Onigiri (Japanese Rice Balls)


When you’re cooking rice for Japanese recipes, it is essential that you use short grain rice (often labeled “sushi rice” in America). It is very easy to cook in a rice maker but takes a few extra steps when using the stovetop method. Making Japanese rice balls (onigiri) is easy once you get the hang of it. They’re an excellent snack or lunch that is easy to pack up. You can keep them plain or coat the outside with toasted sesame seeds, shichimi togarashi, furikake, or stuff them with umeboshi plum, chicken, tiny meatballs, or other foods.


2 c uncooked short grain rice

2 1/4 c water


1 sheet of nori seaweed cut into 2x1” strips

Optional, seasoning for the outside

It is crucial to wash the rice before cooking it. To do this, pour the rice into a large bowl and pour water over it until it is covered over by a few inches. Use your hands to stir the rice grains, gently scrubbing them between your palms. The water will begin to turn milky white. Drain the water using a sieve and repeat the washing process 4-5 more times until the water is clear. Set the rice up in the strainer to drain for 15-30 minutes.

At this point, you can cook the rice in a rice cooker using the manufacturer's instructions. If you’re using the stovetop method, be sure to select a thick bottomed pot with a tight fitting lid. Put the rice in the pot and add the 2 1/4 cups of water. Let it soak for 15-30 minutes. Bring the water to a boil, then put on the lid. Cook for 1 minute, then reduce the heat to medium and cook for 4-5 minutes, until you can see the surface of the rice. Reduce to low and cook for 10 minutes, until the water is entirely absorbed. Turn the heat up to high for a few seconds to get rid of the excess moisture. Remove from heat and drape a clean cloth over the pot and let sit for 10-15 minutes.

To make onigiri, put the hot rice into a large mixing bowl and stir with a rice paddle, or a large wooden spoon, gently, allowing the air to cool the rice somewhat. However, you still want the rice to be hot when you form the onigiri, or it will not stick together. Set up a bowl with cold water next to you and have a salt shaker ready. If you’re coating with seasoning, have a bowl of that available too.

Wet your hands in the cold water and shake salt onto them. you want your hands wet so that the hot rice doesn't stick to them. Scoop up about 3/4 of a cup of rice into your hands. It will be hot. If you’re sensitive to heat, you can wear rubber gloves. Form the rice into a ball using your hands. Tightly squeeze it to make sure the rice will stay together. The most common shape for onigiri is a triangle. You can use your hands to shape it this way while you are forming the onigiri. Take the strip of nori and place it on the base of the rice ball, making an easy place for you to hold it while eating. If you are coating with seasoning, dip the onigiri now, while still slightly damp.

Make onigiri in the morning and pack after they’ve had a chance to cool down. Do not refrigerate them, as it will dry out the rice and rob it of flavor.