Mentaiko Onigiri

Today we’re making onigiri with ‘myeongnan-joet‘ which is Korean for spicy cured pollock roe. It is also called ‘mentaiko‘ in Japanese.

This fish roe has a deep, rich, umami flavor, and while it’s not ‘fishy,’ it does have a strong, let’s say… seafood essence. I grew up eating this as a side dish mixed with sesame oil and sesame seeds, and it’s so good with rice. It really is a whole meal on its own!

Pro-tip: if you’re making onigiri by hand, wet your hands and rub them with salt before shaping and filling. This will prevent the rice from sticking, and the salt will add some extra flavor to the rice. To make this process easier, you can also use a mold.

If you’re looking for more onigiri recipe ideas, check out my other posts:

Why you’ll love this recipe

The great thing about onigiri is the freedom to switch its fillings depending on the availability of your ingredients or the flavor profile you’re craving. This recipe uses the spicy, rich, and umami flavors of mentaiko married with the nutty and smokey flavors of sesame oil and sesame seeds to create a unique treat you’ll surely remember.

Since it only takes seven ingredients and 15 minutes to whip up, you won’t regret adding this to your weekly meals! 

How do I prepare Mentaiko Onigiri?

Follow the steps below to make this scrumptious treat:

Step 1: Prepare the rice

Transfer cooked rice into a bowl and set aside to cool.

Step 2: Prepare the mentaiko filling

Combine pollock roe, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Mix them together and set them aside.

Step 3: Prepare the assembling station

While the rice is cooling down, prepare the assembling station. You’ll need a bowl of cold or room temperature water, a small bowl of salt, and a few nori strips.

Step 4: Check the rice temperature

Once the rice has completely cooled, it’s time to assemble!

Step 5: Assemble the onigiri

If assembling by hand – wet both hands and dip two fingers in the bowl of salt. Then, rub the salt into the palm of your hands until they’re evenly coated. Take about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of rice and press it down flat on one hand. Add about 1 tbsp of roe in the middle, then take another 1/4 – 1/2 cup of rice and cover the roe. Press down firmly with both hands to help seal the onigiri.

(If I lost you, you can also watch the video below to see how I do it. 😊)

Step 6: Shape the onigiri

To create a triangle shape, make the palm of one hand flat and make a 90-degree angle with the other hand. Shape the rice ball using this formation while rotating. Be sure to apply pressure when shaping!

Step 7: Wrap the onigiri and serve

Wrap the onigiri with a nori sheet. Serve and enjoy!

Cooking Tips for Mentaiko Onigiri

To make the process of making mentaiko onigiri go smoother, here are a few cooking tips and tricks to keep in mind:

  • Make sure to let the rice cool down completely before assembling the mentaiko onigiri. Since hot rice is difficult to keep its shape, you’ll also be burning your fingers when molding!
  • As tempting as it is, avoid overstuffing the onigiri with the mentaiko filling because it will be difficult to cover and shape.
  • If you have trouble shaping the onigiri, you can also get an onigiri mold online to get a perfect shape every time. Just remember to layer plastic wrap inside the mold to prevent the rice from sticking to its surface.
  • If you want to make a more appetizing mentaiko onigiri to serve to friends or family, toss some sesame seeds into the rice. White sesame seeds should work great, while black sesame seeds add a nice contrast against the white color of the rice.

Ingredients & Substitutions

Cooked rice: cooked rice is the base for the onigiri. Short-grain rice or medium-grain rice is best for this recipe. It can hold the onigiri’s shape better due to its high starch content and sticky consistency. I don’t recommend using long-grain rice like basmati or jasmine as they don’t contain as much starch.

Cured pollock roe: cured pollock roe is the star of this recipe. You can find it as myeongnanjeot in Korean stores or as mentaiko in Japanese stores in the freezer aisles.

Sesame oil: sesame oil adds a smoky and nutty flavor to the onigiri. In a pinch, you can substitute it with toasted sesame seeds for a hint of flavor.

Sesame seeds: similar to sesame oil, sesame seeds provide a subtle smokey and nutty taste. If you can’t find them in the store, sesame oil should be a suitable substitute for adding its flavor. 

Salt: salt adds flavor to the mentaiko onigiri and helps prevent your fingers from sticking to the rice. Feel free to adjust the amount you use according to taste.

Water: water will help stop the rice from sticking to your fingers. 

Nori sheets: nori sheets are the final touch to assembling the mentaiko onigiri, and it doesn’t hurt that they add a deliciously salty and oceany flavor to the dish. In a pinch, you can substitute it with rice paper or lettuce, but note that they won’t have the same flavor profile.

