Sunday, 13 May 2012

And now, for something completely different...

... adventures in onigiri-making! I have a secret addiction to reading blogs about bento, and I pack a lunch most days. Plus I already have a bento thermos that my mother brought over from Singapore (it was supposed to be for Spouse, but he doesn't do packed lunches in fiddly bits). And I love Japanese food (and Thai, and Chinese, and Korean...)

So I've done odd things with lunches in the past, but decided to take advantage of the sunshine and my cooking mood to try something new. Onigiri, which are balls of cooked rice, often packed around a filling and/or sprinkled with flavourful stuff and/or wrapped in nori, seemed like a pretty easy starting point.

First up - cook the rice. Normally this would be plain short-grain white rice, which sticks together nicely. I only have basmati at the moment, so I made coconut rice instead since I know it's suitably sticky! I make coconut rice in my rice cooker. Twice as much coconut milk as rice by volume and a slosh of good soy sauce. Set the cooker to "cook", then ignore it til it clicks over to "warm". At this point I usually give it a good stir with a rice paddle. The bottom gets delightfully crusted and brown during cooking. If you leave it, it gets quite thick and can be peeled off and eaten separately. If you stir it when it clicks over, it breaks up and mixes in with the sticky rice and gives it a nicer flavour. Plus it's not done cooking yet, so there will be more of it. Put the lid back on and leave it set to "warm" until all the liquid's absorbed and you can see the grains of rice again.

Now to assemble your stuff! The plain, slightly sweet rice needs to be offset by something quite strong. Traditionally this would be something salty/sour, like umeboshi plums. I don't have any, but I do have a jar of lime pickle. This stuff is incredibly powerful, but it works perfectly with the rice! And I also have a jar of black sesame seeds that will do nicely for sprinkling. No nori, because Spouse is not sure how he feels about dried seaweed and I'm intending these to be for both of us to eat.

Here's my assembly set-up:

The toaster and spice rack are not part of the onigiri assembly .  :)

You can shape onigiri by hand, but I'm trying to manage portion sizes so wanted them to be all the same. We conveniently have a small stash of glass ramekins that came with Gu puddings in them! They are perfectly portion-sized, actually - the resulting onigiri is just comfortably hand-sized.

Line the ramekin with plastic wrap. This is by far the fiddliest part of the whole procedure.

Once it's lined, sprinkle sesame seeds into the ramekin. You could put them in last (and I did with the one that I forgot to sprinkle!), but the side that's in the bottom will be nice and smooth and you'll be able to see the black seeds. The other side is where the plastic wrap bunches up, so it won't look good.

Spoon in hot rice, packing it in, until the ramekin is half full. Please note that I'm only using the metal spoons for packing - they do NOT scrape the inside of my rice cooker!

Once the ramekin is half-full, place a scant quarter-teaspoon of lime pickle right in the middle of the rice. Like I said, this stuff is strong, and a little goes a long way.

Pack more rice in around and over the lime pickle. Pack it tightly until the rice is level with the top of the ramekin. (The brown stuff visible is some of the rice crust.)

Using the plastic wrap, pull the onigiri out of the ramekin. This takes a little bit of wiggling with mine, since the circumference of the lip is slightly smaller than the circumference of the bottom. Fold the plastic wrap over to seal it, reshaping the onigiri into a nice cylinder if necessary. Bonus points if you kept all the pickle in a nice dollop in the middle - it's not supposed to leak out the sides.

Turn it over and admire your beautiful sesame-sprinkled onigiri!

I cooked one-and-a-half cups of rice (uncooked volume) in three tins of coconut milk, which gave me exactly enough rice for nine onigiri. Only eight here because I fed one to Spouse for testing purposes. He reckons that two should be enough for a filling meal when served with vegetables and protein of some sort. Tomorrow will tell.

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