Trio of Onigiri

This recipe in a lot of ways is my play on a charcuterie board, but featuring onigiri. I wanted to make three different kinds of rice balls, featuring pork belly, salmon, and mushrooms, two sauces, one that was creamy and garlicky and another that is sweet-sour-smoky, and some Japanese-style pickles to garnish with. When I think of a charcuterie board, there are condiments and sauces(usually jams and honeys and pickles) that accompany the main star. The star is normally cheese, cured cuts, and pate, but in this case, I wanted to use onigiri, which are the Japanese triangular rice balls. Onigiri(which might be recognized by many as “jelly doughnuts” if you watched the English dub of Pokemon growing up), are balls of steamed rice that usually surround a ball of umeboshi(pickled plum). The rice itself is seasoned with just salt, so the eating experience is salty, fluffy rice surrounding a salty-sour piece of plum. Nori is usually wrapped around the rice to keep it from drying out. Personally, I am lukewarm to the umeboshi filling. I have seeing onigiri filled with all kinds of other things before, so I decided to branch away from tradition here. I wanted to make sure that this trio offered something for everyone, with the pork being for the meat lovers, salmon for pescatarian, the mushrooms for vegans, and keeping the sauces and pickles completely vegan as well just to keep options open for anyone wanting to try something on the board. There was a lot of work that went into this cute little onigiri trio, but I found that the final aesthetic of these three coupled with the condiments, garnishes, and pickles was well worth it.

Going down the line, we have quite a few things here. The first are the three onigiri. The first is filled with soy-braised pork belly, topped with a little more of the pork belly on top. I used a pressure cooker to braise the pork belly faster on mine, though since we are dicing the pork belly, it should cook quickly regardless. For the salmon, we are roasting a salmon filet first, then tossing it with kewpie mayo and other seasonings. That acts as both the filling, and to season the rice with. And to be a little extra, the salmon onigiri are topped with ikura, or salmon roe. For the mushroom onigiri, the rice is actually cooked with dried mushroom stock, and tossed with minced mushrooms and edamame(soy beans) to give it more color. The filling is similar to the salmon, but using roasted king oyster mushrooms instead. And the balls are topped with microgreens just to give them a more “eat-your-vegetables” aesthetic. The two sauces were a ton of fun to make. One is essentially a tofu aioli, with olive oil, tahini, and garlic emulsified into the tofu to give it a nutty, rich, and somewhat punchy finish. The other sauce is a guajillo chili and tomato ponzu, designed to be smoky, sour, and sweet, and honestly, that sauce works REALLY well with the salmon. It’s an actual game-changer. The Japanese-style pickles include radishes, cucumbers, shiso(perilla leaf), and white peaches, just to add something lighter and fresh to contrast the heavier rice balls. I will suggest when forming your rice balls, keep a pot of cold water nearby, as dipping your hands into water between pressing the rice will keep the grains from sticking to you. Also, salting your hands before forming each ball is recommended as well, as that packs in seasoning onto the exterior of the rice!

For the pork belly:
1 loin of skinless pork belly
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3 cloves of garlic
1 scallion
vegetable stock or water

Medium dice the pork belly. In a pan, render the pork belly on low heat with the garlic and scallions until the fat has been removed and the exterior of the pork belly is seared. Transfer the pork, garlic, and scallions, to a pot with the other ingredients, topping off the pot with either water or vegetable stock, and braise on low heat for 1 hour. Allow the pork belly to cool down in the liquid. Use about 2 tbsp of the pork belly filling to about 1/3 cup of rice.

For the salmon:
1 salmon filet, skin on
3 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp mirin
1 tbsp honey
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp chili flakes
2 tbsp oil
a pinch of salt
3 tbsp kewpie mayonnaise
salmon roe

Scale the skin and then remove it from the filet. Bake the skin on a separate lined sheet tray with salt and oil at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes. Store in an airtight container.

With the filets, slice them horizontally into 4 pieces and toss with the soy sauce, mirin, honey, rice vinegar, chili flakes, and salt. Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes. Flake apart the fish and toss with kewpie and a pinch of salt. Store in an airtight container until time to assemble. When assembling the salmon onigiri, toss the 1/2 cup of rice with 1 tbsp of the flaked salmon mixture first, then to garnish the top, use some salmon roe and flakes of the reserved crispy skin.

For the rice(for pork belly and salmon onigiri):
2 cups sushi rice
3 cups water, with more for rinsing
a pinch of salt

Rinse the rice thoroughly until the water runs clear. Combine rice with water and salt in a pot and cook in a rice cooker. Portion about a loose 1/2 cup of cooked rice to 3 tbsp of filling for both the salmon and the pork belly.

For the vegan sesame aioli:
3 cloves of garlic
1 tsp rice koji
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tbsp rice vinegar
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp miso paste
3 tbsp tahini paste
6oz silken tofu

Roughly chop the garlic and blanch it and the rice koji in water for 20 seconds. Toss the garlic and koji into a bowl with the olive oil, rice vinegar, and salt. Allow them to marinate in the oil for at least 20 minutes. This will help mellow out the pungent flavor of the garlic. Then transfer the garlic, koji, and marinating liquid into a blender with everything else. Puree until smooth. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

For the mushroom filling:
3 king oyster mushrooms
a pinch of salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp miso paste
3 tbsp vegan sesame aioli
Edamame, blanched and shocked

Thinly slice the mushrooms and toss with salt and olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees F on a lined sheet tray for 20 minutes. Then as the mushrooms cool down, toss with the other ingredients. Store in an airtight container.

For the mushroom onigiri rice:
1 1/2 cups warm water, with more for rinsing
3 dried shiitake mushrooms
2g kombu
1 cup rice
a pinch of salt

Rehydrate the dried mushrooms and kombu in the warm water. Once completely soft, mince the mushrooms. Rinse off the rice until clear, and cook the rice in a pot with the mushrooms, warm mushroom water, and salt. Toss the rice with edamame as well before assembling, keeping the ratio of 1/2 loose cup of rice to 3 tbsp of the filling.

For the guajillo-tomato ponzu:
2 dried guajillo chilies, stems and seeds removed
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp yuzu juice
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp sugar
3 tbsp tomato paste

Toast the chili husks over a low flame for 10 seconds on each side. Transfer to a blender and puree with the other ingredients. Store in an airtight container until time to serve.

For the pickles:
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tbsp yuzu juice
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup water
1 white peach
2 Persian cucumbers
6 breakfast radishes
1 ginger root, peeled

In a pot, heat up the rice vinegar, yuzu, salt, sugar, and water until everything is dissolved together. Shave the peach, cucumbers, radishes, and ginger on a mandolin, and pour the pickling liquid over them. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.

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