Home Cuisines Japanese How To Make Sushi Rolls – Step-By-Step Guide

How To Make Sushi Rolls – Step-By-Step Guide

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A selection of sushi rolls on a table and a lady holding chopsticks

Making homemade sushi rolls or makizushi is super-easy, quick, and fun too! You also get the freshest possible rolls and can control what goes into them.

To get you started the right way, check out this handy step-by-step guide to making maki sushi as well as useful tips and a video.

What do you need to make sushi rolls?

To make fresh sushi at home, you’ll need nori sheets, sushi rice, fillings like cucumber and avocado, and a bamboo sushi mat to help roll it up neatly. They’re all commonly available at supermarkets in the Asian aisle or from a wide selection of online sellers.

Nori sheets: Nori or roasted seaweed sheets are the most common option for rolling up the other fillings. Use a half sheet for smaller maki sushi and a ¾ or whole sheet for big rolls.

Sushi rice: Sushi rice is vinegared rice made using a steamed, short-grain variety. It is essential for making the best sushi that sticks together and doesn’t fall apart. Be sure to read our guide to the best rice for sushi.

Bamboo rolling mat: A makisu can come in different styles and is used to roll sushi as well as other dishes like egg omelet (tamagoyaki).

Fillings: This is where you can get creative, experimenting with flavors. Traditional hosomaki sushi uses a combination of vegetables and cooked or raw seafood, but you can add whatever you like. Here are some tasty options to consider:

VegetablesCabbage, carrots, avocado, asparagus, bell pepper.
FruitKiwi, mango, pear, pineapple.
Herbs and spicesMint, chives, basil, chili pepper, parsley, cilantro.
ProteinCrab, scallops, salmon, tuna, tofu, shrimp.
SaucesPonzu, mayonnaise, unagi sauce, kecap manis.

Quick tip: Unagi sauce, or eel sauce, is an excellent condiment to serve with sushi rolls. If you can’t get your hands on a bottle, check out our recommended replacements for unagi sauce.

Recipe for making sushi rolls

We suggest you get started with smaller rolls using half a sheet of nori as they’re a little easier for beginners. Once you’ve got the rolling technique sorted, you can try making bigger ones.

Makes: 10 Sushi Rolls. Prep time: 1 hr. Total time: 1 hr

Ingredients

Sushi rice:

  • 3 rice-cooker cups uncooked sushi rice
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 1 piece dried kelp (kombu)
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 2 ½ Tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp sea salt

Fillings:

  • 1 Japanese or Persian cucumber
  • 1 avocado
  • 4oz sushi-grade salmon
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise

Dipping water:

  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 tsp rice vinegar

Extras:

  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi
  • Gari (ginger)
  • Nori sheets

Method

1. Prepare the sushi rice

Using a rice cooker or pot on the stovetop, cook the rice with water, kombu, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Once cooked, cover the pot with a damp cloth to stop it from drying out.

2. Chop the fillings

Chop off the ends of the cucumber and cut in half lengthways, then in half again to get four strips. 

Use a paring knife to remove the seeds then slice each piece in half again lengthwise. You should now have eight strips. If it’s still too thick for sushi, cut it in half again.

A mandoline is super-helpful for creating even-sized vegetable pieces. Watch your fingers if you use one as the blade is extremely sharp.

Slicing cucumber on a mandoline top down

Use a knife to slice the avo into suitable-sized pieces for sushi. If you want to add extra vegetables like carrots then cut them into toothpick-sized lengths and add them.

3. Roll the sushi

Prepare the tezu (dipping water) by mixing the water and rice vinegar.

To make small sushi rolls then take a sharp kitchen knife and slice each piece of nori in half. Take care to only prep as much as you need and refrigerate the unused seaweed paper in an airtight container to stop it from drying out.

In the example below, we decided to make full-sized rolls as it’s easier to see what we’re doing.

Holding a clump of rice next to seaweed paper

Place a bamboo sushi mat on the bench and lay a nori sheet on top of it, shiny side face down. Make sure to leave a few slats visible on the side that’s closest to you.

Wet your hands in the tezu, then take a handful of cooked rice and place it on the nori. Spread it out evenly, making sure to keep about one inch of space free at the top of the nori.

Rice spread out evenly over a nori sheet

Lay out the fillings in a neat line across the rice, making sure to reach the edges. The order in which you add the salmon, avocado, and cucumber isn’t important.

