An onigiri (rice ball) is to Japan as a sandwich is to England. It’s a filling and cost effective replacement for a real meal that you can grab from any convenience store before jumping on a train or rushing back to the office to work through your lunch break. Often, you can improve a sandwich by grilling it, creating a crispy golden exterior that gives way to a warm soft inside. By that same logic, grilling an onigiri gives you a delicious treat that enlivens a go-to snack and raises it to a new place. We have filled ours with an onigiri classic; shiozake, a kind of semi-cured salmon which we’ve infused with sake and sweet mirin. These yaki-onigiri have an outer crust that tastes almost like a toasted senbei cracker glazed with sweet soy sauce, while the inside resembles a warm gravlax or smoked salmon.
- 120g salmon fillet
- 1/2 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 teaspoons mirin
- Place your salmon on a chopping board and check it over for any scales or bones, remove these with tweezers or a knife to avoid them getting into your finished filling. Sprinkle the salt evenly over the salmon, making sure you get the sides of the fillet as well as the top.
- Arrange the salted salmon in a bowl lined with kitchen roll and refrigerate for 12 hours. As the fish rests, the salt will draw out moisture which will firm up the flesh and intensify its flavour.
- When the salmon has cured for the full twelve hours, poach it in a pan of water for 5 minutes until it is just cooked through. Drain the water away, then allow the salmon to cool until you can comfortably handle it, perhaps 10 minutes.
- Flake the salmon back into the pan, discarding any skin and brown meat. With your pan over a medium heat, add the sake and mirin and cook, constantly stirring until the liquids have evaporated and the fish has broken down into smaller pieces. Leave to cool completely before progressing onto making your onigiri.
- 2 cups Japanese short grain rice
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- Cook your rice as per our recipe here. While the rice is cooking make your glaze by heating the soy sauce and sugar in a pan until it thickens into a brushable consistency.
- When the rice has cooled just enough to not burn your hands, divide it into eight equal portions. Using a bowl of water to moisten your hands, sprinkle a small amount of salt on your middle three fingers to season the rice as you shape it. Form a portion of rice into a flat disk in your hand, compressing it as you go, add a scant teaspoon of your salmon filling to the centre before wrapping the edges around. Firmly shape the filled ball of rice into a rounded, flat triangle about three inches across. Repeat until you have used all of your rice, making eight onigiri, then allow to cool completely.
- Heat up half of your oil in a frying pan until hot, then add four rice balls, you should hear a pleasing crackle almost immediately. You need to be brave and not poke or move the onigiri whilst frying them, allow them to cook for around three minutes before flipping them over and cooking for a further three. They should have developed a slightly charred crust not dissimilar to a rice cracker. Lightly brush the crust with your glaze and cook on the glazed side for thirty seconds, then do the same on the other side. Don’t add too much glaze or your onigiri will lose their structural integrity and fall apart.
- Repeat this procedure for the second batch of rice balls, enjoy them while they’re still crispy and hot.
These are also delicious wrapped in a sheet of nori like a classic cold onigiri.
Makes 8 yaki-onigiri.