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Smoked Salmon Onigiri

Hello and welcome! We are kicking this week off with one my favorite snacks, a Japanese rice ball called Onigiri. Onigiri are a small handheld snack or light meal, commonly found in Japanese convenience stores, much like we would find a prepared sandwich, here in the West. They come filled with a variety of fillings; from Japanese pickled plum called Umeboshi, to teriyaki chicken, or like we are doing today, a smoked salmon salad with scallions and mayonnaise. Onigiri are easy to make and fun to eat! Are you ready? Let’s make Smoked Salmon Onigiri!

Smoked Salmon Onigiri

When I lived in San Francisco, I would make Onigiri every week as part of my meal prep for work lunches. I would fill them with spicy tuna or salmon salad. Sometimes I would even fill them with leftovers, like roasted chicken and onions. And as a special treat on my weekly errand run, I would walk to Japantown in the morning to be first in line for freshly made Onigiri. Eating one is like unwrapping a present; perfectly seasoned rice hiding a tasty filling.

Onigiri

smoked salmon Onigiri filling

Rinse the short grain rice gently until the water runs clear and transfer the rice to a medium-sized saucepan. I use the “first knuckle” method to measure the amount of water for cooking the rice; once the rice is in the saucepan, shake the pan to even out the rice, stick your pointer finger straight down so the tip of your finger is touching the bottom of the pan. Then slowly pour in water until the water level reaches the first knuckle (closest to the tip of your finger) of your pointer finger. I am not totally sure why, but it works for me every time. If you’re not game to try this method, just cook the rice according to your package’s instructions. While the rice is cooking, let’s make the smoked salmon salad.

Smoked Salmon Salad

prepping the smoked salmon filling

I am using one package of hot smoked salmon. I will definitely have leftover filling – and that’s ok, because this salad is wonderful on crackers or toast too! You can use canned tuna or salmon for this if you like, instead of hot smoked salmon. Break or chop the fish into smaller pieces and thinly slice 1-2 scallions.

smoked salmon salad filling

Add the fish and scallions to a medium-sized bowl and start with 1-2 tablespoons of mayonnaise. I have a Japanese Yuzu Mayonnaise, which has a slightly sweet citrus flavor, but regular mayo is good too! We are basically making a standard tuna salad-type of mixture for the filling. So, add more or less mayo. You want a cohesive mixture, but it’s really based on your preference.

smoked salmon salad filling

To give this salad a little kick, I am seasoning it with a little Wasabi Salt (which I recommend!). A little goes a long way, so taste it as you season to avoid it being too salty, because the smoked fish will be salty on its own. Once it’s tasting great to you, set the salad aside and we will cut some nori into strips. It’s important to note that Onigiri is often wrapped in nori, but if you don’t care for it, it’s totally fine to go without it.

cutting strips of nori
Keep your kitchen shears handy to trim the nori to fit the Onigiri.

Season the Rice

After cooking the rice on low for about 20 minutes, the rice should be very tender and the water should be completely absorbed. If not, let it go another several minutes until the water is completely absorbed then remove from heat and let the rice sit, covered for 10 minutes. Then sprinkle 2 teaspoons of rice vinegar over the cooked rice and stir the rice really well to incorporate the vinegar. Then spread the rice out on a rimmed sheet tray to cool slightly. Sprinkle a light pinch of Kosher salt over the rice and let cool only until it’s not too hot to handle with your hands.

Seasoning the rice

Onigiri-Making Station

Let’s set up our Onigiri station. You don’t need a lot of space, but you do want everything you’ll need within range. I am coating the sides of my Onigiri with the Japanese seasoning called Furikake – it’s a mix of nori flakes, sesame seeds and other seasoning, but you can use toasted sesame seeds too. Spread the Furikake out on a small plate to roll the sides of the Onigiri in the seasoning. Place a small bowl of water close because the rice is very sticky and having the water bowl to dip your fingers in to keep the rice from sticking to your hands is essential.

Onigiri-making station

Have a couple spoons to scoop the rice and the filling. And have a plate for setting down the finished Onigiri. Because I used to make these all the time, I have an Onigiri mold/storage box. But today I will show you how to form the balls without the mold. Even with the mold, using plastic wrap to form the balls is the easiest and cleanest way to form the Onigiri. So be sure to have about an 8″ x 8″ piece of plastic wrap, just lay it flat on the counter top.

Shape the Onigiri

Scoop a couple tablespoons of rice and set the rice on the plastic wrap. Dip your fingertips in the water bowl and pat the rice into a circle. Then add a couple teaspoons of the filling to the center. Then, top the filling with another 2 tablespoons of rice.

Gather up the sides of the plastic wrap and twist to close. Then, form the rice ball just like a meat ball, inside the plastic wrap.

Then, slightly loosen the twist in the plastic wrap, but keep it closed. Gently flatten the rice ball and use the natural triangle shape between your finger and thumb to shape the sides into a triangle. Be careful when you flatten it to avoid squishing out the filling.

Take one strip of the toasted nori and lay it vertically over the front of the Onigiri, just a little bit from the top. Then pick up the Onigiri from the top, with the plastic wrap, and let the bottom of the plastic wrap fall away and fold the nori around the bottom of the Onigiri. Let go of the plastic wrap.

