Cook the Book: Bonito Flakes-Black Sesame Yaki Onigiri

Cook the Book: Bonito Flakes-Black Sesame Yaki Onigiri

[Photographs: Todd Coleman]

Some folks like to refer to onigiri as the Japanese equivalent of the sandwich, and it's easy to see why. These fist-sized rice balls are quick, portable snacks that can be filled with anything from pickles to salted salmon, wrapped in nori, and eaten on the go. These rice balls are eaten cold or at room temperature or crisped on the grill.

These Bonito Flakes-Black Sesame Yaki Onigiri from The Japanese Grill by Harris Salat and Tadashi Ono were my first encounter with yaki onigiri, and I have to say, they were a smash hit.

The onigiri begins with warm rice gently mixed with finely chopped bonito flakes and toasted black sesame seeds. The bonito melts into the rice, flavoring it with a very appealing fishy saltiness. Forming the onigiri is something that takes a bit of practice, but after the first few misshapen blobs you'll get the hang of it. Once your onigiri are formed they're placed on the grill, brushed with soy sauce and left to crisp up.

These grilled rice balls were wonderful on their own, salty, crunchy, and a little bit nutty, but they were even better split in half and used as buns for Salat and Ono's Japanese Hamburgers. Stay tuned for tomorrow's recipe!

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Japanese Grill to give away this week.

Reprinted with permission from The Japanese Grill by Harris Salat and Tadashi Ono. Copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.

  • Yield:4
  • Active time: 15 minutes
  • Total time:15 minutes


  • 4 cups cooked rice
  • 1 packed cup katsuobushi, dried shaved bonito flakes (a type of tuna), chopped fine
  • 5 teaspoons roasted black sesame seed
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce 


  1. 1.

    Gently mix together the rice, bonito, and sesame seed in a bowl. Form into onigiri (see How to Make Yaki Onigiri, below).

  2. 2.

    How to Make Yaki Onigiri: Use 1 cup of hot (or warm) cooked Japanese short grain rice per serving. Add the rice to a small bowl (like a cereal bowl) just big enough to hold it. Jiggle the bowl, moving it in a flat, circular motion, like the motion of a hula hoop, until the rice forms into a ball on its own—a neat kitchen trick Tadashi’s mom taught him. This motion packs the rice so it holds together when it grills.

  3. 3.

    Wet your hands and place the ball of rice between your cupped palms. Now squeeze, flip, and turn the rice ball several times to form it into a triangular shape. This motion takes a little practice, but after a few yaki onigiri, you’ll get the hang of it. Make sure not to compact the rice too tight; you want it to just stick together.

  4. 4.

    Preheat a grill to medium. Grill the onigiri for about 6 minutes, flipping once. Brush the onigiri with the soy sauce. Grill for about 2 minutes more, flipping every 30 seconds, and brushing on more soy sauce after each turn. Grill the edges of the onigiri triangle, too, about 20 seconds per edge. The onigiri will have a crispy, caramelized crust when they’re done. Serve immediately.