How to Make Onigirazu - A Step by Step Pictorial

Willamette Valley rose with onigirazu (nori, brown rice, canned sardines, grilled zucchini and peppers, lettuce, shiso, and shoyu-balsamic vinaigrette). There are no rules.

Willamette Valley rose with onigirazu (nori, brown rice, canned sardines, grilled zucchini and peppers, lettuce, shiso, and shoyu-balsamic vinaigrette). There are no rules.

Onigirazu is a fairly new food preparation which has been getting more popular in Japan over the last few years. Apparently, the idea first appeared in a comic book series 30 years ago, but it seems to be a newer trend among home cooks. I learned about it recently through an online article on the website of the Japanese supermarket Uwajimaya. The Japanese word onigirazu (おにぎらず) means ‘to not grip, or unsqueezed,’ referring to its main difference from the traditional rice ball called onigiri (おにぎり). Onigiri is a popular snack food where a flavorful ingredient (such as umeboshi, salted salmon, spicy cod roe, shiso, pickles, etc.) is placed into the center of the rice ball before squeezing into a triangle with wetted and salted hands. Wrapping nori around the onigiri is optional. Another similar preparation is makizushi (巻き寿司), which is rolled sushi made with seasoned sushi rice. To me, makizushi requires the most technical skill to build, along with the added step of having to make seasoned rice.

I was excited to discover the onigirazu concept because the format encourages improvisation. You can think of it as a sandwich but with the satisfying flavor and texture of rice. Because the nori contains everything like a burrito, the onigirazu can be stuffed with ingredients that might fall out of a sandwich, and the higher filling-to-rice ratio differentiates it from onigiri and makizushi. As I learn to make better onigirazu, it’s clear that there are still techniques waiting to be discovered for improving upon this basic method. In terms of ingredients, anything goes. Here, I had some leftover grilled vegetables and sausage to which I added some fresh cucumber, tomato, and herbs from the garden. It’s good to think about how sandwiches are made - adding condiments to the bread is typical - in order to make sure the rice is seasoned properly. Whereas bread has salt in it, rice does not and therefore needs seasoning. The onigiri has its exterior salted, but it makes more sense to season the inside of the onigirazu. Finally, every online recipe instructs us to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap for a couple of minutes so that the nori can adhere better. This works, but I’m skeptical that it is the single best method. More experimentation is needed to find alternative ways.

Making Onigirazu

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The filling is prepped while the rice is cooking. Grilled vegetables (corn, sweet onion, zucchini, yellow pepper) and sausage, cucumber, and cherry tomato. I find it easier to eat if the ingredients are cut into smaller pieces.

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One sheet of nori is placed on a piece of plastic wrap. The nori’s shiny side is facing down.

Hot rice is placed in a square shape. It helps to press down so that the shape is maintained for later steps.

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It’s important to season the rice with salt (or furikake) and…

…sauce made with homemade mayonnaise, homemade miso, and shichimi. Anything can be used, and a good source of inspiration might be to ask yourself, “what do I like on sandwiches, burgers, hotdogs, tacos, onigiri, makizushi, or anything else resembling such foods?”

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Begin stacking with the flatter filling items. I like to think about contrasting sweet, salty, rich, and acid. Grilled corn (sweet) and tomatoes (sweet, acid).

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The richer ingredients of sausage and zucchini are added.

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Finally, freshness is provided by the shredded shiso and other herbs and greens.,

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Carefully mound more hot rice on top.

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Bring in the opposing corners of nori and press lightly, holding for a moment for the nori to adhere to the rice.

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Repeat with the other two opposing corners of nori. It takes some practice to fold it neatly like a wrapped present.

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Tightly envelop with the plastic wrap, and then press down firmly. Let this sit for about one minute. This is the step that could use some rethinking.

