How to Make Sushi

Learn how to make sushi with these step-by-step tutorials. Pictured: Crunchy Roll. Photo by Veronica Hill.

Learn how to make sushi with these step-by-step tutorials. Pictured: Crunchy Roll. Photo by Veronica Hill.

Sushi, one of Japan’s most important culinary contributions, is rich with more than 1,000 years of history and tradition.
 The food first began as a way of preserving fish — the Japanese would press salt and rice in layers on to the fish until it fermented. That method is still used today in Osaka, the western part of Japan, and is called hakozushi.

Westerners are most familiar with Tokyo’s style of sushi, which is a hand-rolled food called nigiri. The dish consists of a vinegar-enhanced rice topped with a dab of wasabi (green horseradish paste) and a thin slice of fresh raw fish or shellfish. It is always served in pairs.

Maki-zushi, one of the most popular styles of sushi, consists of wrapping a piece of raw fish in a sandwich of nori (seaweed) and sushi rice. The food originated in the 18th century when gamblers at Tekkaba asked for a quick and easy hors d’oeuvre to eat while they played. The result was a tuna roll, dubbed tekka maki.

Today there are several styles of maki-zushi. They include kappa maki (cucumber roll), futomaki (roll of dried gourd strips, spinach, egg, sea eel), kanpyo maki (dried gourd strips) and the Western phenomenon, California maki (crab, avocado and mayonnaise). Temaki is a popular hand-rolled sushi, shaped like an ice cream cone and often topped with a spicy mayonnaise.

In order to become a shokunin, or traditional master sushi chef, hopefuls must undergo many years of apprenticeship before going out on their own. These chefs are masters at their craft, able to work quickly with knives and put on a dazzling show for their guests.

For the home cook, here is a step-by-step tutorial on preparing some of the most common rolls found in sushi restaurants. My friend Terri Souksamlane, who attended culinary school with me, learned the craft while working at Akina Sushi Teppan in Riverside and Misaka in San Diego. “The master sushi chefs are better at making all of their rolls the same size and can work a lot faster, but basically anyone can make sushi,” she said.


1. Work with warm rice.

2. Using plastic wrap along with a sushi mat is helpful, especially for inside-out rolls.

3. When making California rolls, mix the crab with a little bit of mayonnaise, sugar and white vinegar. “It gives it moisture and brings out the flavor of the crab,” Souksamlane said.

4. Finally, after finishing the rolls, cut through the plastic with a wet knife. Then, take the plastic off and serve.

5. To eat, pick up sushi and dip, fish-side down, in soy sauce, accented with wasabi if desired. In between rolls, eat a small amount of gari (pickled ginger) to freshen the palate.

Check your supermarket’s ethnic foods section for wasabi, Calrose rice, nori and gari. Prepared pickled ginger is available in the produce section of most markets. Bamboo mats, radish sprouts and smelt eggs are available at Asian markets. It is important to use fresh, sushi-grade fish for any recipes using raw seafood.

Step by Step California Rolls


Short-grained white rice (glucose coated, preferably)
Rice vinegar

1. Prepare the rice according to the instructions, usually a two- parts water vs. one-part rice with a simmer time of 20 minutes. After your rice is cooked, put it into the bowl and lightly flatten it.
2. Pour one tablespoon of vinegar, one tablespoon sugar, and a dash of salt into a small bowl and mix until salt and sugar dissolves. Drizzle mixture onto the rice and mix it by cutting into rice with wooden spoon, slowly flipping the rice. Add more liquid as desired until the rice becomes very sticky. Cover bowl with a damp towel.
Note: You can use this rice recipe or the one that accompanies the California Roll recipe.


4 cups cooked sushi rice
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 cups crab meat (or imitation)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
4 sheets extra fancy sushi nori (toasted seaweed)
1 Haas avocado
2 small cucumbers (Japanese or pickling)
1 cup radish sprouts
1/2 cup toasted sesame seeds wasabi (Japanese horseradish) paste as an accompaniment
Soy sauce as an accompaniment
Pickled ginger (recipe below)
Plastic wrap
Bamboo mat for rolling

1. Cook rice as directed. Stir in rice wine vinegar and set aside.
2. Combine crab meat, mayonnaise, white wine vinegar and sugar together and set aside.
3. Peel and pit the avocado, rubbing it with lemon juice, and cut it into 8 strips. Shred the cucumber and throw away core. Set aside.
4. Lay down bamboo mat so slats run horizontally. Place 1 sheet of Nori on top, making sure lines run vertical.
5. Spread rice evenly on the nori. Place 1⁄2 cup crab mixture, 2 slices of avocado, a bit of shred- ded cucumber and a few radish sprouts along the center of the rice.
6. Fold up mat from both ends to the center, and with two hands, roll while pressing firmly. Remove the wrap and seal both ends of plastic wrap until ready to serve. When serving, dip a sharp knife in warm water and slice through plastic into several bite- size pieces. Remove plastic before serving.
7. Serve the rolls with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger.


