Going out to sushi restaurants can get a little pricy, but making it yourself can be both cheaper and a lot more fun. Making it at home can also allow you to try sushi (if you have never had it before) without feeling the pressure of what to order or how to order it. I have been making sushi with my family for years now, and wanted to share some of our sushi making experience with the folks here.
If you have never made your own, I will highlight some of my tips, tricks, and recipes needed to make this Japanese treat. Keep in mind that in order to have the variety that one has at a restaurant, you may need to purchase lots of various seafood which can get expensive. However, I always invite at least 2 people over to help with assembly and eating. The amount of ingredients for this sushi extravaganza would probably feed 10 people, but with only 4 people there that day, we had plenty of leftovers to share.
Below, I will go over some tools and types of sushi as well as fish, vegetables, sauces, tempura, and recipes. Of course, directions for making will be covered as well. If you would like to know the history of sushi, eating etiquette, or extensive terminology, visit SushiFAQ.com.
Sushi Types and Tools
If you have never had sushi, I commend you for even reading this article and realize that you (and even people who have eaten it before) may not recognize some of the terms I will use. So here is a quick rundown of types and tools.
Sushi – A vinegared rice, usually topped with other ingredients such as fish and vegetables.
Nori – Seaweed pressed into thin flat sheets used to make maki sushi rolls.
Makisu – Also called a bamboo mat, it is a rollable mat made of bamboo used to tightly roll maki sushi.
Gari – Thin pinkish shavings of pickled ginger typically served with sushi and sashimi to cleanse the palette between rolls.
Wasabi – Green, very hot Japanese horseradish typically found as a green paste (possibly molded into a shape). It is also considered poor manners to mix wasabi into your soy sauce in a restaurant but when making it at home, who cares?!.
Sashimi – Very fresh raw seafood sliced into thin pieces and served. Because it is not served with rice, it is not considered sushi, but is typically served at a sushi restaurant.
Nigiri – Oblong mound of sushi rice that is pressed between the palms of the hands, sometimes with a speck of wasabi, and a slice of fish draped over it. Certain fish are bound to the rice with a thin strip of nori. Nigiri is generally served in pairs.
Maki – A cylindrical piece, formed with the help of a bamboo mat. Maki is generally wrapped in nori and typically cut into six or eight pieces, which constitutes a single roll order.
Uramaki – A medium-sized cylindrical piece, with two or more fillings. Uramaki differs from other maki because the rice is on the outside and the nori inside.
Temaki – Also called “hand rolls” temaki consists of a large cone-shaped piece of nori on the outside with ingredients spilling out the wide end. A typical temaki is about 4 in long, and is eaten with fingers.
Tempura – Deep fried fish or vegetables in a thin simple batter. Can be served alone, on rice, or in maki rolls.
Nori, makisu (mats), wasabi, gari, and sushi rice are pretty common now that eating sushi has become so popular. You can find most of these tools in the international aisle of grocery stores, in Asian markets, or online. I got all of my original tools from Greencastle Coffee Roasters when I used to live near there.
Japanese sushi rice is short grain and gets sticky when it is cooked. Long grain rice is not suitable for sushi because of its dryness and inability to stick together. To make your sushi rice you will need:
3 cups Japanese rice
3 1/4 cups water
1/3 cup rice vinegar
3 Tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
After washing Japanese rice, cook it. I use a rice cooker because, hey, its simple, and with no mess and no timing needed, its easy as pie. Also, with a rice cooker’s warm function, if you end up making rice in batches for a lot of sushi, it will stay warm if it is done before you are ready for it.
Prepare the sushi vinegar (or sushi-zu) by mixing the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. You can warm it in a sauce pan to make sure everything dissolves, but I never do because I’m lazy. Be sure to cool the vinegar mixture if you do.
Spread the hot steamed rice into a large plate or a large bowl. It is recommended that you use a non-metallic plate or bowl to avoid interaction with the vinegar, but I use a cookie sheet because it doesn’t seem to matter. Sprinkle the vinegar mixture over the rice and quickly fold the rice with a spatula. Be careful not to smash the rice.
To cool and remove the moisture of the rice, use a fan (or magazine) as you mix. Try to get it to a warm room temperature before working with it.