Adding avocado to a maki roll on a bamboo mat

Now it’s time to roll the sushi up. Use the bamboo mat to begin rolling up the nori. Take your time to get a perfectly shaped roll as appearance is important in Japanese cuisine.

Two hands beginning to roll sushi on a mat

Once it’s fully rolled, gently apply pressure to the mat across the roll to tighten everything up. You can use the mat to shape your sushi roll into a round or a square.

A rolled up maki roll

4. Slicing the roll

To keep the roll neatly in place, wrap it in cling film. Slice the sushi roll with a wet blade and use a sawing motion rather than pushing the knife straight down. You’ll get a much neater cut with no fillings spilling out. Serve the sushi with wasabi, soy sauce, and ginger.

A lady slicing up a sushi roll

Feeding kids? Check out our list of sushi menu items best for picky eaters.

Need some inspiration for sushi fillings?

Check out these mouth-watering combinations in the below infographic. As you can see, you don’t have to use nori as the outside layer. There are plenty of other tasty variations.

Popular Sushi Fillings Infographic

Commonly asked questions

How do I store homemade sushi rolls?

For the best quality, homemade sushi is best consumed immediately. You can also store rolls in an airtight container for 24-48 hours refrigerated. We do not recommend freezing sushi that includes rice as it becomes dry and crumbly.

What seaweed should you use for sushi recipes?

It’s important to choose the correct seaweed type or you won’t be able to roll them properly. Avoid the snacking nori, which is light, crispy, and crumbly. It’s a delicious snack but won’t roll. Instead, check the label to make sure it’s suitable for sushi making.

Can you make sushi without fish?

Sushi doesn’t need to include fish as a filling; you can use chicken, other types of seafood like crab, or go for a vegetarian option and use vegetables only. Be sure to check out our ultimate guide to the types of sushi to learn more.

How do I make inside outs?

Inside out maki rolls have the rice on the outside. To make them, place a piece of plastic wrap on a bamboo mat. Next cover a piece of nori with rice, then flip it over and place it on the plastic wrap. Layer the center of the nori with fillings then roll it up the same way you would a California roll.

Are sushi rolls a gluten-free meal?

Nori, sushi rice, and most fillings used in sushi rolls are free from gluten. Be sure to check the labels on all the ingredients to be sure though. You’ll need to choose a gluten-free soy sauce or try tamari sauce instead.

Where can I buy sushi-grade fish?

Depending on where you live, you can usually find sushi-grade tuna, salmon, and other varieties at your local fish market or some Japanese grocers. It is usually frozen, which is fine as the fish defrosts perfectly.

Is it expensive to make your own sushi?

When you get started making sushi, there are some initial costs like bamboo mats, rice vinegar, and sushi rice which you may not already have in the pantry. But once you are set up, the cost of making homemade sushi rolls is significantly cheaper than buying them from a restaurant. They’re also usually fresher and better quality than the maki rolls sold at shopping centers.

How do I make sushi rolls without a mat?

Bamboo sushi mats are a neat, authentic way to make your rolls, but they are not necessary. A thick towel is also an effective tool and once you’re done, use it to clean up the leftover mess.

What can I use instead of nori?

If you don’t enjoy the taste of nori, then use soy paper, rice paper, thinly sliced cucumber, omelet, or tofu skin instead.

What is a sushi roll?

A sushi roll is a Japanese dish that wraps vinegared rice and fillings like vegetables and fish in a seaweed wrap. There are many variations to the ingredients used and sometimes rice can be used as the roll’s outer coating instead of nori.

Traditional Japanese hosomaki rolls contain only one filling with rice. Popular options include tuna, pickled daikon, natto, cucumber, unagi, tuna, yellowtail, and scallion.

In the United States, sushi rolls come in new variations like the Dragon Roll, Boston Roll, California Roll, Spicy Tuna Roll, Philadelphia Roll, and Caterpillar Roll.

Interesting reading: What’s the difference between mirin and rice vinegar?

A sliced sushi roll on a chopping board

Summing up

Making sushi may sound like a challenge, but you’ll find after a few wonky attempts, it’s easy. You can get younger kids to help lay out the fillings, but the rolling step is best left for older children or adults.

Although a sushi kit is a good way to get started, you’ll save money buying ingredients like short-grain rice and nori in bulk packs. If you visit your local supermarket, you should find all the ingredients needed.

Once you’ve made a few rolls, you may want to check out our guide on what to serve with sushi. It’s a delicious list of mostly traditional Japanese foods and drinks that go great on the table next to sushi.