Friday, February 13, 2009

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin' Down the River

After reading Pioneer Woman's three-part series on sushi, my husband and I were inspired to make some homemade rolls ourselves. That, and we also had a huge produce bag of avocados leftover from the Super Bowl, which were perfect for some California roll lovin'.

I freely admit that I don't know jack-diddly or bo-diddly about how to roll sushi well or even elegantly, for that matter. Furthermore, I didn't fully comprehend the extent of my "sushi ignorance" until I married my beau, who was raised on weekly trips to sushi restaurants. I, myself, was raised on homemade sushi made from canned ingredients and scrambled eggs. But, I have learned a few lessons as a sushi rolling novice, the hard way, that I think would be prudent to share openly.

#1. "Great taste, less filling"
Go against your natural instincts to stuff sushi until it is bursting at the seams. Avoid the "overstuffed burrito" look. Sushi rolls are hard to roll, and they are even harder to roll if the slippery ingredients spill out and can't be contained by the delicate seaweed wrapper. Don't worry, even with a little bit of the ingredients, the sushi roll will taste wonderful. Be especially judicious with the sushi rice. You honestly just need coat the nori (seaweed paper) with a thin layer a few rice niblets in depth.

#2. When in doubt, use the full sheet of nori (seaweed)
You don't need to impress others on your first try. (And I have tried to impress the beau many times with my faux sushi rolling skills, with disastrous results.) Despite what the recipes and food blogs say, try rolling with a full sheet, as opposed to a half sheet. Even if you are rolling an inside-out roll! When you have sufficiently mastered the (difficult) art of rolling with a full sheet, then try rolling with a half sheet.

#3. Sushi as a group effort
There are going to be a lot leftovers. On your first several attempts to roll sushi, do it with friends and family so that you can eat the "rolling mishaps" together. If you are like me, you will be stuffed to the brim by the time you are starting to get the hang of sushi rolling because there will be a lot of "mistake rolls."

#4. Raw doesn't have to be the rage
When I was living in New Orleans, one of my co-workers (who was in his 50s) had never had sushi before. Therefore, the thought of eating raw fish was beyond reprehensible to him. Because I had lived in California (where sushi is everywhere), his fears were incomprehensible to me. But I thought about his adversity to sushi and remembered my childhood of growing up in Arizona, and my own animosity towards raw meats and seafood. I too was a late sashimi bloomer.

Even though the ethereal and delicate taste of supple and tender sashimi (raw fish) is unrivaled, if you too scared to try it, that's okay. Just know that "sushi" is not synonymous with "raw fish." If you are a sushi virgin who is recalcitrant towards raw fish, don't fret, you can experience good sushi made with vegetables (
like vegetarian sushi with pickled carrots) and wholly cooked protein ingredients, like scrambled eggs. Don't let fears inhibit you from ever trying sushi at all!

#5. "Meat" in the middle
When you roll sushi, you always want the filling to be in the middle of the roll. Therefore, when using a full sheet of nori, line the sushi filling close to the edge nearest you. When using a half sheet of nori, line the sushi filling smack dab in the middle of the sheet.

#6. Sticky hands
When you roll sushi, you are going to start feeling like a cat that gets its paws stuck on a piece of masking tape, you'll be "stuck in a bind." Basically, you will get little bits of sticky rice all over your hands. Use a clean rice paddle or serving spoon reserved specifically for scraping off the sticky rice niblets from your sushi making paws. If you use fish roe for your sushi (and if you are like me), you will also get these little orange fish eggs everywhere too. A metal spoon comes in handy for scraping these little buggers away.

#7. Sharpen your mind, and your sushi knife
Many sushi teachers will tell you to moisten your knife with water before cutting into the sushi. The moistness helps the knife to break through the nori. During my sushi making sessions, I keep a damp paper towel on hand for moistening my knife. The wet paper towel also helps me to wipe off the sticky residue left on the knife by the rice. However, a dull knife won't help you at all when cutting through your sushi rolls. You need a nicely sharpened knife, otherwise, you'll get nowhere fast (or smushed sushi filling everywhere).

#8. "Mr. Cellophane, shoulda been my name,"
If you are making inside-out rolls, plastic cellophane, a sushi mat, and sesame seeds will make a world of difference. Simply put, you won't get rice everywhere if you use cellophane. First, wrap your sushi mat in cellophane and then spread sushi rice on one side of the nori. Then, sprinkle sesame seeds on the rice layer, before flipping the rice-side down onto the cellophane-wrapped sushi mat. Then, add the filling, and roll it up!

