Tuna Mayo Onigiri (ツナマヨおにぎり)
Tuna Mayo Onigiri is a modern take on traditional Japanese rice balls stuffed with canned tuna seasoned with Japanese-style mayonnaise and soy sauce. The combo was first popularized by the Japanese convenience store chain 7-Eleven in the early 1980s. Over the past 40 years it has grown to become the most popular flavor of onigiri in Japan, surpassing more classic flavors like umeboshi (pickled plum) and tarako (cod roe).
Why This Recipe Works?
- Because the filling needs to season the rice around it, the filling should be well seasoned and on the salty side. The mixture of Japanese-style mayonnaise and soy sauce is what gives tuna mayo it’s trademark flavor.
- Onigiri should stick together, but they are meant to be light and fluffy, so it’s essential not to over squeeze them, or they will turn into a dense, heavy ball of mochi.
- Wrapping the Onigiri in herbs or nori helps mask any fishiness from the tuna.
Ingredients for Tuna Mayo Onigiri
- Rice – to make good onigiri, you need to use good rice. I recommend using a Japanese variety of short-grain rice. That’s because short-grain rice has a higher ratio of amylopectin to amylose relative to medium-grain and long-grain rice. This is important because amylopectin has a branched structure that makes it sticky, helping the onigiri hold its shape. You should be aware that many brands of “Japanese rice” actually use Calrose, which is a medium-grain rice.
- Tuna – Any canned tuna will work, but I like using chunk tuna (a misnomer because it’s more like mashed tuna) in oil. Be aware that canned tuna comes in a variety of sizes. I’ve calibrated this recipe to work with a small US-size can (85 grams) of tuna.
- Mayonnaise – The key to giving this rice ball filling that Japanese taste is using Japanese mayonnaise. I used Kewpie brand. Compared to American mayo, it’s more tart and savory, and it has an eggier taste as well.
- Soy Sauce – The other seasoning for the filling is soy sauce. This not only increases the amount of umami in the tuna mayo mixture, but it also makes it saltier, so the rice is adequately seasoned.
- Wrapper – To smooth over any fishy notes in the tuna, I like to wrap my Tuna Mayo Onigiri with either wild sesame or green shiso leaves (both are varietals of perilla). If you can’t find these, or you want to do a more traditional onigiri, you can use two nori sheets that have been cut into 3 strips each.
How to Make Tuna Mayo Onigiri
Wash and cook the rice either in the rice cooker or on the stove. If you are using new crop rice, reduce the amount of water slightly. See my sushi rice recipe for the proper way to wash and cook rice on the stovetop, but use the water proportion from this recipe.
While you wait for the rice, you can prepare the tuna mayo filling by opening and draining the can of tuna and adding it to a bowl with the mayonnaise and soy sauce. Stir this together well until there are no big chunks of tuna remaining.
You’ll also want to prepare a bowl of water to wet your hands with, and a bowl of salt to season the outside of the onigiri.
After your rice is done cooking and steaming, use a spatula or rice paddle to fluff the rice using a folding and cutting motion. Use a light touch, and be careful not to smash or break the individual grains of rice.
The rice is going to be too hot to shape into a rice ball, so transfer it to a bowl and cover it with a damp towel until it’s still hot, but not so hot that you will burn yourself. This is important because the rice becomes more sticky and harder to shape as it cools, and you want to be able to shape it without squeezing and compacting it too much.
Once the rice has cooled enough to handle, wet both hands by dunking them in the bowl of water you prepared. Dip your index finger in the bowl of salt. Don’t be shy here, as some of this is going to make its way onto the outside of your onigiri to season it. Rub the salt between your hands to distribute it evenly.
Cup one hand and scoop one-sixth of the rice into it. Poke a hole into the center of the mound of rice and scoop about two teaspoons of tuna mayo filling into the hole.
Cover the filling up with the rice around the edges, and then fold your fingers over, so your hand forms a u-shape. Use two fingers from your other hand to create an upside-down v-shape and press it into the rice cupped hand.
Rotate the triangle onto another side and repeat the cupping and shaping to form an equilateral triangle (3 equal sides). Repeat until you’re happy with the shape, but be careful not to compress the rice too much, or your rice ball will be very dense and heavy.
Wrap your Tuna Mayo Onigiri with a wild sesame leaf and repeat the process with the rest of the rice.
Other Onigiri Recipes
- Umeboshi Onigiri (pickled plum)
- Nozawana Onigiri (pickled mustard greens)
Tuna Mayo (ツナマヨ) is a combination of canned tuna mixed with Japanese-style mayonnaise (usually Kewpie brand), and it’s often seasoned with soy sauce. It’s a popular condiment used as a filling for onigiri, sandwiches, and bread rolls; and a topping for salads and pizza.
Tuna Mayo is pronounced Tsu-na-ma-yo in Japanese, and each syllable is pronounced as follows:
tsu is two sounds combined into one. If you say the words “eat soup” quickly, the “t sou” makes the Japanese tsu sound.
na like nonsense
ma like mom
yo like yoyo
Sushi is made with vinegared rice. Tuna Mayo Onigiri is made with plain rice, so it is not a type of sushi however this can also be made with sushi fillings like spicy tuna.
No, the combination was initially introduced as a filling for onigiri in 1983 by 7-Eleven. It is now supposedly the most popular filling for onigiri in Japan.
Just make the tuna mayo according to this recipe, and add your favorite hot sauce or chili paste to taste. I usually add about a teaspoon of sriracha to once batch of this, but you can add more or less depending on how spicy you want it.
Japanese short-grain rice 2 rice cooker cups
chunk tuna in oil 1 small US can
Japanese mayonnaise such as Kewpie
wild sesame leaves green shiso or nori will work too
Wash and cook the rice according to the directions in my sushi rice recipe (but use the proportion of rice and water in this recipe).
While the rice cooks, open the can of tuna and drain out any excess liquid. Add the tuna to a bowl along with the mayonnaise and soy sauce. Mix well to form a uniform paste.
Prepare a bowl of water and a small bowl of salt.
When the rice is cooked, stir it to fluff and then transfer it to a bowl to cool slightly and cover it with a damp towel to keep it from drying out.
When the rice is cool enough to handle but still on the hot side, wet your hands in the water bowl. Dab your index finger in the bowl of salt and rub the salt around your hands.
Working quickly, scoop 1/6 of the rice into your non-dominant hand and make a little well in the center of the rice.
Add about 2 teaspoons of tuna mayo filling into the well and cover the tuna with the surrounding rice.
Cup the hand holding the rice like a taco and then use 2-3 fingers of your opposite hand to shape the rice into a triangle.
Toss the rice ball onto another side and then repeat the cupping and shaping step. Repeat until the onigiri is the desired shape.
Wrap the Tuna Mayo Onigiri with a wild sesame leaf, and repeat steps 5-10 until you run out of rice.