First, lets dispel a myth. There is no such thing as “sushi grade” fish. I know, I know. You have seen vendors supplying fish deemed “sushi grade” but in all honesty, there are no sushi fish regulations. There are, however, FDA frozen fish regulations that state what they consider a parasite destruction guarantee accomplished by “freezing and storing seafood at -4°F or below for 7 days, or freezing at -31°F or below until solid and storing at -31°F or below for 15 hours, or freezing at -31°F or below until solid and storing at -4°F or below for 24 hours.” This is a mouthful, but as long as your trusted vendor has been sticking to the frozen fish guidelines, then, in a sense, all frozen fish can be the elusive “sushi grade”.
With that said, lets talk about where to get this fish. I buy most (but not all) of my sushi supplies at my local Asian Markets. I have 2 awesome suppliers within 20 miles of my house and I live in the boondocks, so you have no excuse not to find one near you. However, if you can’t find one try online. Catalina Offshore Products not only sells seafood, but also sushi making kits. We typically opt for tuna; unagi (a pre-cooked eel that you just warm in your oven); crab sticks (that you can find at any grocery store); smoked salmon (again, found at many stores); masago roe; and nigiri shrimp, octopus, or squid. A lot of variety makes all the work worth it.
When preparing large pieces of meat for Maki sushi, cut any raw fish against the natural grain and into long thin strips. This will make for an even distribution of fish throughout the maki. To make sashimi, simply cut the fish into roughly 2 inches long x 1 inch wide and about 1/4 inch thick chunks. You can also use these same chunks to make nigiri by placing them on a hand molded ball of sushi rice.
You can pretty much use whatever vegetables you want to but there are a few standards. Cucumber, avocado, carrots, lettuce, daikon (a Japanese radish; can also be served pickled), cooked or tempuraed sweet potato, and green onion. Any of these vegetables can be served raw, cooked, or battered and deep fried (tempura). Shredded daikon radish is a typical garnish in many sushi restaurants. It looks like a nest of white shreds.
Prepare the vegetables in the same manner as the fish. Cut them into long strips. If you would like to tempura them, see my “Tempura” section below.
Typically sushi and sashimi is served with soy sauce (low sodium is my choice). However, there are several other sauces that can be served in or on Maki rolls.
As you saw in the vegetable image, cream cheese is a popular filling (although not technically a sauce). It was popularized by the American Philly roll but has migrated to other maki as well.
One of my personal favorites is the spicy mayo served on many spicy tuna rolls. After several attempts to make this on my own I finally figured out its ingredients. Basically it is a spicy sauce made with Japanese Mayo (Kewpie brand if you can find it) and Sriracha Sauce (or Rooster Sauce as I always call it). Just stir 2 tbsp of sriracha into 1/2 cup of mayo and you have yourself an awesome spicy sauce. Of course, adjust to taste. I serve this spicy sauce out of a flavor injector syringe to avoid a mess and it makes it easy to pipe a thin line of sauce down the middle of a maki roll.
Another favorite sauce is kabayaki sauce, or grilled eel sauce. It is a dark brown sweet thick soy sauce cooked in a pot. It is typically served with cooked eel (over rice) or with the eel used in maki. Most sushi restaurants will spoon some kabayaki sauce over rolls with eel so you know which are which. You can buy pre-made kabayaki, but it only has 3 ingredients and 2 you will already need to make sushi. To make kabayaki you will need:
1/2 cup mirin
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup sugar
In a medium sauce pan, warm ingredients over medium-low heat stirring occasionally. Sauce is done when it coats the spoon and is heated thoroughly. It will thicken slightly as it cools. You can then pour it over cooked eel or maki sushi. Mirin is a Japanese condiment consisting of about 40-50% sugar. It is similar to sake but with a lower alcohol content. You can find it in the international food section of the grocery store, Asian markets, or of course, online.
Tempura is totally optional, but its not hard to do so I recommend trying it. I love spicy crunchy tuna rolls, and I already had the sauce, but in order to make the crunchies that you place on top, I had to figure out how to make tempura batter. Heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil in a pan to about 350-375ºF. Have the oil to the right temp and all your fish and vegetables cut up and ready before you mix the batter:
1 cup ice water (has to be very cold)
1 cup all purpose flour
Beat the egg in a bowl. Add ice water in the bowl. Be sure to use very cold water. Add sifted flour in the bowl and mix lightly. Be careful not to overmix the batter. The batter will be lumpy, that is ok. Dip food pieces into batter, shake off excess and deep fry until golden brown. To make crispies, dip a fork into the batter and shake off over oil. Scoop out all food and crispies onto paper towels. After the batter reaches room temperature it will no longer create that perfect light crispy coating when fried. Just mix up more when this happens.
