Kitchn Love Letters

My Onigiri Molds Are One of the Few Kitchen Gadgets I’ll Make Room For

published Apr 7, 2021
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Onigiri molds on countertop.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Onigiri or omusubi are seasoned or stuffed rice balls that are popular in Japan. Preserved with salt and perfectly portable, they are an ideal on-the-go lunch or snack. 

I have certainly packed them up for lunch boxes and day trips, but I have never leaned on them as hard as I have than during this past year. With two kids at home 24/7, having easy ways for them to make their own snacks has been super important — which is where the onigiri mold comes in.

Traditionally, onigiri are formed using your hands, but an onigiri mold makes quick and easy work of shaping hot rice. When I was a kid, we had a few shapes and sizes of these molds knocking around our kitchen utensil drawer. Now that I’m the parent, I’ve also deemed the onigiri mold as essential in my own kitchen. (In fact, I’m pretty positive I “borrowed” one of the molds when I first moved out of my parents’ house and just never gave it back.)

Growing up with a Hawaii-born, Japanese father, we called these rice balls musubi. Chances are you’re familiar with Spam musubi. Popularized by ex-islanders and vacationers alike, Spam musubi has made its way to the mainland. But musubi made its first trans-Pacific journey from Japan to Hawaii in the late 1800s, when immigrants moved to their new island home to work the sugarcane plantations. While many may think musubi must contain the porky, canned meat, there’s actually no such limitation. Japanese onigiri and Hawaiian musubi are essentially interchangeable terms, and can contain anything like umeboshi (a pickled plum), furikake (a nori seasoning mix), or Spam. 

Between having a few onigiri molds and a rice cooker, putting them together has never been easier. I set my rice cooker up earlier in the day with sticky, Japanese short-grain rice. The rice cooker I have can hold cooked rice for up to six hours — hot and ready to be stuffed into an onigiri mold by whatever hungry family member wanders into the kitchen. 

As for the fillings, for us, it’s a game of figuring out what random bits and bobs in the fridge will work. We don’t play by any rules, and I love that my kids can adapt this traditional food to whatever we’ve got knocking around in our modern, mixed-up kitchen. Leftover salmon or canned tuna mixed with mayo and a dash of soy sauce, chopped hard-boiled egg (excellent with a spoonful of any leftover curry sauce), shelled edamame and furikake, or leftover karaage chicken (which is my son’s favorite). I personally love traditional umeboshi, but am also particularly partial to avocado and kimchi. How much filling you need depends on the size of your molds, but it’s likely not more than a tablespoon or so for each musubi.

Lastly, I like to wrap my musubi with nori. While it’s not necessary (especially if you’ve seasoned it with furikake), it does help hold your sticky rice together and provides a nice texture. If you’re making your musubi ahead of time, I recommend wrapping it with nori right before eating so it doesn’t get soggy. You can use the little strips of seasoned seaweed that have become a popular snack, but cutting strips from an 8×8 inch square of roasted nori is more traditional. You don’t need to cover the entire thing; I usually cut one-third of a sheet to use for each musubi; kitchen shears are ideal for this task.

And if you’re interested in a quick primer on how to use an onigiri mold, see below!

Credit: Sarah Crowley

How Use an Onigiri Mold

Dish out fresh, sticky white rice from your rice cooker into a bowl and sprinkle with a fat pinch of salt or a couple of shakes of furikake. Mix to combine and cool the rice slightly. Rinse the onigiri mold with water (this helps prevent the rice from sticking). Fill the mold halfway with the seasoned rice, and make a small indentation for your fillings. Add a spoonful of your filling of choice, then fill the rest of the mold with more rice. Cover with the lid and push down firmly. Remove the lid, flip the mold over, and push the “button” on the bottom to release your onigiri. Add a strip of roasted nori and eat.

Do you have an onigiri mold you love? Tell us about it in the comments!