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Your First Homemade Sushi

Julia Bainbridge
Food Editor
March 26, 2014

All week we’re sharing the 101 versions of recipes for foods you thought were too hard to make but TOTALLY AREN’T. So far, we’ve encouraged you to make your first loaf of bread and your first big roast. Today, tackle sushi. 

This recipe is very, very long. 

Let that sentence be the only off-putting thing about the entire experience of making sushi at home, because this recipe is also very, very clear and it was written by James Beard Award-winning chefs and restauranteurs, Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani. Their new book, A Visual Guide to Sushi-Making at Home, is just that: it truly takes you through each step (and yes, there are many) of the process. There’s the rice, there’s the rice vinegar, there’s the nori, there are the condiments, and, of course, there is the fish. Sone and Doumani spend a large portion of this text on choosing, breaking down, and then slicing different kinds of fish, with pictures illustrating each little twist and turn of the knife. If you don’t become an expert at forming rice balls for nigiri by the end of reading this book, you’ll certainly know a thing or two about butchery. (And sushi etiquette—bonus points for that chapter, guys.) 

That’s all we’ll say about that! Now, let the recipe speak for itself. 

Hosomaki with Tuna (Maguro)
Makes 1 Hosomaki

Some types of sushi are considered the basics, and a tuna roll is one of them—a sushi style that almost everyone encounters on his or her first trip to a sushi bar. This roll is so simple—just two ingredients, tuna and green onions—that most of us don’t even bother to order it when we are at a sushi bar. But if you do decide to try one, either at a sushi bar or at home, it will produce a sweet memory of the first time you ate a maguro maki.

1⁄4 cup/70 g chopped tuna loin
1⁄2 tsp chopped green onion, white part only or white and tender green part
1⁄2 sheet nori, toasted (see recipe below)
1⁄2 cup/80 g sushi rice (see recipe below) at body temperature, covered with a damp kitchen towel
1⁄4 tsp wasabi
Soy sauce for serving

In a small bowl, toss together the tuna and green onion.

Following the directions for How to Make Hosomaki (below), make 1 roll with the nori, rice, wasabi, and tuna-onion mixture. Slice the roll and serve with soy sauce. 

How to Toast Nori

Toasting the nori you will be using for sushi is an important step because it crisps it, ensuring a better texture and giving it a rounder, more developed flavor. You can buy already-toasted nori, known as yaki-nori, but even yaki-nori is better if you toast it before you use it.

Nori comes in a few different sizes. The size we recommend is a sheet measuring about 8 1⁄2 by 7 1⁄2 in/21.5 by 19 cm. Different uses of toasted nori require different-size pieces: sometimes a whole sheet, sometimes a half sheet, sometimes strips.

Turn on a stove-top gas burner to medium-high. Using your fingers, hold the nori sheet about 2 in/5 cm above the flame and pass it over the flame two or three times to toast it evenly. Turn it to toast both sides. The sheet should be very lightly toasted, with no evidence of any blisters or dark­ening. (If you have an electric stove, use the same technique, holding the sheet about 2 in/5 cm above the burner.) The nori should constrict a bit and become just a little crispier. Set aside until ready to use. 

To cut a nori sheet to the size called for in a recipe, use a very sharp knife and cut straight down, or use kitchen scissors. Do not try to cut the nori sheet with a back-and-forth slicing action or it will tear.

How to Make Sushi Rice (Sushi-meshi or Shari)

Here we provide the directions for making sushi rice on the stove top, but investing in an automatic rice cooker is also a good idea. A rice cooker makes cooking rice easier, and some machines even sense the dryness of the rice that is being cooked and automatically adjust the cooking time using fuzzy logic.

Learning to make good sushi rice takes years of practice and involves everything from decid­ing on the water you use (filtered or spring is preferred) to how you wash the rice (with vigor or very gently). If you are opening a sushi restaurant, you should consider these things. If not, most tap water is fine and a gentle hand for rinsing is best. When adding the water for cooking the rice, start with the amount we have listed. Once the rice is cooked, check to see if it is a bit too wet or too dry. As rice gets older, it becomes drier, so if your rice has been on the shelf for a while, you may need another 1 or 2 tbsp water. When it is younger and fresher, it needs less water than the amount indicated.

