I’m pretty sure you don’t really need a recipe to know how to make these little snacks, which are as simple as they are delicious and are nothing more than rice and lightly dressed salmon wrapped up snug in seaweed. But I’m also convinced that there can never be enough words said about those really easy but wonderful things that are magically more than the sum of their parts, like a ripped baguette with salted butter, or peanut butter on a banana, or ricotta and honey. Onigiri were the very first thing we ate in Japan and the very last, bought in jet-lagged abundance from a convenience store on our first night and then from a counter at the airport right before we left. Something about plain (not even seasoned!) rice and a salty filling, tucked inside snappy, just slightly briny seaweed, makes for the perfect on-the-go snack that’s comforting and homey-feeling, even when you can’t read any of the wrappers and pick your flavors based solely on the color-coded labels and you’re surprised by the fillings every time. (In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to look up this guide beforehand.)
This version is closest to a salmon and mayo onigiri (which I’m now learning would have gotten a peach-colored label) but has just a touch of Sriracha for a little kick, because I can never resist turning things just a little bit spicy. They can be made with however much rice or salmon or seaweed you might have on hand (though I have a rough ratio below to make them for a crowd) — they would be perfect for that bit of leftover salmon, especially if on the dry side, or a forgotten can of salmon (or tuna, too) in the pantry. If you want to make them ahead, you could try Mandy’s tutorial for keeping the seaweed fresh in parchment paper (or, if you’re uncivilized like me and have an odd love for soft seaweed, you can just keep them in a Tupperware for yourself). And of course you can customize the filling to your own taste. (See Notes below for links to a few other ideas!) Any way you prepare them, I think it’s hard to go wrong with these. I hope you enjoy them as much as we did!
The filling uses relatively less dressing than you might see for a sandwich-style tuna salad or other fish salad, because it's best to keep the fish on the drier side so that it doesn't make the onigiri too soggy. Just be sure that the filling is a bit on the saltier side, so that it can balance out the rice once it's all wrapped up.
- 5-6 cups cooked, fresh white or brown rice
- 8 oz (about 1 cup) cooked salmon, canned salmon, or canned tuna (see Notes)
- 2 tablespoons Kewpie mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons Sriracha chili sauce or other hot sauce of your choice (or more or less, to taste)
- salt, to taste
- about 8 sheets nori
- First, if you haven’t already, make the rice. (I always just use a rice cooker, but if you prefer the stovetop method, The Kitchn has a great tutorial.) Set aside and let cool while you make the filling.
- The filling is simple -- just combine the salmon, mayonnaise, and Sriracha in a bowl and stir until well-combined. Taste and add salt as necessary. If you're using cooked salmon and not canned, you will likely need a bit more salt -- the filling should be too salty to eat plain, so that it balances it out the rice.
- To wrap, form about 1/3 cup of rice into a ball or triangle. (If using your hands, it helps greatly to keep a small bowl of water nearby and to moisten your hands just before handling the rice. You can also use a mold if you like -- I did, but it’s not necessary.) Flatten the ball slightly and press a hollow into the center, then fill the center with about a tablespoon of filling. Cut a strip of seaweed that is slightly wider than the widest portion of your rice ball and a little more than twice as long. Place the rice ball at one end of the seaweed and fold the seaweed over the rice to cover. The dampness from the rice should help hold the seaweed to the rice ball, but you can use a few grains of extra rice to seal the pleats if you like.
- Alternatively, to make onigiri with a small strip of seaweed, you can flatten the rice out to a large pancake, then gently shape the rice ball around the filling until it’s completely closed, and use just a small strip of seaweed around the bottom middle of the ball. Enjoy immediately. (To keep the onigiri fresh for later, check out this awesome tutorial by Mandy at Lady and Pups.)