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Unwrap and use a sharp knife to cut into triangles because science has proven that triangles actually taste better than rectangles. Here, I poured my own Centennial IPA (using homegrown hops from 2017) in my Heater Allen glass. Located in McMinnville, Oregon, Heater Allen makes some of the very best lagers in the country.

Making Fermented Corn Relish

Fermented corn relish

Fermented corn relish

Grilled corn on the cob is one of my favorite summertime treats, but this fermented corn relish is equally delicious. Like many fermentation-related projects, I learned about this technique from Sandor Katz's definitive fermentation guide The Art of Fermentation. On page 215, Katz describes the traditional Native American method of fermenting corn on or off the cob in a brine. April McGregor, a Cherokee folklorist quoted in the book, recommends using a 5% brine (about 3 tablespoons salt to 1 liter water). For the last few years I have roughly followed Katz’s recipe from a 2012 New York Times article. Just like my sauerkraut, kimchi, and dill pickle method, I prefer to use percentages with weighed ingredients for precision, consistency, and control in adjusting to my personal preference. But this would be easy to make without measuring anything and simply adding salt to taste, and there is a lot of room for variation with herbs, fruits, other seasoning as well as the salt, heat, and acidity level. Of course, the highest quality ingredients will provide the best results. Here is the basic recipe from my first batch of 2017 using only things from my garden and the farmers market.


Fermented Corn Relish
5 ears corn (680g)
1 peach (170g)
1 red onion (120g)
2 jalapeno peppers, seeds included
2 serrano peppers, seeds removed
15g sea salt (1 tablespoon)

1. Cut kernels off corn cob. It’s easiest to invert a small bowl inside of a large bowl as a stand for the corn cob. Use a sharp knife to cut kernels, then scrape the pulp with a spoon or back of the knife. Chop peach and onion. Mix with salt and let sit at least 1 hour, then squeeze to release juices. I used 1.5% salt of the total weight of 970g.


2. Mince peppers and add to corn mixture. It’s important to taste chiles due to their variation in heat level. This time I decided to keep the jalapeno seeds and remove the serrano seeds. You can also just use sweet peppers.


3. Stuff into a jar and press down to submerge in juices. This batch didn’t all fit into a 1 liter mason jar so I used a second 1 cup jar. The airlock is not required. I fermented for 2 days at 75 - 80 degrees F room temperature, resulting in a good balance of salt, heat, acid, and fermented flavor. Colder temperature might need more time for fermentation so always taste to check progress. It will keep in the refrigerator for weeks and months, though I always eat it up before that.


Chiles two ways - fermented hot sauce & homemade chili powder

2016 fermented hot sauce - 2 cups

2016 fermented hot sauce - 2 cups

I am a big fan of chiles. There are so many varieties and culinary applications, and they add excitement to almost everything. A few years ago I had a habanero plant that produced an unbelievable amount of peppers, which motivated me to learn how to make my own hot sauce. The two styles I experimented with were the vinegar-based and lacto-fermented versions. It's easy to find out your own preferences – look on the label of your favorite hot sauces. Does it contain vinegar, sugar, spices, etc.? My current default hot sauce recipe couldn't be simpler, and any pepper or combination works well. Because we are relying on natural lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) for fermentation, fresh and organic chiles will produce the best results.

2016 Fermented Hot Sauce
habanero chiles
cherry bomb chiles
5% cold brine solution (for example, 1000g water & 50g sea salt)
optional - 1 tablespoon brine from sauerkraut or other lacto ferment

1. Remove stem and seeds from chiles, split in half.
2. Stuff into 1 liter canning jar.
3. Pour brine to cover, close lid tightly.
4. Ferment at room temperature 2 – 4 weeks, release pressure every day or so.
5. Drain and reserve brine, puree chiles while adding desired amount of brine.
6. Label and refrigerate.

warning: there are chile fumes during processing

warning: there are chile fumes during processing

stuff into the jar

stuff into the jar

beautiful color, but the brine will turn cloudy in a few days

beautiful color, but the brine will turn cloudy in a few days

Here are some tips. Use gloves! You might want to use goggles and a mask. An even better idea is to process the chiles outside. Be careful! I always use filtered water to take out the chlorine, which will help with the fermentation. When the brine turns cloudy, the carbon dioxide (CO2) pressure will build more quickly, so loosen and tighten the lid daily. You can also find various lids and airlock systems to let CO2 out and not introduce oxygen. The fermentation time depends on many factors, but I look for firm sourness of the brine to determine when it’s done. The consistency is controlled by how much brine you use when blending. You can also add other flavorings during this final step.

