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Yaki Onigiri

Yaki Onigiri are a favorite Japanese snack. These Japanese grilled rice balls are brushed with a swipe of sweet-savory sauce and grilled or pan seared. The sticky rice forms a crispy outer crust that is perfectly golden brown.

Low angle shot of a pair of yaki onigiri on a plate.

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Onigiri are popular Japanese snacks or quick meals to eat on the go. To make regular Onigiri, Rice Balls, sticky sushi rice is pressed into a mold (or you can shape it with your hands) around a savory filling.

Yaki Onigiri grilled rice balls are the same molded sushi rice balls, but you pan fry or grill them to give them a golden brown crispy crust. Just like regular onigiri, Yaki Onigiri can hold a wide variety of savory fillings.

Yaki Onigiri can have the same savory Japanese rice ball fillings as regular onigiri, but often are made of just plain rice cooked in a rice cooker and turned into a grilled rice ball. If you want to fill them, choose from anything from grilled fish to fried chicken or pickled vegetables.

I have a whole post on how to make regular Onigiri, including an extensive list of potential fillings and detailed instructions for cooking the rice and molding the rice balls. You’ll find information there for how to choose the right Japanese short grain rice and how to make the perfect cooked rice.

Low angle shot of a pair of yaki onigiri on a plate.

How to make onigiri even better!

This post provides information on how to turn your regular Onigiri into Yaki Onigiri!

Yaki Onigiri is usually grilled over a charcoal fire. This cooking method imbues the rice balls with a hint of smoky flavor, which is undeniably delicious.

But when I’m making Yaki Onigiri for a quick snack or lunch, I don’t always want to build a charcoal fire. In those cases, I use a cast iron skillet over a very hot flame. This method provides a beautifully crisp and golden brown crust.

Whether you choose grilled rice balls or pan seared rice balls cooked in a frying pan, a sweet soy sauce, yakisoba sauce, or Unagi Sauce gives them flavor and caramelizes the outer crust a bit, making it irresistible.

Ingredients you need

If you’ve already made Onigiri, all you need to add is:

Optional garnishes like toasted sesame seeds or thinly sliced scallions.

How to make Yaki Onigiri

Whether you’re starting with homemade or store-bought Onigiri, it’s easy to make Yaki Onigiri! Here’s how:

  1. Start by heating a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan begins to warm up, add enough oil to coat the bottom.
  2. Add the onigiri and cook until the bottom is crisp and golden brown and releases easily from the skillet.
  3. Using a thin spatula, lift the onigiri and then flip it over. Cook until the second side is browned and crisp.
  4. Brush the top with the sauce and flip over. Brush the other side with sauce and flip to cook for a few seconds on the second side. This step caramelizes the sauce.
  5. Remove from the skillet and serve immediately.

Storage Tips

Yaki Onigiri are best eaten just after cooking. You can let the onigiri stand for several hours at room temperature before searing them. You can also refrigerate the onigiri before searing them. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring them to room temperature before searing.

You can also freeze the onigiri rice balls by wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap. Freeze them for up to 3 months. To reheat them, wrap the onigiri in a damp towel and microwave for 30 seconds.

Low angle, close up shot of two yaki onigiri on a plate, garnished with chives.

How to Serve yaki onigiri

I usually serve Yaki Onigiri as a snack or light lunch. You can add Soy Sauce Eggs, Japanese Cucumber Salad, Cucumber Kimchi, or Spicy Cucumber Salad on the side if you like.

You can also serve the Yaki Onigiri as part of a larger Japanese meal, with Miso Glazed Salmon, Chicken Karaage, Beef Yakisoba, Shrimp Yakisoba, or Spicy Miso Soup.

Yield: Makes 6

Yaki Onigiri

Low angle, close up shot of two yaki onigiri on a plate, garnished with chives.

Yaki Onigiri are regular Onigiri that have been grilled or fried to crispy, golden brown perfection!

Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons neutral flavored cooking oil
  • 6 onigiri (Japanese rice balls), filled or unfilled, at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sweet soy sauce, yakisoba sauce, or unagi sauce
  • Chopped chives or toasted sesame seeds, optional, for garnish

Instructions

  1. First heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan begins to warm up, add enough oil to coat the bottom
  2. Add the onigiri and cook until the bottom is crisp and golden brown and releases easily from the skillet.
  3. Using a thin spatula, lift the onigiri and then flip it over. Cook until the second side is browned and crisp.
  4. Brush the top with the sauce and flip over. Brush the other side with sauce and flip to cook for a few seconds on the second side. This step caramelizes the sauce.
  5. Remove from the skillet and serve immediately, garnished with chives or sesame seeds if desired.

Notes

Yaki Onigiri are best eaten just after cooking. You can let the onigiri stand for several hours at room temperature before searing them. You can also refrigerate the onigiri before searing them. Wrap them tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Bring them to  room temperature before searing.

You can also freeze the onigiri rice balls by wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap. Freeze them for up to 3 months. To reheat them, wrap the onigiri in a damp towel and microwave for 30 seconds.

Nutrition Information

Yield

6

Serving Size

1

Amount Per Serving Calories 367Total Fat 14gSaturated Fat 2gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 11gCholesterol 24mgSodium 806mgCarbohydrates 47gFiber 2gSugar 10gProtein 13g

Nutrient values are estimates only. Variations may occur due to product availability and manner of food preparation. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin, freshness of ingredients, and other factors.

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By on September 21st, 2022

ABOUT ROBIN DONOVAN

Hi, I’m Robin! I am a full-time food blogger, recipe developer, and cookbook author. I spend my days cooking, writing about, and photographing food.

I’m the author of more than 50 cookbooks, including Ramen for Beginners5 Ingredient Cooking for TwoSushi at HomeThe Baking Cookbook for Teens, and the bestselling Campfire Cuisine.

My food writing has also been featured in major print and online pubications including Cooking Light, Fitness, San Jose Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, and others. → More about Robin

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