Hold the Onigiri by the strip of nori. Trim the back end of the nori as needed to fit. Then, gently roll the sides in the furikake or sesame seeds.

adding furikake topping

Set the finished Onigiri on a plate and continue making however many Onigiri you want! If you don’t want to make the triangle shape, you can leave the flattened Onigiri in a disc shape, that’s totally ok! Also, if you are not going to eat these right away, hold off on wrapping the nori – it will get soggy and tough. You can add the strip of nori right before eating.

Smoked Salmon Onigiri

Smoked Salmon Onigiri

Onigiri are so fun! It’s great to have few in the fridge to have as a light lunch, or snack. Just wrap the cooled Onigiri in plastic wrap and pop in the fridge. As I mentioned near the top, I used to make Smoked Salmon Onigiri every week. They were the perfect mid-morning snack at the office. I would tote an Onigiri in its little pink container along with the rest of my lunch, which I would package in cute Bento boxes – all tied up together in a Furoshiki cloth.

Furoshiki is the Japanese art of fabric wrapping – a series of folds around an object with the ends tied together to create a handle. I have quite a collection of Bento boxes and Furoshiki cloths. The squares of cloth are printed with colors and motifs that are specific to the seasons. One of my favorite cloths for spring is pictured above, I love the lavender, white and gold color scheme. Furoshiki, Bento boxes and even the Onigiri, are particular aspects of Japanese food culture that I really love because they work to create a visually pleasurable eating experience; elevating humble foods to a special moment to look forward to.

Onigiri filled with smoked salmon salad

Well, thank you for stopping by! I do hope you try your hand at Smoked Salmon Onigiri, they are delicious, special little packages. If you’re interested in another Japanese recipe, try my Air Fryer Chicken Katsu, it’s another super easy dish. Remember, you can find me on Instagram and Pinterest, so hop on over and say hello! Take and be well everyone, xo Kelly

Smoked Salmon Onigiri

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Snack, Lunch Japanese
By Kelly Djalali Serves: Makes 6-8 Onigiri
Prep Time: 20 minutes Cooking Time: 30-40 Minutes Total Time: ~1 Hour

Onigiri are hand held Japanese rice balls filled with delicious sweet or savory filling. These are filled with a savory Smoked Salmon salad filling.

Ingredients

  • 3 cups Cooked Short Grain Rice
  • 2 tsp. Rice Vinegar
  • Pinch Kosher Salt
  • 14-16 oz. Hot Smoked Salmon (or canned tuna, or salmon)
  • 1-2 Scallions, white and green parts sliced thin
  • 2-3 tbsp. Mayonnaise
  • Pinch Wasabi Salt (optional)
  • Nori Sheets, cut into 1"strips
  • Furikake, or Toasted Sesame Seeds

Instructions

1

While the rice is cooking, flake fish into small pieces and add to a large bowl with scallions and mayo. Mix until well incorporated and season with wasabi salt, if desired. Set aside.

2

When rice is tender and the water is absorbed, sprinkle with rice vinegar and mix to incorporate. Spread rice on a rimmed baking sheet to cool slightly, sprinkle with a pinch of Kosher Salt.

3

Pour two tablespoons of Furikake or sesame seeds on a small plate and prepare the Onigiri station with rice, salmon salad, a bowl of water to keep your hands wet, an 8" x 8" sheet of plastic wrap and the nori strips.

4

Scoop a couple tablespoons of rice and set on the plastic wrap. Dip your fingertips in the water bowl and pat the rice into a circle. Then add a couple teaspoons of the filling to the center. Then, top the filling with another 2 tablespoons of rice.

5

Gather up the sides of the plastic wrap and twist to close. Then, form the rice ball just like a meat ball, inside the plastic wrap.

6

Then, slightly loosen the twist in the plastic wrap, but keep it closed. Gently flatten the rice ball and use the natural triangle shape between your finger and thumb to shape the sides into a triangle. Be careful when you flatten it to avoid squishing out the filling. Unwrap the plastic wrap.

7

Take one strip of the toasted nori and lay it vertically over the front of the Onigiri, just a little bit from the top. Then pick up the Onigiri from the top, with the plastic wrap, and let the bottom of the plastic wrap fall away and fold the nori around the bottom of the Onigiri. Let go of the plastic wrap.

8

Hold the Onigiri by the strip of nori. Trim the back end of the nori as needed to fit. Then, gently roll the sides in the furikake or sesame seeds. Set finished Onigiri on a plate and continue to make desired number of Onigiri.

Notes

If not eating Onigiri until a later time, hold off on wrapping with nori until ready to serve.

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  • Kenzie
    May 18, 2021 at 1:53 am

    Just on the rice cooking. I was born and raised in Hong Kong and our Amah used to wash the rice until the water was clear. She then measured the water to the first knuckle by putting her finger gently on top of the rice not the bottom of the pot. I have cooked rice that way for years but decided to try it in the microwave. I wash and measure the rice and water s usual then add a pinch of salt. The pyrex pot then goes into the microwave for ten minutes on high and five minutes on medium. Once it is cooked I fluff it with a fork them put a lid over it and let it steam for about ten minutes. Seems to work whatever the amount of rice. The onigirivdounds delicious and as big fans of Japanese food I might have to give them a try. Thanks for all your recipes.

    • Kelly Djalali
      May 18, 2021 at 7:45 am

      Hi Kenzie, I will have to try your microwave cooking method for the rice. It sounds quick and easy. Definitely try the Onigiri using your rice cooking method! I bet you will enjoy them! Thank you so much for writing in and sharing your microwave method – I am excited to try it next time I cook rice. Have a wonderful week! xo Kelly