This sauce is very hot and absolutely delicious. I use it as is, or often mixed 50-50 with Shark brand sriracha, which provides some sweetness and depth. It's also fun to mix with ketchup or mayonnaise, especially if they are also homemade. The sauce will easily last a year or two in the fridge as long as you keep it clean. Read The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz for information and inspiration while you wait for the fermentation to complete.

dried whole chiles - dry your own or purchase from a quality store

dried whole chiles - dry your own or purchase from a quality store

Homemade Chili Powder
The arrival of winter brings with it the comforting and warming foods like soup, stew, nabe, and various baked things. I really enjoy making my first chili of the season, and learning how to make my own custom chili powder resulted in an unmistakable flavor boost. It's easy and fun to make, but the biggest advantage of home made chili powder is the choice you have regarding what goes into it. And the fresh flavor is unparalleled. For this batch I used cayenne, ancho, casabel, and guajillo chiles, which I got from Penzey's.

The method is simple. Remove the stem and seeds from the chiles and break up into smaller pieces. Toast in a pan (cast iron is best) over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until fragrant and starting to show wisps of smoke. Allow to cool and grind. I use a clean coffee grinder for bigger batches, but the mortar and pestle works for smaller amounts. At this point you can add herbs and spices to your liking and store in an airtight container. I keep this chili powder simple and add other flavorings during cooking. Remember, chili without cumin is just tomato stew! Toast whole cumin and grind fresh for the best result.

cast iron dutch oven works great for toasting

cast iron dutch oven works great for toasting

I used a coffee grinder for this batch

I used a coffee grinder for this batch

Making fermented dill pickles at home

Delicious home-fermented dill pickles

Delicious home-fermented dill pickles

As soon as I see pickling cucumbers at the farmers market, I happily make fermented dill pickles. These are delicious and so simple to make. Like anything homemade, you can adjust the ingredients and process to suit your taste. The two major variables are saltiness (based on brine strength) and sourness (depends on fermentation temperature and length). I fermented this batch for six days at a room temperature of 70 - 75° F and it is slightly tart. The salt level is medium-high to my palate so I might try a 4.5% brine next time. I left the seeds in the Serrano so there is a slight spiciness which is nice. The carrot is in there to supply calcium, which helps the pickle maintain a crisp texture. I use unrefined sea salt (contains calcium and magnesium) for the same reason. You can add any ingredient to flavor the brine, and tasting regularly will help you decide when it's done. Simply refrigerate the whole thing when the pickles taste good, and they will keep well for months and months.

Beautifully vibrant colors of fresh ingredients

Beautifully vibrant colors of fresh ingredients

Fermented dill pickles
550 grams pickling cucumbers
5% brine (1 Liter water, 50 grams sea salt)
fresh dill flowers
2 garlic cloves, whole
1 teaspoon whole peppercorn
1 Serrano pepper, sliced
1 carrot, sliced

Pack ingredients into 1.9 L Mason jar and then pour in brine until it covers everything. I could have probably fit another 150 grams of cucumbers into this jar (700 g total). Cover with a lid and ferment at room temperature, making sure to release any building pressure by loosening the lid. When the brine turns cloudy, the fermentation is fully active. You can start tasting it daily to check its progress. Place the whole jar into the fridge when you are happy with the level of sourness.