What to serve with mentaiko onigiri

Although onigiri is often eaten as a snack, side dish, or on the go, it can still turn into a satisfying meal by eating it with these dishes:

1. Miso soup – for colder days, the umami and funky richness of miso soup should warm you right up. Paired with mentaiko onigiri, you have a filling meal that’s perfect for breakfast or lunch. 

2. Scrambled eggs – if you prefer to eat your mentaiko onigiri for breakfast, you can’t go wrong with adding scrambled eggs on the sides. You can keep it simple with fluffy eggs seasoned with salt or turn them into my Chinese Scrambled Eggs with Shrimp recipe.

3. Fruits – if you prefer to keep your meal light, fresh fruits should be the perfect companions for your mentaiko onigiri. The sweet and tart flavors of plums, berries, peaches, or grapes should go well with the spicy and savory flavors of the onigiri, or switch them with any fruit currently in season!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is cured pollock roe made of?

Cured pollock roe is the eggs of the pollock or cod fish. It’s cured with salt and spices before fermented to get its bright pink or orange hue. It has a spicy, salty, and slightly sweet flavor, that compliments several Japanese dishes. Aside from onigiri, you can also use cured pollock roe in pasta, ramen, dipping sauces, or spreads.

Can you use day-old rice for mentaiko onigiri?

Yes, you don’t have to throw away day-old rice when you can turn it into this scrumptious mentaiko onigiri recipe. If it’s stored in the fridge, make sure to reheat it and wait for it to cool down completely before using it for the dish.

Can you use long-grain rice instead of short-grain?

I don’t recommend using long-grain rice, like jasmine rice, for mentaiko onigiri since it doesn’t contain enough starch to hold its shape. If you can’t access short-grain rice now, medium-grain rice should be the better option, such as japonica or valencia rice.

How long can mentaiko onigiri last in the fridge?

If stored properly, mentaiko onigiri can last 2-3 days in the fridge. So you can make it the night before and bring it with you for lunch, picnics, or outdoor adventures the next day. I don’t recommend you eat it beyond a couple of days because the mentaiko might go bad. Plus, the rice will turn hard and clumpy the longer you store it in the fridge, making it unpleasant to eat. You’ll know when mentaiko onigiri has gone bad when it has an off-color and smell.

Looking for more easy & delicious rice recipes?

1. Kimchi Cheese Rice Ballsdo you have leftover fried rice in the fridge that you don’t want to throw out? Then, turn it into spicy and cheesy fried rice balls with this recipe. It’s the ultimate comfort snack in one bite, you’ll constantly want to make this on repeat.

2. Preserved Duck Egg Congeethere’s nothing like a warm bowl of congee that can help perk you right up. Don’t forget to add pork and preserved duck eggs for bite-sized flavor bombs to keep you wanting more!

3. Lap Cheong Fried Riceif you’re in the mood for good ol’ fried rice, nothing can compete with this classic Cantonese-style recipe. Lap cheong adds a salty and meaty flavor to your fried rice, I won’t blame you if you eat it on its own!

4. Spicy Salmon Poke Bowlyou no longer have to spend extra money ordering poke bowls from the restaurant when you can create your own at home with this recipe. Melt-in-your-mouth salmon paired with sriracha and mayo sauce make a dangerously good combo perfect for lunch or dinner!

5. Spicy Tuna Kimbap spicy, savory, and creamy, this recipe ticks all the criteria you’ll want for kimbap. It’s packed with spicy tuna and perilla leaves for a refreshing meal!

Mentaiko Onigiri

Servings 2 people
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2- 2 1/2 cups cooked rice short-grain rice
  • 2 tbsp cured pollock roe myeongnanjeot (Korean) or mentaiko (Japanese)
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp sesame seeds
  • bowl of salt
  • bowl of water
  • nori sheets for garnish

Instructions

  • Transfer cooked rice into a bowl and set aside to cool.
  • Combine pollock roe, sesame oil and sesame seeds. Mix together and set aside.
  • While the rice is cooling down, prepare the assembling station. You'll need a bowl of cold or room temperature water, a small bowl of salt and a few nori strips.
  • Once the rice has completely cooled, it's time to assemble!
  • If assembling my hand – wet both hands and using two fingers, dip it in the bowl with salt. Rub the salt into the palm of hands until evenly coated. Take about 1/4 – 1/2 cup of rice and press it down flat on one hand. Add about 1 tbsp of roe in the middle, then take another 1/4 – 1/2 cup of rice and cover the roe. Press down firmly with both hands to help seal the onigiri.
  • To create a triangle shape, make the palm of one hand flat and make a 90 degree angle with the other hand. Shape the rice ball using this formation while rotating. Be sure to apply pressure when shaping!
  • Wrap the onigiri with a nori sheet and enjoy!
Course: Appetizer, Dinner, Lunch, Side Dish, Snack
Cuisine: Japanese, Korean

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