The Art of Making Perfect Sushi at Home: A Step-by-Step Guide

A person making sushi at a home kitchen counter with ingredients like rice, nori, avocado, and salmon slices, along with a bamboo rolling mat and ceramic dishes.

Sushi, one of the hallmarks of Japanese cuisine, has achieved incredible notoriety the world over. Yet its iconic status shouldn’t deter you from seeing the beautiful simplicity of the elegant dish, however much it’s become a veritable art form.

With a few simple ingredients and tools from a well-stocked Asian grocery store, anyone in the greater Naperville area can create a satisfying and presentable sushi dish from the comfort of home. Here, we’ll show you exactly how.

Step I: Gathering Essential Sushi Ingredients

Sushi only requires several core key ingredients:

  • Sushi rice (more on this below)
  • Soy sauce
  • Nori sheets
  • Fresh fish or other preferred seafood
  • Select vegetables and fillings

Moreover, many of these items are completely optional depending on your preference. For all but the most complex recipes, these are all the ingredients you need.

Save the energy on rounding up an armful of rare items, and focus instead on obtaining the freshest ingredients at a quality international grocer. In fact, that’s likely the only place you’ll find everything listed above in a single convenient location.

You’ll also require a type of rolling mat, often made of bamboo, and a traditional wooden bowl (called a “hangiri”) and serving spoon can lend to a more authentic feel.

The type of rice is very important, because sushi can easily fall apart with the wrong consistency. Too sticky, however, and you have a type of rice better suited for various Asian desserts (yet another great idea!).

Note there are two types of rice commonly sold under the label “sushi rice”:

  • A raw, uncooked short grain rice with high starch content
  • “Su-meshi,” which comes pre-cooked and infused with vinegar

For the easiest time, choose the latter and follow the package’s simple instructions. Or, make your own using the following method:

  1. Dissolve ¼ cup of granulated sugar, and ½ teaspoon of salt in ½ cup of rice vinegar, on low heat, then set aside to cool
  2. Rinse the uncooked rice until the water runs clear (this improves the texture by reducing excess starch), then fully drain
  3. Place 2 cups of rice and water in a rice cooker – which you can also find for a low cost at a proper Asian market
  4. Once cooked, place the rice in a bowl (if you’re using a hangiri, slightly wet it first). Add salt and the sweet vinegar to taste, cover with a damp towel, then wait until the rice reaches room temperature.

Contrary to popular opinion, sushi uses both cooked and raw fish. If choosing raw, be sure you use the absolute highest-quality fish available, and search for “sushi-grade” for maximum certainty.

In either case, the most common variety of sushi fish or seafood include:

  • Smoked salmon
  • Sea bass
  • Tuna with higher fat content
  • Yellowtail (though not the Hawaiian or Mexican variety)
  • Flounder
  • Fish roe (i.e., eggs)
  • Cuttlefish (closely related to squid)
  • Prawns and shrimp
  • Crab

Sushi chefs also slice the meat in a very particular way. Generally, you’ll want long, only somewhat flat strips.

As for veggie/non-meat fillings (which suffice perfectly well on their own), many popular options include:

  • Avocado
  • Cucumber
  • Carrots
  • Pickled vegetables
  • Sprouts
  • Red or green onion

These can be used raw, but don’t put any restrictions on your creativity. It’s perfectly fine to lightly grill or sauté your own favorite vegetables. Just be mindful that any spices will need to harmoniously blend with the sour tanginess of the soy sauce and not clash with the mild sweetness of the rice.

Different types of sushi require particular rolling and cutting methods. Maki is the classic, bite-sized rounds wrapped in nori (what most people picture when they think of sushi). Uramaki is like maki, but with the rice rolled on the exterior to facilitate extra toppings. Temaki is simply hand-rolled into a nori sheet shaped into a cone.

To begin, place the nori, rice, and fillings in the proper order for the type of sushi you’re making on the rolling mat. For best results, we recommend a traditional bamboo mat. Also, be sure your hands are completely dry when handling nori.

Next, roll the mat while slightly compressing its contents. While you don’t want it overly tight, most people tend to perform this step too loosely. Use slightly greater firmness than you might expect, anticipating that the finished roll is likely to somewhat expand.

For an attractive presentation, consider a platter made for sushi. They’re typically a type of concave, rectangular dish, built to capture small amounts of soy sauce while easily accommodating chopsticks. Note traditional sushi etiquette encourages dipping just the fish or filling. This prevents absorbing too much sauce and imbalancing the flavors.

Some also enjoy wasabi for an impressive kick, and pickled ginger is a zesty and effective way to cleanse your palate between bites. Also consider pairing it all with an authentic Japanese green tea or sake, which you’ll also find at a high-end Asian grocer.

Throughout its history, sushi has always thrived on experimentation. Still, the general methods and rules described above will help ensure your attempts are more in line with tradition than not.

International Fresh Market takes international cuisine with equal parts seriousness and levity – like a good dinner party amongst friends. Visit our Naperville grocery store, where we stock all the Asian ingredients and kitchenware you need to create an authentic sushi experience.

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International Fresh Market is a local, family-owned grocery store that serves the Chicagoland community.We are excited to serve the residents of Naperville, Aurora, Warrenville, Woodridge, Plainfield and the surrounding area!