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Yaki Onigiri

Onigiri are hand held rice balls sold in just about every convenience store, supermarket or food hall in Japan, they are everywhere.

Sticky white rice with a variety of fillings wrapped in a sheet of nori. The sort of thing you would pick up on the way to work or school, scoff on the tube, eat at a picnic or that you would get on a visit to your grandmothers. Comfort food and the perfect snack.

Some say that it’s the Japanese equivalent of a sandwich. Well if that’s the case then the grilled version, yaki onigiri must be the equivalent of a toasted sandwich.

We grill hundreds of these every week at bincho and they have a developed a cult-like following amongst our regular customers.

It was only recently when I rocked up at a friends BBQ with a few dozen of these bad boys and a bottle of sake that I realised their universal appeal and also how easy they were for the amateur cook


what you need-

Cooked Japanese rice obviously the amount you need depends on amount you need to make, our advice is to make a few extra  because all those cynics who say ‘ uurgh not for me’ will undoubtedly eat most of them.

Japanese soy sauce - use the best quality you can find, kikkoman is the preferred of-the-shelf soy, if you find yourself in a specialist Japanese food shop buy ‘tosa shoyu’ or to make your own tosa shoyu our recipe is below.

Nori - again if you have the choice spend a little extra and buy a better thicker variety

Wet your hands and take a handful of warm rice - cold rice just won’t bind together and will crumble when grilled [popping some left over rice in the microwave to reheat and re-gain stickiness is acceptable.....well at home anyway].

Squeeze the rice gently in your hands to bind and shape as close as you can to a triangle, don’t stress yourself too much about the shape, round ones are common in Japan.

Onigiri moulds to make life really easy are available in most Japanese grocery stores.

 Make sure it is thoroughly bound together, once you have shaped the onigiri leave them to air for a few minutes – this will create a dryness on the surface which will stop it sticking on the grill and enhance your crust.

The trick when grilling is to take your time over a moderate heat, the longer it is on the grill the  thicker the crust and the more of the charcoal flavour it will absorb. Grill on all sides until nice and crisp, total time should be about 10 mins. Then for a further  3 minutes continue to grill while basting lightly with soy, a pastry brush is good for this. If you don’t have a BBQ or are in the hands of the British weather decent results can be had in your kitchen using a griddle pan.

Use the nori as a wrapper and eat hot. A glass of chilled sake on the side is optional but highly recommended.

Tosa shoyu

Tosa shoyu is a dashi enhanced soy sauce, usually associated with sashimi but will give your yaki onigiri an extra dimension.

Our version is as follows:

200 ml soy sauce

20 ml shiro dashi

20 ml tamari

bonito flakes

a 2 inch piece of konbu

Put the soy, dashi, tamari and konbu in a saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer add bonito flakes and remove immediately from heat. leave for at least 24 hrs in the fridge to allow the flavours to develop, strain before use.

Once you have mastered and are hooked on yaki onigiri it's time to move to the next level and try the yaki onigiri chazuke. The same yaki onigiri semi-submerged in green tea with a variety of toppings. Grilled eel, shredded nori or our current favourite the umeboshi version.

Give Yaki Onigiri a go next time you have a barbeque, they’re a damn site more healthy than  undercooked sausages....

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