I have read all over the internet that proper tempura batter only uses yolks. Some say you only use the egg whites. Others claim that its all in the amount of baking soda and salt that you add. I have no idea. All I know is that this batter works as a starting point. I do think next time I will be adding some flavoring to the batter like cayenne pepper to give it a kick.
Remember you can tempura anything including sweet potatoes, cucumbers, shrimp, crab sticks, or even whole cut up maki.
Sashimi is actually the most simple sushi style to make. Many Asian markets have pre-shaped fillets ready for sushi and sashimi. This is perfect for making sushi at home because it means less work and less waste. Simply cut (or unwrap pre-cut fish pieces), and serve!
Nigiri is just as simple as sashimi but with one extra step; making a rice ball to place the fish onto. I was able to find pre-cut shrimp and squid to make perfect nigiri. Once you have the fish cut up, (into roughly 2 inches long x 1 inch wide and about 1/4 inch thick chunks) just use your hands to form an oblong ball of rice to place your fish upon. Be sure to mix up a little vinegar water to dip your fingers in before you dive into the rice or it will stick all over you.
One of the easiest styles of sushi to make is called temaki sushi (also known as the hand roll). To start, take a piece of nori and cut it in half. Place a small handful of rice on one side of the sheet and spread it out being careful to not go all the way to the edges. Place your fillings on top (just don’t go over board). When all of your ingredients are in place, you will roll the nori into a cone by taking the bottom corner where you placed the ingredients and rolling the sheet over in an arc. It is easier than it sounds. The cone can then be sealed with a little moisture from the rice, bowl of water, or not even sealed if you intend to eat it right away.
Start with a full sheet of nori, shiny side down on the bamboo mat and cover with rice about ¼ of an inch or slightly thinner. Be sure to leave anywhere from an inch or two of the far end of the nori sheet free from rice, the size depends on how much filling you intend to put in the roll. Also, be careful to not make the rice layer too thick, a common error that is easy to make. The rice should not be packed down, you just want to gently cover the sheet and if you can see some of the nori through the rice it is a good thing, don’t worry. (All images and info taken from SushiFAQ.com.)
Place your largest filling down first. Then place the smaller filling(s) (if using multiple) on top and in front of the largest, covering it in the direction you will be rolling.
When all your ingredients are in place, lift the end of the bamboo mat nearest you and fold it over the ingredients, with a careful rolling motion.
While doing this, fold the end of the nori into the roll causing it to ‘close’ and continue to roll the mat applying a light, steady, even pressure.
When you have rolled to the end, press the front and back sides of the roll (the sides closest to you and furthest from you) with the mat to firm up the roll and create a vaguely square tube. Apply a slight amount of pressure and hopefully the roll will seal.
Remove the mat and trim any excess nori from the maki with the sharp knife.
Cut the roll in half, place the halves next to each other and cut two or three more times to make 6 or 8 pieces, depending your preference and the size of the roll.
A variation on maki, this is for more advanced maki makers. Place the rice on the nori, then sprinkle the rice with sesame seeds or tobiko, then flip the roll over to make an inside out roll. Follow the same subsequent instructions to make this roll with the rice on the outside. It looks different, but tastes pretty much the same.
However, when making this style of maki, be careful to not have any extra nori without rice at the end or the roll will not seal properly. For this style you will want to cover the bamboo mat with plastic wrap or the rice will try to incorporate itself into the mat and you can say goodbye to your roll. This style is certainly more advanced and I suggest starting off with standard maki and trying this only when you are more experienced.
Popular Roll Combanations
California Roll – crab, avocado, cucumber
Boston Roll – shrimp, avocado, cucumber
Michigan Roll – spicy tuna filling (chopped raw tuna mixed with spicy mayo), avacado
Philadelphia Roll – salmon, cream cheese
Spider Roll – soft shelled crab tempura, optional: avocado or cucumber
Eel Avocado Roll – unagi, avacado; topped with kabayaki
Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll – tuna, spicy mayo; topped with spicy mayo and tempora crunchies
Eel Cucumber Roll – unagi, cucumber; topped with kabayaki
There are literally millions of combinations here. Have fun with it and enjoy making such a wonderful treat at home. Remember, the vinegar in the rice will prevent quick spoiling so try your best to eat it all in one day, if not you can keep your remaining sushi on your counter. Try to avoid refrigerating it because it dries out the rice and makes everything taste the same. Good luck and Happy Cooking!