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Onigiri (also known as omusubi) are the ultimate comfort food.  Very portable and usually with a delicious filling, these rice balls are popular on their own or as part of a bento box.  Many types of fillings are used: salted salmon, bonito flakes moistened with shoyu, a pitted umeboshi, stewed kombu, and a mixture of tuna/mayo/wasabi are popular.  Use your imagination – almost anything that tastes good with rice can go inside onigiri!

Onigiri come in many shapes and forms.  Triangular onigiri seem to be the most popular, followed by circular and cylindrical rice balls.  Some onigiri are made with the ingredients mixed into the rice before molding (I call these 'mixed-rice onigiri' - clever, I know), some are wrapped entirely in nori, and others have just a strip of nori around them to help keep sticky fingers at bay. 

You can make onigiri by hand, but an onigiri mold is indispensable for busy mornings (so much faster and the results are more uniform).  I have a larger mold that I use for stuffed onigiri and a smaller one I use for plain or mixed-rice onigiri.  The directions below detail how I make full nori-wrapped onigiri with filling using a mold.  If you don't have a mold, skip to making Onigiri by Hand (...and order yourself a mold!).

(Click pictures to enlarge)

Start off by wetting your onigiri mold.  This will help the rice pop out more easily.  Remember to re-wet the mold between onigiri.

You should be using freshly made (or at least reheated) short-grain/sushi rice.  Check the tutorial for how to make rice (just skip the seasoning step).

Add warm rice into the mold to just below the half-way mark.  Use the back of the rice paddle to spread the rice out evenly in the mold.
I like to make a small indentation in the rice for the filling to go in.
Place a small amount of your filling into the center of the rice - do not overstuff!  Here, I have used tuna in a red curry sauce.  If using a 'wet' filling such as this, you should squeeze out any excess liquid.  If the rice gets too wet, it will fall apart.
Add additional rice to fill the mold, but do not 'pack' the mold as you're filling it.
Use the lid of the mold and press down onto the rice.  Gentle pressure should be needed.  If there is too much give, you may not have used enough rice (just put some more in and press again).  If you can't press the lid down all the way, then you've used too much.
Remove the lid, invert the mold, and press down on the center 'button' to help the rice ball slide out.
Place the onigiri on a square of nori (1/4 sheet) with the shiny side of the nori down.

(You can see some leakage due to my not-so-thorough removal of excess liquid from the curried tuna.)

Place another square of nori on top of the onigiri, shiny side up and at an angle to the other piece of nori (such that the corner of one sheet is lined up with the side of the other, etc.).  This is to make sure you can cover all surfaces of the rice.
Wrap the onigiri with the nori by pressing the nori gently onto the surface of the rice.  The nori will adhere to the stickiness of the rice.  If you let the rice ball sit too long and the surface is too dry for the rice to stick, just wet your hands and rub them over the rice ball.  Then dry your hands before handling the nori (or it will stick to you).
Once all the rice has some nori positioned on it, wrap your hands around the onigiri and press gently to ensure that it is well-wrapped.
Cut off any excess nori that isn't sticking to anything (optional).
Voila!  A wrapped and stuffed onigiri that is ready to be eaten.  You can pack it as is into a bento box, or you can wrap it in plastic wrap first.  If you don't plan to eat the onigiri later in the day, it can be stored in the refrigerator, but the rice may become hard.  In that case, just throw the onigiri in the microwave for 10 seconds to soften the rice, let it cool, then eat.


You should be using freshly made (or at least reheated) short-grain/sushi rice.  Check the tutorial for how to make rice (just skip the seasoning step).  Let the rice cool to a temperature that your bare hands can handle before starting.
  • Fill a bowl with warm water and stir in some salt.  You will use this to dip your hands in from time to time in order to keep the rice from sticking to you.  How much salt is up to you (you can omit it altogether if you like).
  • Dip your hands in the water, then scoop out a handful of warm rice (~1/2 cup) into one hand.  Using the other hand, make an indentation in the rice and place some filling (~1 tsp. – or more if you're a master) inside.  Use your hands to mold and press the rice around the filling. 
  • You can then shape your rice ball into a triangle, circle, or cylinder before wrapping it entirely in nori (see above) or just wrapping a strip of nori around it. 

[illustrations and diagrams showing how to make onigiri shapes by hand]

[This illustration from .]


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