If you’ve ever sat at a sushi bar and watched the skill of the chef, you might be daunted at the idea of making sushi at home. But it is easier than you think. Bottom Line Personal spoke with Nick Sakagami, the only person outside of Japan to be certified as an osakana meister—or fish master—about the right ingredients and tools for making your own sushi.

Rice cooker: Sushi requires rice, and having a computerized rice cooker, such as the Instant Pot, makes it a lot simpler than cooking rice on the stovetop.

Bamboo mat: Known as a makisu, a bamboo mat is used to make perfectly formed maki or sushi rolls. After using the mat, clean it with a vinegar-and-hot-water solution to kill any germs. Don’t use soap—the bamboo will absorb the scent. Let it dry completely.

Knife: A santoku hocho  with a seven-to-eight-inch blade is perfect to slice, dice and mince meat, fish and vegetables and for cutting maki rolls. I suggest spending $30 to $40 or more for a santoku hocho.

And the ingredients…

Rice—use short-grain white rice such as polished short-grain Japanese rice or medium-grain California rice (often labeled “sushi rice” or “Calrose rice”) because they are stickier than long-grain rice and will hold the sushi together. You also can find brown rice made for sushi at grocery stores. It is less sticky than white rice, but mixing it with rice vinegar when it’s done cooking will make brown rice stickier. Also cook brown rice with slightly less water and for a bit longer than white rice to make it sticky.

Nori, or maki wrappers, are made from edible red algae and sold in dried, roasted sheets. High-quality nori is smooth and uniform in texture, with a dark-green color and a slight scent of the ocean. Chefs will sear a nori sheet right before using it to add a savory umami (the fifth taste after sweet, salty, sour and bitter) aroma that is enhanced by the vinegar in sushi rice. Just like how you heat up a tortilla, swish the nori a few times over the tip of a gas stove or range’s flame.

Rice vinegar is used to finish cooked rice. Or use Marukan Rice Vinegar, which is convenient when you don’t have time to mix your own rice vinegar.

Wasabi—buy a tin of powdered wasabi, and mix it into a paste with water.

Soy sauce labeled for sushi and sashimi is a thicker and slightly sweeter variety. It will bring out the umami of the sushi better. Tamari soy sauce doesn’t use wheat during manufacturing, so it’s a good option for people on a gluten-free diet. Important: Dunk only about one-third of a piece of sushi in soy sauce…never the whole piece. The sushi will fall apart, and the soy sauce will overwhelm the flavor.

Pickled ginger is a traditional accompaniment, served with additional wasabi.

Other additions include grated ­daikon radish (oroshi) for a touch of sweetness and toasted/roasted black and/or white sesame seeds to add crunch.

Buying the Right Fish

The biggest challenge to making sushi is finding high-quality seafood…

Fresh is better than frozen as long as it has come from a sashimi-­distribution channel. This involves a setup to maintain fresh fish at the right temperature from catch to storage, defined by the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP), a management system to protect food safety. Its strict controls on temperature—essential for fish that is to be eaten raw—costs the wholesaler more, and that’s why sushi is pricey.

Ask if the fish came through a HACCP-compliant wholesaler. If the fish monger doesn’t know, ask him/her to find out and revisit in a few days. Also ask if the fish meets sustainable standards set by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), and look for the blue MSC label alongside the seafood showcases or on the labels.

Buy from someone you trust. There is no standard legal definition of the terms “sushi grade” or “sashimi grade,” so it comes down to trusting that seller.

Shop at high-end or organic-focused grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, that care about distribution channels. You’re also likely to find high-quality fish at Japanese and Korean markets.

Keep the fish chilled to less than 40°F on your way home—ask for a bag of ice, or bring ice and a cooler.

If you buy prepackaged portions, run the fish under cold water
at home to rinse off any moisture that developed.

Try to find super frozen or blast frozen fish instead of fish that was conventionally frozen at –20°F or –25°F. You want fish frozen with “blast freezing,” “super freezing” or “flash freezing”—meaning that it is frozen below –40°F to –50°F. But to have the full effect of the super freezer, it should be done at an even lower temperature such as –65°F or –70°F. Some products have “super frozen/blast frozen” on their labels, but the best chance of getting super-frozen seafood products is to contact a trusted online source. Higher-priced fish such as tuna and king salmon sushi fish from Japan will have super-frozen options. Lower-end products (catfish and tilapia) will not be super-frozen products.

As soon as you get the fish home, open the package, wash the surface under cold running water, put it on a plate and wrap it in clear wrap. When you are ready to use the fish, defrost it in the fridge ideally overnight but for at least three hours.

Important: Look at the ingredients before you buy frozen fish to see if it was treated with carbon monoxide to retain color. Avoid this—Canada, Japan and the EU no longer allow it.

Making Your Own Sushi

Sushi rice: For four cups or enough for about 12 rolls…

  • 2 cups Japanese short-grain white or brown rice
  • 2¼ cups water for white rice or 21⁄8 cups water for brown rice
  • ½ cup rice vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt

Place a large bowl in the sink, and add the rice. Add enough cold water to cover the rice generously. With your hand, swish the rice around until the water becomes cloudy. Drain the rice using a fine-mesh sieve. Repeat this three or four more times until the water being poured off is almost clear. Drain well.

Transfer the rice to a rice cooker, add the water, and cook according to the manufacturer’s directions. To make sushi rice on the stove: Add the rice and water to a medium saucepan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered, until the water has been absorbed—18 to 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, and let sit, still covered, for 10 minutes.

While the rice cooks, prepare the sushi vinegar, or sushi-zu. In a small bowl, stir together the vinegar, sugar and salt until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Set aside.

In a bowl, spread the rice. Pour the sushi vinegar over the rice. Mix it with a spatula without pressing. “Cut” chunks into smaller chunks. Line your mat with plastic wrap, and press the rice onto it, then top with a sheet of nori and fillings. As you roll it up, peel away the plastic wrap. Roll the maki roll in sesame seeds.

Variations: You can use layers of two or more fish to create a rainbow roll…or choose avocado, cucumber and micro sprouts for an all-vegetable roll. You can try sautéed soft shell crab, shrimp tempura, smoked eel or smoked or broiled salmon. Some classic rolls…

Tekka Maki (Tuna Roll): Sesame seeds…1½ ounces tuna.

Spicy Tuna Roll: 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted…1 teaspoon sriracha…1½ ounces tuna*…3 avocado slices…¼ Japanese cucumber, peeled and cut lengthwise into matchsticks.

California Roll: ¼ medium avocado, cut into one-inch squares…2 ounces crabmeat…¼ Japanese cucumber, peeled and cut lengthwise into matchsticks.

*If you have scraps of fish left over, mince them and add the sriracha before layering.

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