized shop that sold nothing but onigiri (imagine that!), and always I reveled in the unique satisfaction one gets from biting through the thin, crisp layer of seaweed and into the cool, plump, clean-tasting rice inside.

I have been making my own easy onigiri on a regular basis at home since then**. All it takes, really, is getting the right kind of rice (sushi or japonica rice), cooking it properly (rinse well*** and boil in one and a half its volume of water), stirring in some kind of flavoring (I mostly make “mixed-rice” onigiri), and scooping the still-warm rice into my hands to form small mounds.

The flavorings I add in most often are ready-made furikake (various dehydrated flakes designed to adorn rice) that I buy from one of the Japanese markets in Paris, or gomasio (a mix of toasted sesame and salt), or salt and seaweed flakes. In the pictures that illustrate this post, I used a happy mix of toasted sesame, purple shiso furikake, and some river seaweed.

Onigiri Seasonings

I do like naked onigiri, but I like them even better with toasted nori wrapped around them, on the condition that it’s added at the last minute so it will retain its crisp texture rather than become chewy. Konbini onigiri come in this clever (but not very green) packaging that isolates the seaweed from the rice until you pull it open from the sides to reunite them; I just keep the rice balls and the seaweed strips separate, and wrap each onigiri just before eating.

These easy onigiri are a swell option to consider if you pack your lunch to bring into the office, or if you plan on having a picnic on a patch of green somewhere. I’ve also found it to be a good way to upcycle leftover rice the next day: add a touch of boiling water from the kettle to reheat and re-moisten the rice, stir, and proceed with the seasoning and shaping.

~~~

* The wonderfully knowledgeable Makiko Itoh has written just about everything you could possibly want to know about onigiri in the following posts: Onigiri shapes, Onigiri FAQ, Onigiri revisited and More about onigiri.

** I also buy them ready-made from Aki Boulanger (16 rue Sainte-Anne, Paris 1er), K-Mart (8 rue Sainte-Anne, Paris 1er), and Nanashi.

*** And here I’m always super careful not to let even a single grain of rice escape into the sink, thinking of Tara‘s wonderful Tales from High Mountain, in which she is taught an old Japanese proverb that says, “If you waste rice, you will go blind.”

Onigiri from an onigiri shop on Aoyama-dori, Tokyo

Onigiri from an onigiri shop on Aoyama-dori, Tokyo

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Onigiri Recipe

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Makes about 10.

Onigiri Recipe

Ingredients

  • 250 grams (1 1/4 cups) sushi rice (a short-grain white rice, also called japonica rice)
  • 6 tablespoons furikake or gomasio
  • 1 1/2 sheet toasted nori, cut into 10 long rectangles

Instructions

  1. Rinse the rice in 3 or 4 baths of cold water, until the water is clear, and drain well.
  2. Put the rice and 450 ml (1 3/4 cups plus 1 tablespoon) water in a saucepan (because the rinsed rice, however well drained, retains some water, I weigh the rice before and after rinsing and take that into account to add exactly the right amount of water) and let stand for 20 minutes if you can.
  3. Cover, bring to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes.
  4. Add the furikake and mix it in gently with a wooden spatula, using a cutting gesture to separate rather than smoosh the grains of rice. Let stand until just cool enough to handle, but still warm.
  5. Keep a bowl of cold water nearby and dip your hands in to wet them. Scoop out a portion of rice, a little bigger than a golf ball, and shape it into a pyramid or ball by pressing it gently between the palms of your hands. Place on a sheet of parchment paper and let cool to room temperature. Wet your hands again and repeat until you've used up all the rice.
  6. Just before eating, wrap a piece of nori, shiny side out, around the onigiri.
https://cnz.to/recipes/vegetables-grains/onigiri-recipe/

Onigiri

  • I love how easy it is to make onigiri and how many different options there are. I especially love the stuffed ones! Too bad I haven’t found any sold in the US. =(

    • Stephanie, I just found this on google – sounds like they have them! And if you’re ever in NYC, Cafe Zaiya makes amazing onigiri.