Be sure to use Japanese-style short-grain white rice (Oryzo sativa var. japonica). Other short-grain types will not work properly. 

When you add the vinegar to the rice, the spatula should be kept at a 45-degree angle—a bit like slicing at an angle. As you cut, the rice will naturally fall over onto itself, and as you keep cutting and simultaneously turning the bowl, the sushi vinegar will mix evenly into the rice. A hangiri is the best choice for making sushi rice, because the wood absorbs the moisture from the rice so that the rice can absorb the vinegar. If you lack a hangiri, a wide, shallow glass or ceramic bowl can be substituted. Finally, you will need a fan to cool the rice as you turn it.


2 cups/400 g Japanese-style short-grain white rice
2 cups plus 2 tbsp/510 ml water, preferably filtered or spring
1⁄3 cup/80 ml sushi vinegar (see recipe below)

Put the rice in a medium bowl about 16 in/40 cm in diameter and add enough tap water to cover the rice by 2 to 3 in/ 5 to 7.5 cm. Using your fingers, gently whisk the rice in about five circular motions. As you work, you will see the water become cloudy. Drain the rice, return it to the bowl, add the same amount of water, whisk the rice, and drain again. Repeat this process until the rinsing water is almost clear. For most rice this takes about five rinses.

Drain the rice in a colander and leave it in the colander for 30 min­utes. Then transfer the rice to a heavy, medium saucepan about 8 in/20 cm in diameter and 5 in/12 cm deep, with a tight lid. Add the 2 cups plus 2 tbsp/510 ml water and put the lid on the pan, making sure it is tightly sealed. Place over high heat and heat until you see a steady stream of steam rising from under the lid. Reduce the heat to very low and cook for 13 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 min­utes. This final 5 minutes helps to balance the moisture in the rice.

Transfer the rice to a hangiri or a shallow, wide, nonreactive bowl, preferably about 18 in/46 cm in diameter. Using a wooden or silicone spatula moistened with water, gently spread the rice as thinly as possible. Splash the vinegar evenly over the rice, then, using the spatula, gently “cut” the rice without smashing the individual grains to mix in the vinegar. The rice must be hot to absorb the vinegar. As you mix the rice and vinegar, use a hand fan to help cool the rice and to remove some moisture. If you are coordinated, you should fan and mix the rice at the same time. If you find that too difficult, alter­nate between mixing and fanning. You want to cool the rice as quickly as possible to body tem­perature to rid it of extra moisture.

Place a dampened kitchen towel over the rice and keep it as close to body temperature as possible until using. If you cannot use it right away, place it in a warm spot in your kitchen, or keep it warm over the very low heat of a pilot light or double boiler.

How to Make Sushi Vinegar (Sushi-zu)

This simple concoction is what turns cooked short-grain white rice into sushi rice. Once the seasoned vinegar has been mixed into the rice, the rice is called sushi-meshi, su-meshi, or shari. Each chef has his or her own special balance of sea­soning. Many chefs use an esoteric vinegar or more than one kind of vinegar as their trade secret. If possible, make the seasoned vinegar the day before you want to use it. When left to stand overnight, the flavor mellows and is more mature. We suggest using the seasoned vinegar within 3 weeks. After that, it begins to lose its flavor.


1 piece kelp for dashi, about 2 in/5 cm square
1 cup/240 ml rice vinegar
1⁄2 cup/100 g sugar
5 tbsp/50 g kosher salt 

If you see some dust on the kelp, wipe it off lightly with a paper towel. Do not rinse off the pow­dery white coating, however, as it carries flavor. In a small sauce­pan, combine the kelp, vinegar, sugar, and salt; place over medium heat; and bring just to a boil, stir­ring occasionally to dissolve the sugar and salt. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Discard the kelp and store the seasoned vinegar in a nonreactive airtight jar in the refrigerator until using.

