I finally gave in yesterday and told my son I would attempt to make him a dish he has been begging me to make for a year now; Onigiri! Yes, this dish was also a total mystery to me until my son became obsessed with Japanese food a couple of years ago while reading Japanese comic novels. His obsession actually goes back a few years earlier when he discovered the movies of Hayao Miyazaki. These fantastical and magical films highlighted the traditional food of Japan in such an appealing way as to catch his imagination. All of a sudden this Irish woman had to go out of her comfort zone and become familiar with everything from fish roe to bean paste?
The food I am being plagued to cook is probably as familiar to the Japanese as Bacon & Cabbage is to me, but on each occasion I try something alien to me I do not possess the ease I usually feel while in the kitchen. I’m getting better however, and am beginning not to care as much if a new dish works the first time or not. I’m happy to try something new and it invariably causes more of a party atmosphere in the kitchen, all of us excited about what this new thing will taste like!
So Onigiri……It means “taking hold of something with your hands” or “fist-rice”. It is salted rice that is rolled into a ball with a little filling inside like, salted fish, pickled plum, seaweed, bonita flakes and anything else salty. The salt preserves the rice which is why it could be taken on long trips. I read that the Samurai Soldiers wrapped them in bamboo leaves and were a handy snack to eat in-between battles! Nowadays it is popular in lunch boxes, or, taken on picnics and to baseball games.
When I went to the supermarket for supplies I was out of luck finding pickled plums and salted fish. I improvised in a “Western” sort of way and added strong flavors to the ingredients available to me; salmon, shrimp and pork.
Last night was so much fun. Each onigiri I made looked a little less like a small child had been mauling it to death. Fillings would be shouted out and I would do the best job I could to honor the request. It got a little comical as the whole minimal approach went out the window when I was asked to put pork, shrimp and salmon into one ball!
The crappy kitchen was a great place to be last night. We all got to eat with our hands while watching a Miyazaki movie. Isn’t food great!
You will Need: 3 cups sushi grade rice (if you are using a rice cooker: 4 cups with rice cooker measuring cup), 1 3oz fillet of salmon, 8 shrimp, 1/3 lb ground pork, 2 1/2 tbs mirin, 2 tbs soy sauce, 1 tsp sesame oil, 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, 2 scallions, finely sliced including green parts, 1/2 tbs freshly ground ginger root,1/2 tsp sugar, Sheets of Nori seaweed cut into 2″ squares or 2×3″ rectangles.
1 – Cook rice according to stove-top or rice cooker instructions.
2 – In a small bowl combine 1 tbs soy sauce, 1 tbs mirin, garlic, ginger, scallions and sugar. Put ground pork in a bowl and pour mixture over it. Combine everything well with hands or spoon. Set aside.
3 – Peel and de-vein shrimp and cut fish into large bite-sized pieces. Add 1 1/2 tbs mirin, 1 tbs soy sauce and sesame oil in a medium bowl and add the salmon and shrimp. Set aside.
4 – Fry the pork mixture in a little olive oil on medium heat until cooked (about 10 minutes or so). Turn off heat.
5 – Fry fish on high heat in a little oil until cooked (about 6 minutes for salmon and 4 minutes for shrimp) Turn off heat.
Make Onigiri: Fill a bowl big enough to put your hand in with very cold water. Add 1 tbs salt and mix to dissolve. When rice is just cool enough to handle dip hands in water and scoop out a little over a 1/2 cup cooked rice.
Form into a bowl type shape and add the filling of your choice and encase the rice around it. Form into a ball or a triangle (if you can!) and add a strip of nori to part of the outside. Keep wetting hands as needed. It helps keep the rice off of your hands and makes it easier to form shapes. Serve.
Note: Remember, you can fill these with whatever you like so don’t be afraid to experiment.