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I'm experimenting with Japanese cooking, and I can't seem to get the hang of making rice shapes.

I want to make an onigiri rice triangle with a filling. The theory is simple enough: make rice and let cool, take rice in hand, dig a small crater, place filling in crater, fold around the filling and shape in to a triangle. In practice, I must be missing something, because it simply falls apart. I'm not sure if this is the technique of folding, shaping, or even cooking the rice.

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How are you preparing your rice, and what rice are you using? –  ElendilTheTall Oct 1 '11 at 10:36
I'm using what is sold here as "rice for sushi", which is short grain, and comes out quite sticky. I use it sucessfully for sushi, so I thought it would work, though I'm not adding vinegar or mirin for the onigiri. –  Carmi Oct 1 '11 at 16:03
I was going to ask the same question as ElendilTheTall. If you're using short-grain Japanese rice, it should be sticky and you shouldn't have any trouble making onigiri... –  user1570 Oct 1 '11 at 20:18
Agreed with the other commenters... If you have Japanese sticky rice then you should be having the opposite problem... It's so glutenous that I have to keep a finger bowl of water nearby to keep it from sticking to me. –  Rikon Oct 2 '11 at 3:14
Why are you letting it cool? I've never seen anyone start with cooled rice. –  JasonTrue Oct 20 '11 at 4:20

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Things to try

  • Rice should still be warm
  • Handle rice gently, don't squeeze it

Does it fall apart because it is sticking to your hands? If so:

  • Use warm salt water on your hands (not dripping wet hands though)
  • Rinse the rice more before cooking to remove excess surface starches. The process is: Rinse in bowl of water, gently tumble, let stand 20 minutes, change water. Repeat until rinse water runs clear

If this still fails to solve this sticky issue, you can use cling film (plastic wrap) as a guide and release agent on your hands. Peel the plastic off as you wrap the nori on

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There are two main reasons that may cause your onigiri to fall apart:

  1. For Onigiri, You must be use either medium grain rice or short grain rice. Both types of rice are sticky enough for the rice to stick to each other. Japanese rice and certain italian rices such as arborio works well. If you are using long grain rice (such as jasmine rice), the onigiri will simply fall apart because they are not sticky enough. You can overcook the long grain rice so it will be soft and mushy to form a shape, but it certainly will not taste very good.

  2. If the fillings are too oily or watery, it will cause the rice to lose it's "stickiness" and result the rice ball not be able to hold its shape.

Other reasons may include: Rice is not hot enough or not properly cooked.

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Don't let the rice cool, it should still be quite hot.

There are some ideas at Just Bento on ways to make it using plastic wrap or a baggie so you don't have to handle the hot rice directly; there was also discussion of plopping rice into a jar and shaking based on a video, but it was decided the rice cools too quickly for it to work for more than 1-2 onigiri per batch. The cooler the rice, the less it'll stick together.

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