It’s well-known that in Japan, cooks train for years (and even decades) to become master sushi chefs—and that explains why so many of us think sushi is best left to the experts. But if you think you can’t make the delicacy at home, then you’re missing out: With just a few tips and tricks, you, too, can be enjoying your own sushi at home.
Before you get started, read through our list of the top five biggest sushi-making questions. Then grab a bag of sushi rice, some quality fish, and our DIY sushi kit, and get rolling.
What makes sushi rice different from plain white rice?
Rice is a critical part of sushi—so much so that the term is a Japanese portmanteau of two different words (su, meaning vinegar, and meshi, meaning rice). Sushi rice, or shari, as it’s called, is both made using a specific grain variety as well as in a specific cooking style. Sushi rice is prepared using a short-grain white Japonica rice (often labeled “sushi rice” in the United States) that’s cooked in dashi (Japanese sea stock), seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar and salt, fanned to eliminate moisture and served barely warm with fish and vegetables.
What does it mean when a market sells “sushi-grade fish”?
If you see a fish labeled “sushi-grade” or “sashimi-grade,” this is the store’s way of indicating that the cut is the highest-quality fish they’re offering, and one that they feel confident consumers will be able to eat raw. Note, however, that there are no official regulations or standards for this designation—which means that they’re more marketing terms than anything else. (The FDA does have a regulation maintaining that all fish eaten raw, especially parasitic fish, should be frozen first for safety measures.)
To verify that your fish truly is safe to consume raw, ask your fishmonger details: Where did the fish come from? How old is it? What are the freezing conditions that the seafood has been subject to? Examine it for freshness—bright eyes, firm skin, translucent flesh and an inoffensive smell are all good signs—and keeping mind that fish intended to be eaten raw should either be frozen for seven days at -4ºF, or flash-frozen for at least 15 hours at -31ºF.
How come rice always sticks to my fingers when I make sushi?
Part of the joy of sushi is the sticky texture of the rice, but if you find that grains of rice tend to stick to you as much as they stick to one another, you’ll want to keep your hands wet to prevent rice from getting all over them. One way to keep your hands wet is to moisten them with a clean, damp towel; another option is to keep a small bowl of water (or a mixture of half water and half vinegar) nearby, dipping your fingers in whenever sushi assembly gets messy.
My sushi winds up looking more like a burrito—what did I do wrong?
Over-stuffing your sushi roll is one of the most common beginner sushi-making mistakes. If you find that you don’t have enough nori, or dried seaweed, to completely cover your roll, then chances that you’ve put too much filling into your rice. To prevent this from happening, add no more than three fillings, and be sure to leave at least an inch of space on the edge of your sheet of seaweed for sealing the roll. Gently squeeze to tighten the roll before slicing it into pieces.
Should I serve my sushi with pickled ginger and wasabi like restaurants do?
In America, it’s not uncommon to mix extra wasabi into soy sauce and use it for dipping (and perfectly OK to do at home—it is your table, after all!). That being said, this practice is often considered verboten in Japan, as the sushi should already contain the perfect amount of wasabi and seasoning.
If you like, you can serve sushi with pickled ginger on the side. It’s meant to be a palate cleanser, and consumed in between pieces of sushi only.
For more on how to make sushi, check out our step-by-step YouTube tutorial below.