That’s fried rice balls to you and me. Now think about it…fried starch…sounding pretty good, eh?
My first experience of yaki onigiri was in Brussels at a Japanese restaurant called Kushetei. It was a great dinner, but things got a little weird when we got to dessert – no selection of exquisite Japanese sweets, but instead we got mochi filled with ice-cream. Straight from the packet, complete with cute anime-style characters. I am sure that this would be delightfully whimsical to aficionados of Japanese culture, but to me, back in the day, it just seemed a slightly odd way to complete a meal.
Of the many tasty things that I tried that night, what stood out for me were the fried rice balls. The staff did have an annoying habit of sprinkling fish flakes over them (I don’t think they got that fish flakes were not a vegetable), so each time a fresh batch arrived, the fish flakes had to be picked off with forensic precision. Once that was done, the rice balls were delicious.
Back in my Brussels kitchen I decide to try making them myself, but my early attempts went rather spectacularly badly. What went wrong? Well, I failed at almost the first hurdle. I reached into the cupboard for rice, any old rice, and it was a packet of the plain white stuff. I had put enough thought into the process to realise that the rice needs to be somewhat sticky so that it could be formed into balls, so I just boiled it until sort of soupy, drained, and proceeded on my way. Well, whatever I did, it didn’t really work and I ended up with rice balls that had a tendency to collapse. I ended up with a large plate of oily, partially-fried rice swimming in soy sauce. It just about tasted alright, but this was not something that would cause the skilled chef in a Japanese restaurant to lose sleep. If anything, he’s probably have attached me with a sushi knife for my lame efforts!
Fast forward more than half a decade. Putting aside the fact that time seems to fly past with increasingly alarming speed, I would be so bold as to suggest that I am now a better cook, but more fundamentally, I also have access to much better ingredients. Brussels had good shops, but if you really want to get hold of culinary items that are strange, niche or obscure, London will oblige (with the exception of yuzu fruit – still no trace of it!). I’ve blogged about my searches for peculiar raising agents for baking (like ammonium or pottasche). For the rice balls, I needed sushi rice. Well, luckily that’s actually pretty easy to come by in this town. So as they say in the movies, let’s do it again, but once more with feeling (and the correct rice).
This time, I am happy to report that my rice was obligingly sticky, the rice balls could be formed with ease (and very sticky hands), and the result was sensational. Utterly sensational. One of those it is so good I can’t stop at three types of dishes. My only regret is that I did not make double the amount, and this is definitely going to be one of my kitchen staples from now on. I mean – fried starch. We all love that, right?
The good news – all you need is rice, oil and soy sauce. You’re about an hour away from something utterly delicious!
To make Yaki Onigiri:
• sushi rice
• oil (I used grapeseed)
• soy sauce(*)
1. Cook the sushi rice according to the instructions on the packet. Assume 75g per person.
2. While the rice is still warm, shape into balls or cubes. It’s easiest to keep your hands very well-oiled, as the rice is super-sticky.
3. Fry the rice balls. You probably don’t need more oil – what’s on the balls should be enough. Once golden all over, remove and brush with soy sauce. Fry again until crispy. And that’s it! Just sit back and enjoy!
(*) If you are feeling adventurous, mix the soy sauce with other things – I added a dash of sambal to mine (Indonesian rather than Japanese, but never mind) for a tiny dash of heat, and a little sesame oil for a nutty flavour.
Worth making? Get the right rice, and O-M-G these work amazingly well. These are fantastic as part of a meal or as snacks with drinks. While utterly delicious, they are also vegan, dairy-free and gluten-free, so they should be a winner with everyone.