  • oh gosh, loose a grain of rice and go blind! haha love this recipe! very unique!

  • My obaachan used to say “every grain of rice is a bead of sweat on a farmer’s brow” -I *never* waste rice ^_^

    • I love grandmothers and their pearls of wisdom. :)

    • Anita

      I’ve heard that (“bead of sweat”) as well from my Chinese friends. I (Taiwanese) was told throughout my childhood that every grain of rice you leave in your bowl is a pockmark on your future spouse’s face. So I definitely cleaned my bowl!

      • That is so funny, thanks for sharing! ^_^

  • Yum! I love onigiri – whenever I go to Japan, my first meal is always an umeboshi onigiri from a convenience store. And among the few Japanese words my partner can read is “Sea chicken” and “Tuna mayo” – his favorite onigiri.

  • I haven’t posted any Japenese recipes before, mainly because I only ever make vegetarian sushi, but you’ve inspired me to experiment!!

  • Yum Yum! (:

  • I’ve never had onigiri before but it sound delicious. Loved the old Japanese proverb about wasting the rice as wel. Thanks.

  • Miss B

    Yum! I make a sort-of onigiri-esque thing fairly often — I make regular sushi rice (with the seasoned vinegar mixed in), and then form it into balls with filling inside (I do it by lining the inside of a small bowl with plastic wrap, putting a spoonful of rice in, pressing some filling down into the center, topping with a bit more rice, and then using the plastic to wrap/squeeze it into a tight ball. Then I roll it out of the plastic, sprinkle it with furikake or gomaiso, and repeat with the same piece of plastic and more rice/filling/shaping until I have plate full of filled rice balls.) Avocado/pickled ginger/scallion is my favorite combination, sometimes with a tiny piece of marinated tofu also. They keep nicely in the refrigerator for a few days, also — perfect for packing lunches during the week.

  • msue

    Clotilde, thank you for introducing me to a food that I have seen but passed over many times, unaware that a simple (!) ball of rice could be so tasty. I look forward to making these soon. Now that sticky rice in the cabinet has a new mission :)

    • I know what you mean — I used to think, well, isn’t it just a ball of rice? But no, it isn’t just a ball of rice. :)

  • Caroline

    Have you ever tried making grilled onigiri ? It sounds so good but my attempts have not turned out well.

    • I’ve had them at izakayas, but never tried to make them myself. I’ll look into it!

  • I don’t think I’ve had onigiri, but I’m definitely considering it for a quick lunch! How filling are they to you? I would like to think perhaps 3-4 would fill me up nice for lunch. Any meat you could add to it perhaps? Thanks!

    • It really depends on your appetite, I can eat about 3 for lunch, with a salad of something on the side. If you want to add protein, you can shape the onigiri around a mouthful of fish in the center (and use plain rice instead of mixing in flavorings).

  • I remember those when I was in Japan…sooo good!

  • I love checking out Japanese grocery stores, especially K-Mart at Palais Royal. However, I am always a bit hesitant to buy anything without a proper arsenal of recipes to make a kilo of black sesame seeds a reasonable purchase.

    Nevertheless, thanks for the easy idea. K-Mart here I come!

  • Isn’t it typical – my local supermarket (which I hate with a passion, but sometimes one has to go there as Lidl doesn’t supply everything!) sells, I saw today, the sushi rice and the seaweed sheets, but does it sell the seasonings you mention? You guess! And this looks such an easy recipe….

  • Mo

    Love, love, LOVE onigiri! Homemade with green peas or furikake, or (almost) any flavor from a konbini. Tarako is especially tasty (speaking of tarako – have you ever tried the strangely addictive Japanese comfort food of spaghetti with tarako and butter?). And I have a secret soft spot for the chicken-wasabi onigiri at Lawson Station. Oishii!!!

    • Thanks for introducing me to tarako — it sounds a lot like poutargue, and I love that!

  • They look delicious ! BRAVO !

  • Love onigiri!That looks yummy!
    Thanks for sharing the recipe!I wanna have a try!

  • Look delicious clotilde! Onigiri is my favorite sushi, when I’m staying in Japan.”Onigiri are a swell option to consider if you pack your lunch to bring into the office, or if you plan on having a picnic on a patch of green somewhere.”