#9. Enough! Rice?
I always run out of sushi rice, and have way too much sushi filling leftover. Make sure you make enough rice (in my experience, 1 1/2 cups of dry and uncooked rice per person) for your sushi rolling session.

#10. Squeeze, squeeze!
Finally, although you don't need a sushi mat, you do need to have squeezing power in your fists to make sure all of the rice niblets and seaweed wrapper adhere together. Use force when rolling your sushi. And more power to you!

I hope you put these sushi making tips to good use. Feel free to comment and leave your own! Good luck in your sushi making endeavors!


  1. How fun! I've always wanted to learn to make sushi at home.

  2. Check out the Japantown in San Francisco for great sushi rolling materials Sara!

  3. Looks like a ton of work, but I bet it was worth the effort. Such nice photos.

  4. Thank you Donna-FFW, it was quite a lot of work, just like those killer carrot cookies you posted about! I am still dreaming of those...

  5. I read PW post too, and learned more than I ever knew about sushi. That was a really good post, wasn't it?
    But I loved looking at your post, and seeing all your terrific hints and tips.
    But in all honesty, I probably will not do my own sushi.
    You see, there is the sweetest tiny, bijou Japanese restaurant in Oxford that does sushi only on Thursday evenings.
    It is such a treat to go and have it there, I will reserve all the fuss and bother for them to do and just suck in the pleasure of eating their offerings!
    But having said that, your sushi look sooo good. I like it that you do a group effort sushi! Like a Japanese version of fondue!

  6. great tips!
    one of the most creative sushi i've had was banana sushi, an easy swallof for sushi newcomers :)

    neki desu

  7. We've made sushi at home a few times but all agree its much funner (and tastier) to go out for sushi!

    My husband does raw, me and my daughter go the cooked route and all end up happy!

  8. who would have thought to learn about sushi from a pioneer woman? I have never tried doing the inside out roll, but your pictures are inspiring me PE

  9. Hi there, PE! Your sushi looks great! :) YUMMMMMMM!!!!!!

    Yes, I do know Cheryl and Talida... what a small world!! How does your husband know them????

  10. Yes Melinda, they were fantastic posts! I read them voraciously! Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, sushi is very labor and time intensive, and if you have a great "go to" place for sushi, then why make it at home?

    Banana sushi sounds very interesting, and also easy to eat for those who are adverse to raw fish Neki Desu!

    The great thing about sushi, is that you can mix the ingredients up and please everyone Biz319!

    I know, I am so grateful that the Pioneer Woman loves sushi from her Southern California days, so I am happy to learn about favorite food of her past Foodhoe!

    Thanks Ambitious, my husband knows them from college!

  11. excellent suggestions! but, i always run into the problem is the fillings getting pushed out the ends when i squeeze the roll. perhaps i squeeze too hard?

  12. Christina Kim, perhaps you might want to try adding the slippery fillings more toward the middle/center, and then at the ends, just stick some drier or more slip-resistant ingredients such as pea sprouts with long stems or tempura shrimp. When you roll, use your index/pointer fingers to push and hold in the exposed filling on the sides to keep the material from extruding out. I would continue to squeeze the roll firmly. Otherwise, the roll will not be securely wrapped.

  13. PE, you've inspired me to make sushi at home! BTW, what was that reddish filling? Looked like Sirachi-marinated pickled daikon!

  14. Actually, it is sriracha and tuna chunks Chef Ben! Unfortunately, the tuna that we bought wasn't the highest quality. We got it from the sashimi section at Ranch 99, and it was only light pink, and not dark red.

  15. I've never tried making sushi (although I eat it all the time), but now feel like an expert! Thanks for sharing your tips :)

  16. Thank you and you're welcome Christie at Fig & Cherry! I hope you try making sushi soon!

  17. im a sushi chef, here are a few tips.

    1. keep your hands damp, but not wet all the time.

    2. keep a damp towel near by at all times to wipe rice off your hands.

    3. put a small drop of sesame oil on your roller on top of the plastic wrap and spread it around, then wipe it with the towel, this helps the rice not to stick.

    4. as to your squeeze hard section, dont do it, make sure the edges of your nori are covered with rice and make sure one side connects with the other when you roll it closed, and squeeze gently to make it set, if you squeeze hard you will squish the grains of rice together, and this makes your sushi gummy.


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