A case for making homemade furikake (thank us later)

Furikake, the savory and salty Japanese seasoning for sprinkling on plain rice, merits an entire section even in Manhattan’s tiniest Japanese markets.

And if you’ve tasted this Japanese condiment, you understand why: Furikake enlivens a plain bowl of steamed rice. Add some mayo and a fried egg and you can call it a meal. I relied heavily on furikake when I lived in a dorm room with just a rice cooker for making dinner. It transformed something that was mediocre at best (white rice) to something delicious and satisfying.

Furikake tastes good on almost any savory food you can imagine; you’ll find yourself shaking it onto saladpopcorn, and soup. Since a whole industry seems to exist around store-bought furikake, you’d think it must be tricky to make at home; in fact, it’s as simple as mixing together ingredients and putting them in a jar.

Since a whole industry seems to exist around furikake, you’d think it must be tricky to make at home; in fact, it’s a simple as mixing together ingredients and putting them in a jar.

When you compose your own mix, you get to control what’s in it, and put in as much or as little each ingredient as you like. Most of the store-bought furikake contain M.S.G; even if health concerns surrounding M.S.G. have been disproven, I still consider it cheating to use it: The key ingredients of furikake are already intensely umami — they don’t need a synthetic boost, just a pinch of salt and sugar. If you really want to stock up on store-bought furikake, skip any that have additives or chemical preservatives. The two bestselling furikake rice seasonings on Amazon are JFC International Seasoning Furikake and Nori Fume Furikake Rice Seasoning from Ajishima Foods. Both contain a combination of sesame seeds, seaweed, salt, and sugar but Ajishima Foods’ furikake does contain additives like maltodextrin, disodium succinate, and disodium inosinate. Trader Joe’s also makes a wildly popular version — Nori Komi Furikake Japanese Multi-Purpose Seasoning — which retails for $2.49.

The simplest versions of furikake include as few as two ingredients, usually dried fish and nori seaweed, but can contain much more. That might sound like a very fishy flavor, but it’s more salty and umami (think miso soup, not canned sardines).

You’ll see furikake mixtures with bits of dried egg, shrimp, salmon roe, shiso, wasabi, and, in Hokkaido, even buttered potato (I doubt that last one is natural). They come in jars for shaking into your bowl and in packets that are meant to be mixed with rice for omusubi (rice balls).

Making up your own furikake recipe is fun. If you can go to a Japanese grocery store, walk the aisles looking for anything dried and savory that might be good on rice. Take a peek in your cupboards for inspiration, too; if you want to add crushed Corn Flakes or smoked salt, go for it. If you have a freeze-dryer, go wild! And if you’re not shy about using a pinch of M.S.G., get it in its purest form by seeking out the Ajinomoto brand at the Japanese market.

For me, the point of making my own furikake is to choose natural ingredients with clear flavors. My basic recipe for homemade furikake starts with sesame seeds, katsuobushi (bonito flakes, which are made from dried bonito fish that is grated into flakes), and toasted nori seaweed. You can use flavored nori to add the flavors of soy sauce or teriyaki. You can also used pre-flaked nori, but I prefer full sheets like those that you would use for sushi.

If I can find tiny dried anchovies or shrimp, I’ll add those too; I especially like shrimp for the pretty color they add. I season mine liberally with salt and sugar, but if you use flavored nori, you may want to back off on the salt since the nori is naturally salty.

Here’s a recipe to get you started:

I’m not going to spend another second convincing you that you should make homemade furikake and instead, I’m going to tell you how to make it. In a dry frying pan over high heat, toast three tablespoons of sesame seeds, constantly shaking the pan, until they smell toasty, about 1 minute. Moving them around the pan is important to ensure that they toast evenly and don’t burn. Once the seeds are toasted, immediately transfer them to a bowl so they don’t continue cooking. If your nori is not crisp enough to crumble easily, you can toast it for about 30 seconds by waving it over a gas flame, or placing it under a broiler. Be careful not to burn it!

Next, crumble two sheets of nori into the bowl with the sesame seeds. Crumble 1/4 cup packed bonito flakes into the bowl with the toasted sesame seeds and nori. Add the tiny dried shrimp and anchovies, if using — I recommend using one tablespoon of each but again, you can customize both the ingredients used and the proportions.

Season the mixture with one teaspoon each of salt and granulated sugar, and mix thoroughly. Transfer it to an airtight jar and keep it in a cool, dry place like a pantry. Homemade furikake will keep indefinitely, but the flavor is best in the first month or two. This recipe yields about one cup of furikake.

Or spice things up with Doritos Furikake, a crunchy, cozy twist on traditional furikake made with garlic, shallots, nori, sesame seeds, bonito flakes, gochugaru (Korean chile flakes), and, yes, finely crushed Doritos.

Recipe: Furikake (Japanese Seasoning Mix)


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