Rice Balls – All You Need To Know

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rice balls

Introduction to rice balls

A rice ball is a kind of food item that is made from rice that has been shaped, condensed, or combined to make it into a ball or any other compact shape. Rice balls are eaten by many cultures, such as onigiri in Asian culture or arancini in European culture. They also can range from savory to sweeter, chewier rice balls.

Whether from the European or Asian regions, they dated back to about the 800th century. In Japan, it started being made for picnics and traveling during the Heian period (794 – 1185). They were originally called tonjiki, and wrapped in dried bamboo sheaths for easy handling on the move.

Are rice balls called Onigiri?

One of the most popular types of rice ball is onigiri, which originated from Japan. This comfort food is typically shaped into triangular, ball, or cylinder shapes then wrapped with nori or dried seaweed.

Onigiri can also be called nigirimeshi or omusubi. It’s a very ubiquitous rice ball in Japan, available in all convenient stores around the country. It also has different flavors/fillings, compacted into triangular shapes, and is easy to eat with hands. The perfect meal for the always-on-the-go Japanese.

What are rice balls made of?

Rice balls are generally made of compacted rice, which is usually a little bit on the softer side. These rice are then slathered onto nori or seaweed before filled with your chosen fillings in case of onigiri. In China, it is made of glutinous rice that is stuffed with different fillings and is wrapped with bamboo leaves instead of nori. In the case of the Sicilian dish arancini, the rice balls are coated with bread crumbs before being deep-fried.

How do you make rice balls?

There are a lot of recipes and types of rice balls you can make, but let’s start off with the simplest and easiest form of rice balls to make, onigiri. Here are some step-by-step recipes you can follow to make your own homemade rice balls:

  1. Prepare your ingredients: rice, furikake or Japanese seasoning, and nori or flat seaweed.
  2. Get your rice into a mixing bowl, then add in furikake and mix thoroughly. Separate into equal portions that are about a large handful each.
  3. Wet your hands with water and rub them together with a pinch of salt.
  4. Take one portion of rice in your hands, make an indentation to put in your fillings (chicken, fish, any other protein); place ingredients inside then fold rice over and lightly press into a bowl.
  5. Start pressing and squeezing the rice balls into a triangular shape.
  6. Place the nori on the bottom of the onigiri and fold it up towards the middle of the onigiri.

For the fillings, you can have fun and create your own with your favorite protein such as chicken, tuna, pickled plum, or even fish roe. The sky and your creativity is the only limit.

How do you avoid rice from sticking to your hands while making rice balls?

One of the ways for you to avoid the rice from sticking into your hands is by using what we’ve mentioned previously: you can wet your hands and rub a pinch of salt. The water will act as a lubricant for the sticky rice, and it won’t stick. Just make sure you are not using too much water or else you will lose the rice balls’ texture.

Why rice balls fall apart?

If your rice balls are falling apart, you might want to check the type of rice you are using. The ideal types of rice to make rice balls are either medium-grain or short-grain rice. If you are using jasmine rice or other types of long grain rice, it will fall apart because they are not sticky enough. Another reason can also be the fact that you are not cooking your rice long enough or because you are using cold rice.

How do you make rice balls stick together?

As mentioned, make sure you are using the right kind of rice – medium-grain and short-grain rice, which are more sticky. Then use them while they are still hot so they stick together better. Technically speaking, you can still use long grain rice by cooking them longer and with more water. However, this will not taste very good.

Are rice balls served hot or cold?

You can certainly serve rice balls both hot or cold. For onigiri, you can encounter lots of cold rice balls stored inside a convenience store’s refrigerators. It is an easy way for you to eat rice balls or onigiri when you are on the go.

But you can also enjoy some grilled onigiri that is served hot, with a golden and crispy exterior body that is then brushed with miso or soy sauce. It is a lot more flavourful and has a unique texture, but will require a sit-down meal.

There are also the Sicilian arancini rice balls that are served hot, which are coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried. Another hot rice ball dish is the dessert type that is made of rice flour and cooked inside syrup.

What is a rice ball maker and how to use it?

A rice ball maker is simply a shaping tool or machine that allows you to make the same sized rice balls every time you make them. It is also easy to use and you can avoid sticky fingers. All you need to do is stuff the rice into one of the molds and then pop them out after pressing for several seconds.

Do you fry rice balls?

As mentioned, you can further cook your rice balls if you wish to. One of the ways to cook them is by frying. So you can definitely fry the rice balls. You can coat the rice balls with miso or soy sauce for a Japanese flavor, or you can coat them with breadcrumbs and deep fry the rice balls to make Sicilian arancini.


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