  • Cucumber Norimaki: Fill roll with two strips of cucumber slices instead of crab mixture.
  • Inside-out California Roll: Lay down bamboo mat and plastic wrap. Place rice in a flat layer across plastic before laying down nori. Place crab mixture, avocado, shredded cucumber and radish sprouts in the center of the nori and roll in same fashion. Rice will be showing on the outside.
  • Smelt Egg Roll: Make an inside-out California Roll, but add smelt eggs to the filling mixture. After rolling, and rice is showing on outside, smear smelt eggs all over rice roll and wrap with plastic.
  • Sesame Seed Roll: Make an inside-out California Roll. After rolling, and rice is showing on outside, smear sesame seeds all over rice roll and wrap with plastic.
  • Crunchy Roll: Prepare a small batch of tempura shrimp (recipe below, or use prepared batter mix) and reserve the leftover crunchy batter that falls off shrimp. Make an inside-out California Roll. Place 1 tempura shrimp and some radish sprouts on nori and roll so rice is showing on outside. Smear crushed, crunchy tempura batter all over rice roll and wrap with plastic.
  • Temaki, or Hand Roll: Slice nori in half and layer small amount of desired filling inside. Roll into an ice-cream cone shape, making sure radish sprouts stick out of the cone. Tuna, salmon skin and scallops are especially good in hand rolls. For temaki with a bite, top with spicy mayonnaise (recipe follows). For a larger temaki, use one whole sheet of nori and place rice on left half only. Drizzle wasabi in a long string along rice and place filling on top of it. Fold the near corner over and shape a cone. 


1 pound fresh raw tuna
1 tablespoon wasabi powder
2 cups prepared Sushi Meshi
Pickled ginger, optional
1 lemon, halved

1. After cleaning fish, slice about 1/8-inch thick and rub with lemon on one side.
2. Blend enough water into wasabi powder to make a soft paste.
3. Moisten hands with rice vinegar mixed with 3 tablespoons water.
4. Place a dab of wasabi in the center of each slice of fish on the same side you rubbed the lemon. The wasabi-lemon side of the fish will be placed on top of rice, leaving the clean side for presentation.
5. Shape about 2 tablespoons of sushi meshi into an oval about 1 1/2 inches long. Center fish over the top of the oval. Press fish and rice firmly together so that the fish follows the contours of the rice. Serve in pairs with pickled ginger and soy sauce mixed with wasabi to taste.


  • Toro Nigiri (fatty tuna): Replace tuna with fatty tuna and continue as directed.
  • Kani Nigiri (crab): Replace tuna with cooked crab strip and begin at step 5.
  • Tamgo Nigiri (scrambled egg): Replace tuna with scrambled egg and begin at step 5. To finish, tie a thin strip of seaweed around egg and rice creating a little package.
  • Sake Nigiri (salmon): Replace tuna with salmon and continue as directed. Top fish with small lemon wedge and tie a thin strip of seaweed around fish, lemon and rice to create a package.
  • Ebi Nigiri (shrimp): Replace tuna with one piece of blanched shrimp and begin at step 5.
  • Tai Nigiri (red snapper): Replace tuna with red snapper and continue as directed.
  • Hirame Nigiri (flounder): Replace tuna with flounder and continue as directed.
  • Anago Nigiri (sea eel): Replace tuna with barbecued sea eel and continue as directed. Brush unagi sauce (recipe below) on eel before and after cooking.
  • Unagi Nigiri (freshwater eel): Replace tuna with barbecued eel and continue as directed. Brush unagi sauce (recipe below) on eel before and after cooking.
  • Hamachi Nigiri (yellowtail): Replace tuna with yellowtail and continue as directed.
  • Mirugai Nigiri (giant clam): Replace tuna with giant clam and continue as directed.
  • Saba Nigiri (mackerel): Replace tuna with mackerel and continue as directed. Top with a few sliced chives and lemon zest.
  • Hotategai Nigiri (scallop): Replace tuna with scallop and continue as directed.
  • Tako Nigiri (octopus): Replace tuna with octopus and continue as directed.
  • Ika Nigiri (cuttlefish): Replace tuna with cuttlefish and continue as directed.


1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled, sliced paper thin

1. Mix sugar, salt and rice vinegar. Soak sliced ginger in boiling water for few seconds. Drain.
2. Place ginger in sugar, salt and vinegar mixture and let stand 30 minutes. Drain before using.


Asian chili oil (or Sriracha hot sauce)

1. Mix chili oil into mayonnaise until it reaches desired heat level.


2 cups soy sauce
2 large cloves garlic, smashed (not diced or chopped)
2 slices ginger
1 green onion, chopped slightly
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons honey (or more to taste)

1. Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar and honey are melted. Let sauce boil slightly and cook 15-20 minutes. The sauce should reduce to a slightly thicker consistency. Sauce will also thicken as it cools.
2. Add more honey or sugar to taste, if needed.
3. Remove garlic, ginger and spring onions. Place eel in sauce and broil or barbecue until finished.


1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
3 cups cake flour
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups ice water

1. Mix cake flour with eggs and ice water until batter is slightly lumpy. Chill.
2. With the flat side of a heavy knife or cleaver, flatten shrimp slightly so it won’t curl while cooking.
3. Heat oil in deep fryer to 350 degrees. Beat batter. Dip shrimp into all-purpose flour and then into chilled batter, shaking to remove excess batter. Fry until shrimp rises to surface. While shrimp is bobbing in oil, throw a bit more batter on top of each shrimp and cook until batter is crisp and golden.
4. Save extra fried batter and crush in plastic bag for outside coating of crunchy roll.