How to Make Hosomaki (Skinny Rolls) 

In the United States, sheets of nori are now sold not only in Asian markets but also in many supermarkets. Make sure that you buy Japanese nori sheets that measure about 8 by 7 1⁄2 in/20 by 19 cm. Each sheet can be used to make two hosomaki: place the sheet on a cutting board with a long side facing you and cut in half horizontally. If you find a range of prices, spend a little more money on a good-quality nori, as it will improve the taste of your sushi rolls.

Be sure you use a bamboo sushi mat with thin bamboo strips for rolling these skinny rolls. Nori has a rough side and a smoother, shiny side. When rolling, you want the rough side facing up so that the shiny side is visible when the roll is completed, making for a nicer presentation. The main ingredient or ingredi­ents for filling each roll should measure about 1⁄4 cup/60 ml. If the filling is chopped fish, it should weigh 2 1⁄2 oz/70 g. If the filling is in stick form, such as cucumber, daikon, or even fish, it should fit in an area of 3⁄8 by 3⁄8 by 7 1⁄2 in/1 by 1 by 19 cm. 


1⁄2 sheet nori, toasted
Hand water (see recipe below)
1⁄2 cup/80 g sushi rice at body temperature, covered with a damp kitchen towel
Wasabi, as specified in individual recipes
Ingredient(s) for filling roll, as specified in individual recipes

Place a bamboo sushi mat, shiny-side up, on your work surface, with the bamboo sticks running horizontally. The mat should be completely dry so that the nori remains dry and crisp. Place the nori sheet, rough-side up and a long side facing you, on the mat.

Moisten the palm of one hand lightly with the hand water, then rub your hands together to moisten them. Pick up the rice and place it on the center of the nori sheet.

Moisten your hands again, and using just your fingertips, spread the rice, using a gentle pinching motion. It is important not to smash or com­press the rice, as you want it to stay fluffy.

Create an even layer of rice covering almost the entire nori sheet, leaving 1⁄2 in/12 mm uncovered along the long edge farthest from you. Remoisten your hands as necessary to keep the rice from sticking to your fingers, but be careful not to use too much water or the rice will lose its stickiness. Using your fingertips, pinch the rice to create a low, narrow ridge of rice along the front edge nearest you. This will keep the filling in place.

If the recipe calls for wasabi, use your index finger to scoop the wasabi and smear it horizontally across the rice just inside the ridge, extending it from one side to the other. Evenly place the main ingredient or ingredients on top of the wasabi.

To start rolling, put one hand on each side of the nori sheet and, with your thumbs under the near corners of the mat, start to roll, lifting up the edge of the mat and immediately moving your hands along the front edge to flip the nori up and over the filling away from you.

Complete the roll by meeting the front edge of the roll to the rice.

Hold the nori in place while pulling back gently on the rolled portion of the mat to tighten. Continue rolling, always keeping the roll snug so the filling stays in place, until you reach the far end of the nori.

Hold the mat to tighten again, pulling slightly toward you to seal.

Position the finished roll horizon­tally on a dry cutting board. Place the tip of your slicing knife into the hand water, then lift the tip up vertically to moisten the length of the blade.

With the moistened blade, cut the roll in half cross­wise.

Place the halves horizontally side by side, hold them together with one hand, and slice them crosswise into thirds to create six equal-size pieces. If the knife becomes sticky between cuts, wipe the blade with a moist towel to remove the rice and moisten the blade again before the next cut.

Arrange the rolls on a plate, with some pieces standing on their sides and others lying down, and serve. 

How to Make Hand Water (Tezu) 

Tezu is the liquid used to moisten your hands or the blade of your knife when working with sushi rice. By lightly moisten­ing your hands or knife with the liquid, you create a nonstick surface to counteract the stickiness of the rice. As when making sushi rice, it is best to use filtered or spring water so that no off flavors from tap water are introduced. 

To make the hand water, in a small bowl, mix together 1 cup/240 ml water and 2 tbsp rice vinegar.

Reprinted with permission from A Visual Guide to Sushi-Making at Home by Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, © 2014. Published by Chronicle Books. Photographs by Antonis Achilleos.