Japan recipes

Gyu Shigure Onigiri – rice balls stuffed with sweet soy beef

The very first thing I buy when we arrive in Japan is onigiri. And I eat at least one daily while there. There are many flavours available and I enjoy trying them all but beef is the one I go back to the most.

I’m happy to be able to share this sweet soy beef onigiri recipe (reproduced with permission from From the 
Source: Japan © 2016 Lonely Planet) with you.

Gyu Shigure Onigiri
Rice balls stuffed with sweet soy beef

Chef // Yosuke Miura
Location // Onigiri Asakusa Yadoroku, Tokyo

Yadoroku is the oldest onigiri shop in Tokyo. ‘Yado means “home”, and roku comes from rokudenashi, the word for “lazy bum”,’ Yosuke says. ‘My grandmother always said she had to open this shop because of the rokudenashi – my grandfather.’

When Yadoroku served its first onigiri in 1954, white rice was still a luxury. Today, onigiri are in every conbini (convenience store) across Japan. Miura distinguishes his onigiri by still treating rice as precious, even wrapping takeaway orders in kyougi (thin sheets of spruce) instead of plastic.

At Yadoroku, onigiri are served warm, compressed just enough for each grain of rice to melt away with each bite, and the nori (seaweed) they are customarily wrapped in, still crisp. Yosuke offers more than 20 kinds of fillings at a time, with a few daily specials. On the menu might be onigiri filled with umeboshi (pickled plum), salted salmon, shirasu (baby anchovies), ginger in miso paste, yamagobo (mountain burdock), or a selection of lightly pickled vegetables.

In Tokyo today, onigiri are most commonly shaped into triangles, representing harmony with nature in the Shinto tradition. In other parts of Japan, they may be ovals, gumdrops, or spheres. Lucky children find Hello-Kitty-shaped onigiri in their lunchboxes.

To get the rice right, Yosuke generally uses Koshihikari rice, a fragrant short-grain variety from the Niigata Prefecture. ‘If the qualities of the harvest change, I use other varieties to make sure I achieve just the right stickiness and flavour,’ Yosuke says. For his fillings, he picks up ideas wandering around Tsukiji Market and on his travels.

He is also inspired by recipes on the internet: ‘Even with tradition you have to keep things fresh.’

Gyu Shigure Onigiri
Rice balls stuffed with sweet soy beef

Serves: 1-2 (makes 4 rice balls)
Preparation time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1½ hours

2–4 sheets nori (depending on size)
4 takuan (pickled daikon) slices
salt, for sprinkling

For the beef

200g beef, very thinly sliced, ask your butcher to slice sirloin for you
1 tbsp water
3 tbsp sake
2 tbsp mirin
3 tbsp dark soy sauce
3mm slice ginger
pinch of dried ground sansho (Japanese pepper)
1 tbsp sugar

For the rice

150g short-grain rice
180ml water


Try to have both rice and filling hot and ready to serve at the same time. For a vegetarian version, the beef can easily be substituted for vegetables such as shiitake mushrooms or root vegetables.


1. First, sauté the beef in a pan over medium-low heat until the meat starts to colour. (There is no need to use cooking oil if your beef is sufficiently fatty.) Add the water, and then the sake, mirin, soy sauce, and gently simmer for a few minutes. As the liquid begins to cook off, add the ginger, sansho and sugar, then partially cover with a lid. Simmer, keeping an eye on the heat and being careful not to let it scorch, for another few minutes, or until most of the liquid has evaporated.

2. Rinse the rice under cold running water until it runs clear. (Miura prefers to leave some bran, so he only washes a few times.) Leave the rice to drain for 30 minutes in a strainer.

3. Combine the rice and water in a large saucepan, cover with a lid with a heavy weight on top and leave for 1 hour. Then set over high heat. When it comes to the boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for a further 18 minutes, until the steam subsides and the rice is just tender.

4. Turn off the flame, then leave the rice to rest with the lid still on for 15 minutes. Loosen the rice with a paddle when you are ready to shape it.

5. To shape the onigiri: While the rice is still warm – but not hot or cold, otherwise it won’t stick together properly – lightly moisten very clean hands with water, then sprinkle a little salt on one palm. Pat your hands together to distribute the salt and dust off any excess. Take a handful of rice (about 70g/2½ oz) in one hand and, using the other hand to apply very light pressure, shape it into a flat circle and make an indentation in the centre.

6. Put a scant teaspoon of the filling into the hole then gently mould and press the rice over the filling to seal. Continue to turn and press the rice to form a triangle.

7. Cut a strip of nori at least twice as long and a little wider than the base of the rice triangle. Wrap a nori strip around each rice ball, leaving one end of the nori a few inches unstuck at the back. Serve immediately with the takuan.

Yosuke still uses his grandmother’s original wooden mould to shape his onigiri. The edges are now so worn, he jokes, customers get a better deal with larger portions every day. Shaping rice in a mould without overdoing it is a test of mastery. For beginners, start with your hands and a flat surface.

from-the-source-japan-1This is an extract from From the Source: Japan, written by Tienlon Ho, Rebecca Milner & Ippo Nakahara; photographed by Junichi Miyazaki © Lonely Planet 2016.  In stores now, RRP: $34.99, www.lonelyplanet.com

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