The first time I walked into a Japanese convenience store I was blown away with all of the options. Dried cuttlefish, huge chunks of miso daikon radish, and many things that my Western palate has not gotten used to. However, one of my favorite snacks is onigiri or rice balls. It’s a little confusing which flavor you are getting as they are simply marked by color and their Japanese kanji which I can’t read. I like to get salmon and so I usually find someone who can help me and say “sake” the Japanese word for salmon to which they point at the object of my desire.
I like the soft, salty taste of smoked salmon the best in rice balls and you can make them at home easily. I made mine with brown rice because I try to cook with as much fiber and healthy stuff as possible. However, they can be made with white rice as well, you will just miss out on the rice bran which makes brown rice so filling and I think more tasty. In truth, short grain white rice is probably easier (stickier) so if you are on the fence you might try that out first. The key is whichever you choose, white or brown that it be short grain so it will be sticky when we are forming the rice balls. Longer grain, for instance basmati rice though delicious and delicate will simply not stick together. Most of the rice balls you can buy are not seared, but cooking and adding soy sauce gives a nice crunch and makes them much more satisfying with warm, melting smoked salmon.
A couple of tips: make sure you pack your rice firmly and use a little more water if you find it’s not sticky enough. Though we call them rice balls, they are more or two rounded triangles. The flat sides are essential to getting enough sear on the rice balls or the sides will buckle and fall apart. When cooking the rice balls, be sure the pan is very hot so it will sear the rice balls enough. It’s important to get a good sear because it helps hold the rice ball together especially when you pour the soy over it so definitely try to make it crunchy.
- 4 cups uncooked short grain brown rice***
- 4 ounces smoked salmon
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 3 sheets yaki nori (seaweed)
- 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- ***short grain rice is very important as it allows the rice to stick together, do not substitute long grain but if you can’t find short to medium brown rice, short grain white would be an ok alternative
- Using a rice cooker or on your stovetop, cook the rice according to package directions. Stir and let cool slightly.
- When rice has cooled somewhat, stir in 2-3 Tablespoons of cool water to make the rice a little more sticky if you feel yours is a little dry. Divide salmon into 10 portions. Take one cup of rice and form it around a portion of salmon into a ball. Using wet hands, shape it into a rounded triangle. Be sure to form tightly. Set aside and form remaining balls, rice and salmon should give you 10. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for one hour at the minimum. These could be prepared a day or two in advance.
- Coat a large frying pan with vegetable oil over high heat. Be sure your pan is very hot before placing the rice balls inside as we need to get a very good sear. Place the rice ball in the pan and cook on each side for 5 minute or until golden brown. It is important to cook for enough time to form a golden crust. This keeps the rice ball together when you pour soy sauce over it.
- Pour about 1 ½ Tablespoons over each rice ball and allow to cook for a couple minutes. The soy will caramelize on the bottom so don’t worry that its burning if you see a char.
- Wrap in seaweed and serve warm.