If you’re opting for raw fish, always purchase it from a reputable market and buy only fish that’s specifically marked for sushi use. Keep in mind, however, that what American distributors consider “sushi grade” may not meet the standards of thoroughly trained sushi professionals. For safety, we recommend using prepared seafood instead.
6. Set Up for Success
Sushi-making is a fun and creative process that works best in a well-organized work space. Begin by wrapping a bamboo sushi-rolling mat in plastic wrap, for efficient cleanup later. Set aside halved sheets of nori on a waterproof surface, and place a platter or plate nearby to serve as a clean landing spot for your finished rolls. Mix up some pungent wasabi by combining 2 tablespoons of wasabi powder with just enough water to make a thick paste. Finally, fill a small bowl with warm water and add a splash of unseasoned rice vinegar. This mixture, known as te-zu, is used to dip your hands in before handling the rice. Don’t skip the te-zu step, or you’ll end up with rice-coated hands, making it hard to cleanly roll out your sushi.
7. The Right Way to Roll
Once you’ve set up your sushi-making station, begin preparing your first roll by laying your rolling mat in front of you with the bars parallel to the table’s edge. With a dry hand, lay a half sheet of nori on the bottom edge of the mat, dip both hands into the te-zu, and shake off any excess (your hands should be only slightly damp). Pick up a handful of rice about the size of a tennis ball and gently spread it over the nori without smearing or mashing the rice too firmly. Spread the rice evenly, especially the left and right edges. For an extra kick, run a tiny dab of wasabi paste along the center of the rice.
Place one to three types of fillings horizontally beside the wasabi, remembering not to overfill your maki. Roll the mat and the nori up and over to lock in the fillings then release the mat and use it again to finish rolling the remaining nori. Always roll tightly to compact the fillings within the roll, then allow the finished roll to sit (seam side down) on a cutting board for a few minutes to help seal it. Finish rolling all of your maki before you cut them.
Once you’re ready to serve your rolls, dampen your knife (a sharp chef’s knife works well) with te-zu. The vinegar mixture will prevent your knife from sticking to the rice as you then cut the rolls into 1-inch slices.
8. Fresh Is Best
Sushi should always be made and enjoyed fresh. Seasoning sushi rice with shari-zu actually thwarts bacterial growth by altering the rice’s pH, so freshly made rolls can sit out for a few hours, but don’t push it. Refrigeration can destroy sushi’s delicate flavors and textures, so try to prepare your rolls as close to serving time as possible. Nori gets soggy quickly once rolled around damp rice, so sushi chefs will always make maki last. If you absolutely must refrigerate your sushi maki, do so before cutting, and cover the rolls tightly with plastic wrap.
Whether you’re hosting a party of 2 or 20, sushi-making is the ultimate at-home entertaining idea that invites guests to get in on the food preparation. Serve your maki on large platters to allow guests to sample one another’s custom creations, and don’t forget to add an edible garnish by mounding mini-Mt. Fujis of wasabi next to heaping piles of pickled ginger. Get rolling!
Institute of Culinary Education chef-instructor Erica Wides is an expert on Asian cuisine and has worked in the kitchens at New York’s Nosmo King, Savoy, and Arcadia. Wides attended the California Sushi Academy and is the creator and host of the weekly radio show Let’s Get Real on the Heritage Radio Network.