How to make kimchi the way you like it

This could be a controversial statement, but I think kimchi is just another variation of sauerkraut. If you go back and read my post on sauerkraut, the basic technique is to cut cabbage, add salt, pack into a jar, and ferment at room temperature. We can add other greens, fruit, herbs, and spices to add variation as long as the technique and salt level remain intact. My kimchi method is the same as my sauerkraut method except that it has a few additional ingredients. Realizing this commonality was enlightening because it freed me from needing to follow recipes. Through experimentation and diligent note taking, I have dialed in a basic recipe that works for my palate, but I would encourage everyone to make kimchi the way you like it. Heck, you can even skip the red pepper if you are not a fan of spicy hot food since this was the traditional way kimchi was made until chile peppers were introduced to Korea around the 17th century.

One book I would highly recommend is The Kimchi Cookbook by Lauryn Chun. According to her, "there are more than 160 foundational recipes for kimchi, and every Korean family has its own version of the basic recipe based on their regional style." Not only does this book cover a wide variety of recipes categorized by season, there are also some very exciting ideas about cooking with your kimchi such as kimchi slaw, kimchi risotto, grilled kimchi cheese sandwich, red curry mussels with kimchi, and kimchi grapefruit Margarita. My favorite recipe from this book is the scalloped potatoes with kimchi where thinly sliced potatoes are layered with cream, cheese, and kimchi and baked. To call this flavor combination brilliant is no overstatement as I have made this fantastic dish many times.

There is no particular reason for the weights of cabbage and daikon in the recipe below - I just cut it up and weighed it so that I knew how much salt to add. It turned out that this batch was about 1 cup too big to fit in the jar, but the little jar fermented just as well as the big one. I add the salt to the cabbage and daikon, let sit for a couple of hours for the liquid to release, then add everything else before stuffing into the jar. I ferment for two days at room temperature, which is just before I detect sourness. The kimchi is stored in the refrigerator where it will slowly develop acidity over weeks and months. In addition to salt level and flavorings, the sourness is another variable that can be adjusted to suit your preference. Just taste a sample daily. 

I have tried a lot of different vegetables including carrots, turnips, beets, gobo, radishes, tops of daikon/turnip/radish, kale, mizuna, watercress, green/red/savoy cabbage, shiso, cucumber, eggplant, and more. They all work well as long as the salt level is consistent and the vegetables are fresh (organic is better) so that the naturally occurring bacteria has vitality. My salt percentage is a little lower here because the anchovy sauce and salted shrimp are included. If omitting fish products, umami could be added by using shiitake, konbu, wakame, shoyu, miso, or shiokoji. 

1. add salt, mix, and let sit for a couple of hours to release liquid or speed up the process by manually massaging the salt in

1. add salt, mix, and let sit for a couple of hours to release liquid
or speed up the process by manually massaging the salt in

1120g napa cabbage, 1 - 2 inch pieces
670g daikon, 1/4 inch slice
35g sea salt (2% of the weight of cabbage & daikon)
1 bunch green onion, thin slice on angle
3 inch piece of ginger, grated
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 TB Korean anchovy sauce (can substitute fish sauce)
1 TB salted fermented shrimp
1 tsp sugar
1 cup Korean red pepper (coarse powder)

2. after the first step, add all other ingredients and mix well

2. after the first step, add all other ingredients and mix well

3. finally, a sunny day...

3. finally, a sunny day...

4. all mixed and ready to pack into a jar a wide canning jar funnel makes this step a bit quicker and less messy

4. all mixed and ready to pack into a jar
a wide canning jar funnel makes this step a bit quicker and less messy

6. ferment 2 days at room temperature airlock is not at all necessary I just like to see the bubbling of active fermentation

6. ferment 2 days at room temperature
airlock is not at all necessary
I just like to see the bubbling of active fermentation

5. it didn't all fit into one jar but no big deal the little jar kimchi tasted just as good

5. it didn't all fit into one jar but no big deal
the little jar kimchi tasted just as good