In so many anime I've watched, I've seen the characters enjoying these little adorable shapes of rice. They always looked really good to me, but I didn't know how they got the rice to keep a shape like that, or what was inside. I made sushi like once quite a long time ago, which was mostly successful from what I can recall. While similar sushi and these rice balls were definitely different. I have also made many other various rice dishes, but strangely I've never attempted this ‘simple’ rice method. Finally after watching Haku give a distraught Chihiro some of these rice triangles in Studio Ghibli’s ‘Spirited Away’ for the billionth time, I just had to try my hand at making my own.
For those who don’t know, ‘Onigiri’ is a Japanese rice ball, often molded into several different shapes wrapped with seaweed; however the seaweed is optional along with various fillings you might fancy.
To give you an example, some popular fillings to choose from are: smoked salmon, tuna and mayo, umeboshi (a Japanese pickled plum), seasoned shredded chicken or pork, barbecue beef, avocado, other vegetables (usually steamed), egg, and many more in many combinations. Really anything you enjoy eating with rice can usually be put in onigiri in small amounts if it isn't super messy.
When making my own, I considered a few different fillings but decided I wanted to leave them out. However I did opt to leave the seaweed in the equation, mostly for the appearance.
I have three molds for shaping the rice, a heart, star, and the classic triangle. I ended up only using the triangle, which is most recognizable; I plan to use the star and heart eventually when I get better at the whole process. I think having a mold is really great but you can totally use your hands to create a great shape. I just think using the hand method is harder for getting a really specific shape and for me at least took a lot longer to get it exactly as I wanted it. The molds weren't expensive, but I did get the ones I have from Japan so they took a little longer to arrive.
But let me start from the top. My personal experience of making onigiri for the first time that I recall. First I should tell you that while I believe I did quite well, I could have done better. However, now that I have an idea of how things should be done I’m confident that my next attempt will be far more successful.
I used ‘Nishiki’ brand sushi rice. I chose that one simply because it was the only bag marked sushi rice at my grocery store. In addition I purchased the ‘Nico-Nico’ Nori brand of roasted sea weed to accompany my onigiri. I read the directions on the bag and followed them. Except I rinsed the rice twice, which was something that several online sources told me was a good idea. Maybe doing that was not a great idea based on the overall result I achieved. Basically, follow the directions when you’re making something new, whoever made the product probably knew what they were doing. That aside, I felt quite confident. I don’t have a rice cooker, so I used a medium sized sauce pan. The rice was pretty moist from my rinsing, but I added the amount of water that the directions specified. The water was still pretty white, but not as white as it was. After this I recalled that the online people often said to rinse the rice until the water runs clear but whatever, what’s done is done. I put it on the stove and waited for it to boil. Following the directions when it started to boil I covered it and turned off the heat, then waited 20 minutes. I was pretty nervous at this point about how it was going to turn out. Like was it all going to be super glued to the pan, too watery and weird, I had no idea. So after the wait I peeked in the pan and felt presently surprised that it looked like I thought it should. After fluffing it a little, it did seem a little wetter than I thought it should be. I thought maybe if I let it sit another 10 minutes the moisture would lessen and it would cool down a little too. I don’t think those 10 minutes did anything because it was still the same. Anyway, so I had my little rice mold ready to go, I wet it slightly so that the rice wouldn't super stick to it, and started spooning the rice in. Then things seemed to be going pretty well, I used the mold and adorable triangles of rice popped out all perfect. I was quite happy; they kept their shape and held together just the right amount. I continued making triangles until I had 6. I cut the seaweed into strips and wrapped them under each onigiri.
I felt very proud of what I had made. While there were some things I could have done better, and will do better in the future, I was satisfied with the successful outcome. A minor thing then, I started to eat one of the onigiri, and it was like... it didn't taste bad, it tasted pretty good but not what I had expected. I don’t know why, but the texture was off and it just was kind of chewy and gooey in the bad way. I don’t know what exactly went wrong, which part of the process I messed up. While they looked great and tasted good, the texture just put a damper on my feeling of success.
Now take note, this was just my first attempt. I made a few mistakes, maybe I choose the wrong brand, but I have complete faith that my second attempt will be completely successful. I promise you that perfection can be had! I ate them, and my son actually tried them which was a big deal, even though he was not a fan. So overall despite the hiccups it was a fun experience. (Also, I promised my son that other rice is better so he shouldn't write it off completely yet. We’ll see how that goes.)
So, if you think they look as adorable as I do, and really want to take a taste, I hope that my experience encourages you to try making your own. Or at the very least, find someone that actually knows without a doubt how to do it, and have them make you some. (Ask really nicely of course!)
One last piece of advice I can give you from my experience is that because this rice is super sticky, and sticks to everything, you should wash all the utensils and pans. Everything you've used, immediately. If you don’t, it gets harder to clean later on. Or if you can’t bring yourself to completely doing the dishes, at least completely soak everything in hot soapy water. It really helps take away a lot of pain from this whole ordeal. As I mentioned before but I want to reiterate, the same goes for wetting the molds before putting the rice in. Otherwise it gets stuck and complicated (and yes, wet your fingers a lot or it sticks to you, I mean really it sticks to everything, which is probably why they call it sticky rice!)
In conclusion, below are some helpful resources for making onigiri. I found some good information from each one during my own attempt: (On my second attempt I’ll try to follow these a little closer, and maybe even splurge a little on a actual rice cooker!)
How to cook the rice:
Just One Cookbook - How to cook rice
How to make onigirl:
Just One Cookbook - Onigiri
How to shape and fill onigiri with a mold:
Cooking Cute - Shape and fill onigiri
Also a kind of Basic tutorial of the whole process with some videos:
Wikihow - Basic onigiri tutorial