Saturday, 27 October 2007

A Rice Ball Doesn't Belong In A Fruits Basket...

The part of a person that's remarkable is like the umeboshi on the back of a rice ball. All around the world, there are different colors, shapes, and flavors, but because it's stuck to the back, they might not be able to see their precious umeboshi. 'I'm not special,' each one would think, 'just plain ole rice.' Even though that's not true, and there is an umeboshi on the back. The reason people get jealous of one another is because they can see the umeboshi on other people's backs. Even now, someone might be feeling envious of something you don't recognize in yourself.

Before this summer I'd been dying to try onigiri, ever since I saw the Fruits Basket anime. Sometimes at home I feel a bit like a rice ball in a fruits basket, and I wanted so much to go to Japan and photograph eat all the amazing food and try out my (very basic) self-taught Japanese on real people (there's no one to practice the language with here, so I had no idea if I was speaking it properly or not).

This is where all the Asian people laugh at me a bit, I think.

Anyway, long story short, my friend has an aunt who is an international teacher in Japan so after exams I raised £812 for the flight, and we went and stayed with her in Yokohama for ten days. Best ten days of my life, no joke ^__^ And finally I got to try onigiri and buy bento boxes and discovered my spiritual home, heh.

I won't go into all of it now, but since then I've been dying to make rice balls (never satisfied X__X). I got Japanese Cooking At Home by Hideo Dekura for my birthday in August, sailed off into Manchester's China Town especially to buy short-grain rice and nori (seaweed) and finally got round to it... yesterday.

Fortunately, rice and nori have a fairly long shelf-life.

I didn't want to buy a massive sack of the stuff, so I couldn't actually get short-grain rice - the stuff I got says it's medium on the packet. Hence I was really worried that this wouldn't work out, and I'd just end up with lumps of sloppy rice all over the kitchen, but fear not! Medium grain worked just fine. If you're interested, I used Nishiki Premium Grade Rice. I also halved the amounts it said to use, in case it didn't work, hence my rice balls were baby-sized ^__^

O-nigiri (Rice Balls)
Took me about an hour? I honestly wasn't watching the clock when I made these yesterday afternoon. Also I slightly glossed over some of the 'leave for thirty minutes' parts of the instructions, so I can't be any more help.
From Japanese Cooking At Home by Hideo Dekura.

To prepare the rice:
4 cups (about 280g) short-grain rice -I used 140g
4 cups (480ml) water - I used 240ml
extra water

1. Place the rice into a bowl that holds twice the volume of rice. Pour water into the bowl until it just covers the rice, then hold it with one hand and stir it briskly for 10-15 seconds with the other hand. The water will go all milky. Tip the milky water out, covering the rice with one hand (I hope for your sake that your hands are bigger than mine).

2. Add water and repeat for a second and third time, but stirring for about 30 seconds now to get rid of the excess starch. Tip out the water then put the rice in a sieve and run cold water over it for a couple of minutes until the water runs clear. Leave it to drain in the sieve for thirty minutes. Or about 20, if you're me/impatient. I'm not condoning this or anything X__X.

3. The book says to place the rice and measured cups of water into a rice cooker pan now. Wipe the underneath of the pan with a dry towel and set it into the rice cooker, then switch it on and let it do it's crazy thang.

4. If you are British and don't have a rice cooker, or else you fail at life in any other way, I bunged the rice in a normal pan with the measured water over it and left it to cook over a low-medium heat that way. Occasionally use a wooden spatula to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan, but don't try to over-stir it, in case that stops it sticking together. I don't know if there's a scientific basis for that, but I felt I'd better be careful with it.

5. Once the rice is cooked, leave it to steam for 20 minutes, cough cough.

Actually that works out fairly well, as you can now get groovy with your onigiri stuff-

You need:
Filling : 100g (4oz) salmon fillet - I was making this for myself and a vegetarian friend to eat, so I used left over cooked vegetables from a unofficial-ratatouille-type meal I had the other day. We had a dish of soft, cold vegetables sitting in our fridge, so I picked out all the bits of sweet potato and mashed them in a bowl with a fork, to use as filling.
The book suggests also using tuna with mayonnaise, pickles, bonito flakes with soy sauce, and, of course, umeboshi (Japanese pickled plums: see the top of the post for the cute Fruits Basket quote about this).

4 cups hot, cooked, short-grain rice. This is what you've just prepared, above. However it says four cups, and presumably if you made full quantites of rice you'd still have loads left. I can't quite work this out, but it turned out fairly convenient for me in the end as I'd made half-quantities of rice.

You may want:
Furikake - This comes in many varieties and is basically a pre-prepared mixture of seasoned condiments... according to the list in the book. I used sesame seeds and some strange black seed-like specks that I found in the cupboard, which looked suspiciously like charcoal. I hope it wasn't charcoal, but my friend ate the one with those on, so I can't be sure

Green peas, mushrooms, etc - You can use these to make your rice balls more exciting, basically. I got a small handful of frozen peas out of the freezer and left them in a dish to defrost while I did everything else, and added them to some of the rice later on.

Sheets or strips of nori (seaweed)

You also need:
A bowl of salted water (2 cups/240ml water with 1 tbsp salt). The water stops the rice sticking to your hands, and the salt helps preserve the rice balls.

1. Prepare the filling - if you're using salmon fillet, grill and flake it. Otherwise, improvise. Mash your sweet potato, if you're doing this my way, and season.

2. Use a moistened wooden paddle to place your rice in a bowl, and wet your hands in the salty water. Then take a bit of rice about the size of a baseball into the palm of your hand. I've never held a baseball, so I improvised, though I notice from the pictures in the book that Hideo Dekura has THE BIGGEST HANDS IN THE WORLD. NO JOKE. Presumably he has more balls than me. Teehee.

3. Make a hollow with your finger in the middle of the rice and place some filling into it. Then use both hands to mould the rice into a triangular or oval shape (I made three triangles and two ovals). Press the rice down just hard enough to keep the rice firmly together.

4. Set the rice balls down on a plate and sprinkle with furitake, if using, or else wrap a strip of nori around the edge or surface of the ball. If it's a triangle I like the wrap it around a corner, but on ovals it looks nice in the middle.

5. Make the rest of the rice balls in the same way, but add peas or sesame seeds or what-have-you to the mix if you want.

Like I said, I made five with the half-quantities of rice I used initially. The book does say this makes 5-7 triangular rice balls, but as his are so much bigger than mine, I think that does mean with twice the amont of rice. Honestly, men.

These tasted of Japan. ♥

The best thing about Japanese food? Knives and forks are a thing of the past! I'm going to try and pass a movement to abolish all cutlery, and these rice balls are at the fore-front of my campaign. Eat them with your fingers, with a little soy sauce! Or else, balance them on the edge of a knife and take great mouthfuls out of them, if you want to do it like my friend did last night.

I don't think she really got the idea.


Sophie said...



sweet-tooth said...

These reminds me of Japan!
When i was in Japan(about 2 weeks ago), i couldn't stop eating Onigiris :D
Time for me to learn how to make some :D

sweet-tooth said...

Oh dear, i made an atrocious grammar mistake.
*These remind me of Japan.

Anna said...

sweet-tooth - oh woww, I'm so jealous! D= I'd give anything to go to Japan again. I'm just looking at the pictures on your blog now and missing it more and more, heh. Thanks for commenting, I hope you have a go ^__^

Queen Bitch said...

Mmmmm, Onigiri.

You make

Anonymous said...