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Let Creativity Shine With Omusubi Making

Place stuffing in the center. Create a 90 degree angle for triangular shape.

Rice balls or omusubi (also called onigiri) are one of the most common foods in Japan. It originated as an efficient way of using leftovers from the night before, and today, it has become an item Japanese people cannot live without, whether it’s for school lunches, late night snacks, or any occasion one might need a portable meal. The convenience of omusubi is that, you can pretty much make anything into a rice ball. The idea of creating a ball out of rice may seem easy enough, but the world of omusubi is deeper than one might think, with so much variety in shapes, sizes, colors, and flavors. To explore the world of omusubi and polish up on my omusubi technique, I consulted Ms. Ayano Izumi, the manager of Oms/b, a riceball specialty store in Manhattan.

Ms. Izumi teaches a way to wrap omusubi called “himemusubi”.

According to Ms. Izumi, the first thing is to choose rice that is appropriate for omusubi making. The short grain variety like Japanese rice such as Koshihikari, makes for best results. The moisture level in the rice will make a huge difference in the outcome of the omusubi. Typically, you must use 1.2 times the amount of water to the amount of rice, but new crops introduced to the market in October usually contain more moisture in the grain so less water is needed in this case. In the winter, cold water does not open up the grains as much, so make sure to soak the grains in lukewarm water for 30 minutes before cooking. Once the rice is cooked, fold some air into the rice with a shamoji (rice paddle) for extra fluffiness.

You can always use furikake (flavored flakes) or mixed rice to make omusubi.  Obinori: another way of wrapping omusubi with nori.

There are several common shapes like round, triangle and barrel shaped, that one can easily do at home, but all rice balls start out the same. Always have a bowl of water nearby to keep your hands constantly moist, preventing the rice from sticking to your hands. After wetting your hands, cover your palm evenly with a pinch of fine sea salt, then place a handful of hot rice in your palm and then begin rolling the rice, alternating hands while gently squeezing to create a firm ball. For stuffed omusubi, make an indentation in the center of the rice and place the stuffing in it before making a ball. To create a triangular shape, cup your hand to make a 90 degree angle with your palm and rotate the rice while squeezing until all the triangular points are shaped. To make a barrel shape, use your fingers to flatten the sides as you roll the rice in your hands. Whichever method you choose, the key is to move fast, as the rice loses stickiness when it cools down, making the process a lot harder. Ms. Izumi suggests, “If making the shape with your hands is too hard, you can always use an omusubi mold.” The mold set they carry comes in two sizes for making triangular shapes, but there are some other types of molds available in Japanese grocery stores and online.

Once the shape is done, one can use nori (dried seaweed) to decorate it. There are a couple of common wrapping styles. One way called “himemusubi” covers the rice almost entirely with just one tip of the triangular shape open. The nori wraps the omusubi like a kimono, and you can put toppings in the open tip to give an accent. “Obinori” style is to wrap rice as if tied with an obi sash. Another common way is to place rectangular nori on the bottom of omusubi and expose a fair amount of the rice, allowing you to dress the rice with furikake (flavored flakes) or sesame. Whichever style you try, make sure you always place the surface (shinier side) on the outside.

Once you have the basics down, you can make a variety of omusubi and make it fun for your family.

When it comes to flavor, stuffings like pickled plum, grilled salmon, tuna and mayo have been traditionally popular, but anything goes in the world of omusubi today. Using colorful soy sheets instead of nori can add a splash of color fit for a festive occasion. The fun thing about omusubi is that from flavor combinations to shapes, imagination is the limit. It’s a great way to spice up a party or a lunch box.

———– Reported by Maya Robinson

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