    This reminded me the time when I’m eaten whole pack of these in Central park last year :)

  • I visited Japan a few years ago and it was one of the most amazing trips of my life. The food was spectacular! Thank you for sharing this wonderful recipe.

  • These look delicious ! Thanks for sharing the recipe, I just love japanese food but apart from sushi I’ve never tried to make some at home.

  • These aren’t quite as hard to make as I feared they might be! Thanks, will look into making them now.

  • Thank you for introducing me to onigiri! I have rice in the cooker, and am about to try making some. I can’t wait!

  • Hi, Clotilde. I found your your blog through Chika’s “She Who Eats” few years ago and couldn’t help myself to leave a comment as you mentioned about OUR onigiri!

    I love your version off onigiri and the best thign about onigiri is that you can be creative as much as you can as for what to put in the middle. I love umeboshi (soured plum) onigiri:-)

  • Floriane

    J’adore les onigiris ! Je les ai découvert il y a un peu plus d’un an. Mais j’ai malheureusement toujours un peu de mal à les réaliser : mon riz est beaucoup trop collant…

    • Quelques questions pour trouver une solution : 1- quel type de riz utilises-tu ? 2- comment le fais-tu cuire ? et 3- gardes-tu les mains bien mouillées pour former les onigiri ? C’est normal que ça colle pas mal quand le riz est encore chaud — ça “sèche” en refroidissant — il faut avoir un petit bol d’eau froide à proximité et s’y tremper les mains dedans entre chaque onigiri.

      • Floriane

        J’achète mon riz en épicerie asiatique, de la marque Papillon, et j’utilise un cuiseur à riz. En me baladant sur différents sites, j’avais trouvé qu’il fallait le laisser refroidir un peu après cuisson et y mélanger un peu de vinaigre de riz additionné de sucre… J’utilise un moule à onigiri pour les faire, je n’ai donc pas les mains mouillées mais le riz colle au fond du moule. Peut-être que je devrais humidifier mes mains pour placer le riz dans le moule ? En tout cas merci de ces quelques pistes ! :-)

        • En principe, le vinaigre de riz et le sucre, c’est plutôt pour les sushi. Pour les onigiri, on prend le riz nature et on y ajoute éventuellement des paillettes d’algues, du sésame, etc. mais ni vinaigre ni sucre. Il faut se rappeler que l’onigiri, c’est le truc hyper facile/rapide qu’on prépare au quotidien pour le bento du midi, donc ça doit rester simple.

          Pour la température, l’idée c’est de laisser refroidir le riz juste assez pour pouvoir le manipuler sans se brûler — c’est à ce moment-là qu’il a la bonne consistance, encore malléable mais pas trop collant.

          Si tu utilises des moules à onigiri, je pense qu’il faut les humidifier avant d’y mettre le riz pour éviter que ça colle. La prochaine fois, tu peux aussi essayer d’en mouler un ou deux à la main, on prend vite le coup de main et ça rappelle les beaux jours de la pâte à modeler. :)

          • Floriane

            J’ai prévu d’en refaire d’ici peu (déjeuner au bureau oblige), je vais donc appliquer tes conseils (et retomber en enfance) ! Merci ! :-)

  • Elizabeth Geno

    My okasan puts a sour pickled plum (umeboshi) in the center of each onigiri. Sometimes I make onigiri from steamed red beans and sweet sticky rice, with chestnuts inside if we have them. http://justhungry.com/2006/03/japanese_basics.html

  • I have actually read a lot of your blog Thank you for sharingi! I have rice in the cooker, and am about to try making some. I can’t wait!

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  • Hi, Clotilde. I found your your blog through Chika’s “She Who Eats” few years ago and couldn’t help myself to leave a comment as you mentioned about OUR onigiri!

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  • Julia Isaacs

    Hi Clotilde: I love onigiri as well and used to pack it for lunch when my now 19 year old son, attended elementary school. Sometimes I would add tuna in the middle (add a bit of mayo to the canned tuna). If you are not good at making shapes you can buy molds. I got into the whole bento box for my son and went overboard with the details :-)

    • Ha ha yes, people tend to do that! I love looking at the pictures in Instagram. :)

  • Thank you for introducing me to onigiri! I have rice in the cooker, and am about to try making some. I can’t wait!

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