Meat Wrapped Onigiri (俵おにぎり)
Nikumaki Onigiri (俵おにぎり) means “meat wrapped onigiri,” and it’s thought to have been created as a staff meal at an izakaya in Miyazaki prefecture, Japan, sometime in the 1990s. Onigiri is usually added as a side dish in bento box lunches, but by wrapping the Japanese rice balls in meat and glazing it in a savory sweet sauce, it elevates the humble rice ball to become a flavorful main dish that’s both satisfying and delicious.
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Why This Recipe Works?
- Using thinly sliced meat to wrap the rice ensures it cooks through all the way while ensuring the exterior doesn’t get chewy or tough.
- Ground sesame seeds and shiso mixed into the rice provide a nutty, refreshing flavor and textural contrasts that keep each bite interesting.
- Glazing the Nikumaki Onigiri with teriyaki sauce gives the rice balls a gloriously shiny sheet while imparting a savory sweet taste to the meat and the rice.
Ingredients for Meat Wrapped Onigiri
- Japanese short-grain rice – To get the rice to stick together, it’s important to use Japanese short-grain rice. You can learn about the different Japanese rice kinds in my How to Cook Japanese Rice recipe.
- Thinly sliced beef – The meat wrapped around the rice must be cut into large sheets that are thin enough to cook through quickly and still be tender. I recommend using beef sliced to a thickness of about 1mm. It is nearly impossible to get sheets big enough with a knife (you’ll need a frozen block of meat and a meat slicer), so I recommend looking for the beef sliced for hot pot at Asian supermarkets. If you have a Japanese market nearby, look for beef sliced for Sukiyaki. Thinly sliced pork will also work.
- Sesame seeds – While you can make Meat Wrapped Onigiri with plain white rice, I like mixing in some toasted ground sesame seeds. This adds a marvelously nutty flavor to the rice that goes great with the beef.
- Shiso – Green shiso is a Japanese Perilla cultivar and is often used as a garnish at sushi restaurants. It also happens to be a very flavorful herb that has a marvelously refreshing fragrance that’s somewhere between mint and basil. If you can’t find it, add other flavorful herbs, such as chopped basil or chives.
- Teriyaki sauce – To season the rice ball, a generous splash of traditional Japanese Teriyaki Sauce gets added at the end. The savory sweet mixture of soy sauce, sugar and sake filters through the beef, picking up it’s flavor before percolating into the rice.
How to Make Meat Wrapped Onigiri
The first thing you want to do is cook 1 rice cooker cup of Japanese short-grain rice. If you don’t have a rice cooker, you can follow my stovetop rice recipe, but this makes double the amount of rice you need, so you can either make 8 onigiri or save half of the rice for something else.
Grind the toasted sesame seeds into a coarse meal using a mortar and pestle, spice grinder, blender, or food processor. Add the ground sesame seeds and chopped shiso to a bowl with the hot rice and use a folding and cutting motion to work the ingredients together. Be careful not to smash individual grains of rice. Flatten off the top of the rice and divide it into 4 equal segments.
Put down a sheet of plastic wrap and then add a quarter of the rice on top. The wrap keeps the rice from sticking to your hands, so use it to shape the onigiri into a thick cylinder. If you don’t want to use plastic wrap, you can use your hands, but you’ll need to keep your hands wet, so the rice doesn’t stick. Repeat with the remaining rice.
To wrap the onigiri with meat, spread a sheet of beef out on a clean work surface and then unwrap and place a rice ball at the edge of the meat closest to you. Next, roll the beef around the rice. Then you can fold the sides of the meat around the ends of the cylinder to seal the rice in.
To cook the Nikumaki Onigiri, add the vegetable oil to a frying pan over medium heat and add the meat wrapped rice. Let the onigiri brown on one side before rolling them to one side to brown a new surface. Continue rolling and browning until the onigiri are browned on all sides. To cook both ends of the rolls, you can use tongs to flip them up onto their sides.
Once the meat is browned on all sides, use a paper towel to soak up all of the excess oil in the pan. To glaze the Meat Wrapped Onigiri, add the teriyaki sauce and roll them around until the sauce has thickened and coated the meat in a thick, shiny layer.
You can serve these immediately, or they can be cooled to room temperature and packed into a bento box lunch along with some colorful vegetables.
Other Onigiri Recipes
Onigiri is often translated as “rice ball” in English, but it literally means “hand-formed” and refers to rice that’s been squeezed into various shapes. Nikumaki means “meat wrapped,” so this dish is made by hand shaping rice (usually into cylinders) and then wrapping them in a thin sheet of meat before pan-frying or grilling them. These get glazed in a savory sweet soy sauce to season them.
Nikumaki Onigiri is an 8-syllable name pronounced as follows (read the italicized parts).
ni like knee
ku like cool
ma like mall
ki like key
o like order
ni like knee
gi like gear
ri the “ri” sound does not exist in the English language, and the best way to make it is to say the word “ream” with the tip of your tongue at the front of your mouth.
- Use a mortar and pestle or a clean spice grinder to grind the sesame seeds coarsely.
- Add the ground sesame and shiso to the hot cooked rice and fold everything together until it’s evenly combined.
- Divide the rice into 4 even segments.
- Cut a piece of plastic wrap onto a work surface, and scoop a quarter of the rice onto it.
- Use the wrap to shape the rice into a thick cylinder and then roll it up in the wrap. Repeat with the remaining 3 segments of rice.
- Spread a sheet of beef out on a cutting board. Unwrap and place an onigiri on the edge of the meat closest to you.
- Roll the rice in the beef, and then fold the sides around it to seal it shut.
- Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add the vegetable oil. Place the meat wrapped onigiri around the pan and let them brown on one side.
- As the onigiri brown, roll them a little to one side to brown a new section. Repeat until the roll is browned on all sides.
- Finish cooking the rolls by turning them on their ends with tongs to cook the sides.
- Once the onigiri are browned on all sides, use a paper towel to soak up all of the excess oil. Add the teriyaki sauce and roll the rice balls continuously until the sauce has thickened into a thick glaze and there's almost none remaining in the pan.
- Serve the Nikumaki Onigiri hot, or pack them into a bento box and let them cool completely before closing the lid.