How do I make Japanese sushi or onigiri?

Sushi and onigiri have a vague relation that there both quite small and mainly made up of rice. With sushi the rice is vingeared and top with vegetables or fish – the fish made be raw or cooked. Sushi is eaten now and again as special treat. My advice about making sushi is – don’t. Make onigiri instead it’s easier. Sushi chefs train for years and have a wide and varied knowledge of sushi types. If you want to eat sushi you go to a sushi chief that’s how it works here in Japan – sushi is not made at home.

So what are onigiri? Onigiri is, at it’s most basic, a ball of slight salty rice. This would be the things labourers would eat in the field. Or if that doesn’t work for you – I’m sure ninja’s ate them too, while waiting to storm an enemy stronghold.

To create some nice tasting onigiri you’ll want to get Japanese style rice – it’s extremely sticky and plumper that other types of rice. Couscous rice might work at a stretch. To cook the rice I’d recommend a rice cooker. That way you’ll get rice that’s nice and moist and cooked without residual water. Otherwise you need to cook it in a covered pan with no stiring and use some arcane art to prevent burning or sticking yet ending up with cooked rice. I wish you all the best in this endeavour.

You can cook the rice well in advance. In Japanese families the rice cooker will be set to cook rice in the morning and then possibly later on as well. (They may even use the rice cookers timer so they wake to cooked rice) Once cooked the rice is left in the cooker until it’s needed. Left over rice for a main meal maybe turned into onigiri.

The next ingredient you’ll want is nori – sheets. These are thin shiny sheets of seaweed. They’re crunchy and very tasty. You should be able to pick up nori sheets at an Asian supermarket. They may be expensive, as they’re not exactly cheap in Japan. This is what will form a wrapping around your rice.

Another simple version of onigiri is to add a little salt to the rice or sesame seeds, then wet the nori sheet and wrap it around a large handful of cooked rice. This is better than plain salted rice but I think we can do even better.

Ingredients in onigiri include things like tuna (like tuna from tin can) often mixed with mayonnaise. (Japanese mayonnaise which is noticeable different than the standard stuff. A common Japanese student dish is a bowl of rice with mayonnaise dribbled on top – because it’s extremely cheap.) Let’s assume we’re using this filling for the moment.

You want to place a nori sheet on a flat surface, possibly on some cling film. Then covered about a quarter of one end with a layer of rice. On top of the rice lay out a line of your filling. Then roll it like you were trying to make a swiss roll. Usually you’ll only be able to manage one roll. Then eat! Or if you want to serve it cut it diagonally with a sharp knife in several thick slices.

That’s pretty much how it works. Common fillings include prawns and omelette. The omelette is of course a little different. It’s made so it’s extremely thick about a centimetre and cut into a long rectangle slice. The prawns usually with mayonnaise are layed down next to the omlet.

Natto, fermented soy beans, is also a popular filling. Personally I’m not a fan. Everyone should try natto once – so give it a go if you’ve not had it before. Japanese people periodically tell me how healthy it is but I’ve still resisting it becoming a regular part of my diet.

Another common filling is more square omelette (tamagoyaki if you’re really interested) and something that may as well be a crab stick because that is exactly what it looks and tastes like.

If you slice it up then it’s common to squirt a bit of soy sauce over it and let it sink into the rice. Pickled ginger is also usually served (to cleanse the palate). Sake, Oolong or green tea go well with this but it’s usually something of snack and not eaten on it’s own as a meal.
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