wanted dead or alive: A sushi primer

Joined Nov 6, 2004
Hi all :)

I am wondering if you guys and gals could help me out. I'd like to give sushi making at home a try. In the past I've done yellowfin sashimi and seared tuna dishes as well, but I'm thinking about learning how to make sushi now.

Many times when I'm trying to learn a new dish (or method) I like to start with a decent foundation. Most times I search out a traditional method of what the dish may be...and learn from there. But with sushi I'm not sure I should learn in my usual methods. I suppose I'm a bit intimidated, never having any experience with making rolls and such. So instead of trying to get the traditional methods down, I'm wondering if simply doing an adequate job would be suffice.

What I mean by adequate doesn't necessarily mean sloppy or incompetent. Just adequate. I'd like to develop the skills to put together a decent roll and nigiri. The history and dedication it appears to take to begin to perfect sushi is something I just don't have time to pursue. But I would like to learn the basics.

thanks all,
Joined Apr 3, 2008
my very brief foray into sushi revealed a few things. learn to cook rice perfectly. learn to cut it with salt and rice vinegar gently. spread your rice evenly and thinly on your nori and don't smash it in. it's easier to add another small slice of fish to make it look right. don't over do your wasabi on yer nigiri. wet knife edges and fingers make handling sticky rice and making clean cuts easier. I really don't know that much and faked it being supervised by someone who knew what they were doing but those were just some key things i learned. I am sure someone has suggested a good basic book somewhere around here.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Here are three you can get at Amazon:

Sushi (catchy title, eh?), by Yoshii from the Essential Kitchen Series

Big Book of Sushi; Dekura, Yoshii -- bigger book, better illustrations.

Sushi for Dummies -- pains me to recommend it, but it's not bad.

Making sushi is really three distinct things. 1) Rice; 2) Fish; 3) Vegetables and other stuff.

Making good sushi rice at home is very simple. But getting it right is highly nuanced. The easiest way is to buy a rice maker, and start fooling around with minor variations on rice/water ratios. Of course you have to use sushi rice.

Molding the rice -- ditto. Simple, but it takes a lot of practice to get it right. Molds are easier than rolls. Rolling mats are easier than hand-molding. I helped a friend do a class a few months ago, and was molding rice with two spoons ala quenelle. Surprisingly it worked.

Choosing fish, breaking it down, and fabricating sushi and sashimi slices is not as simple.

Number one with fish, is a place to buy it. When it comes to fish, you can't manufacture quality. I'm not saying you'll die from supermarket fish, but the quality is dreadful.

There's a world of knife technique obviously, but there's more to it than that. I'm very bood oriented myself, and based on my own experience with breaking fish, your best bet is probably to take a class. Words and videos can give you the information, but feedback is invaluable.

More about cutting: If you break the fish down properly, fillet it, and cut it on the right bias with a very sharp knife -- the cuts will be smooth as glass. If there's any flaw in your technique it will show up on the surface. Rough cuts are unpleasant on the tongue.

You don't have to run out and buy a deba and yanigaba; but it's very helpful to have a small, strong chef's type to use as you would a deba, and a long very sharp slicer to use as you would a yani. I can't overemphasize how important it is to have your knives SHARP!!!



Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
I agree with many of the books that BDL has suggested. I also suggest checking out Youtube. There are a number of good videos that show how to make sushi, some really good, some not so good, but there is a good amount of information in them.
Joined Nov 5, 2007
One thing I will suggest, if I may, is going to YouTube. Search for Iron Chef battle bonito and watch that episode. Hopefully Funatsu will inspire you, not intimidate you. If you're not interested in the whole show, just watch part 3 where the sushi platter shows up.

Joined Dec 23, 2004
If you like Maki rolls, get a silicon sushi mat. Honestly, it's hard to beat a Sushi Magic kit for a total nOOb. It gives you some good recipes and a near-foolproof method for rice, and the silicon sushi mat is pretty slick.

Of course, rice is the foundation of sushi. Take care to prepare it carefully.

Sushi Trainer will cost you a few buck but is a great tool. It's nice for us gaijin to learn how to pronounce Japanese words & terms, too.
Joined Nov 6, 2004
Ok...I've got some time to respond :)

Thanks all>>>

Gunnar, thanks for th advice. I'm sure I'll come back and review your pointers as I get constructing.

BDL, thanks. I've been doing a bit of reading online and watching various videos, but I haven't had a moment to make it to the library yet. I'll check to see if they have any of the books you mentioned.

As for fish quality and freshness, I wouldn't even attempt making sushi from items at the grocery store. I've got one (somewhat) local store that I get seafood from and one online source. Both have nice fresh and frozen selections. Although the same day air on the online vendor is quite expensive to ship.

I've got a couple of knives that I would plan on using. I've got a couple of Zwilling selections (including my 8" carving knife), my German Chef's that I use for breaking down birds and such and then my Masamoto. I'm really having fun keeping everything sharp with the EdgePro, although I don't have any polish tapes or higher stones yet.

Pete, thanks! I've been watching alot of videos and some are simply amazing. One in particular was a man preparing a cucumber for sushi. He cut the entire thing lengthwise in a thin layer all in one piece. The entire cucumber...and not one section was butchered. It was fun to watch.

I also checked out your blog, that's in your signature. Nice site and lots of useful information. Thanks for sharing...I've been reading a little at a time...but I'll get thru it all!

Hello UnknownCook :) I've been looking for sushi classes near my area with no luck so far. I will keep looking...thanks for the links!

Teamfat, thanks for the suggestion on the video to watch. I'll watch it today after the kids go to bed :) Thanks!

Hi Phaedrus :) Thanks for the suggestions. I'll take a look into the mats that you mentioned. Currently I haven't bought anything yet...I'm trying to get all of my thoughts on the same page before spending any money. Hopefully this approach will minimize money wasted :) Thanks for the help!

Thanks all!
Joined Aug 18, 2007
Dan - On the subject of fillings for rolls - we've been making what i think you'd call adequate sushi for a long time for functions. A pro would tut-tut here n there no doubt. But we were proud of them and the clients loved them.

To make them less "scary" for business meetings( we're only recently just developing a taste for it locally), I only used smoked salmon, parma ham, black forest ham (like parma,but strong, smoked) and vegetables. At home we use raw tuna and raw mackerel too.
I was told sushi=the rice part, so i like to find my own way round fillings. Avocado works well, as does sundried tomato,capersand cornichons cut up fine. I make omelette using mirin cut into strips and lots of spring onion,and cucumber

Like you, I just took a notion to try making it one day and popped down to our local chinese supermarket for the goodies. BTW the mats are very cheap. family and friends are now addicted.

Its great fun, and IMO if it looks right and tastes fabulous that's absolutely what counts. So long as ur not trying to be too authentic. After all it takes years to become a sushi chef.
Joined Apr 3, 2008
be super careful trying that cucumber trick. you need a straight knife, razor sharp and I have seen 3 different people slice the inside of their palms attempting it. course I have also seen a sushi master do it in their hand perfectly, rather then using a cutting board. I still am not that great at it, but way better then I was:p
Joined Nov 6, 2004
Thanks Bughut. You got what I meant by adequate. I like the ideas that you shared, especially the ones that weren't raw fish. I never gave it much thought before now, but some of your ideas would be a great way to get someone into eating sushi. Plus it would be great to have some option for those that won't touch fish (like my mom :) )

Gunnar, I have no intention on trying the cucumber sushi slicing. Well, at least not yet. No! No I won't do it. Maybe I'll just watch it again :level:


edit add: Oh, I stopped by the library today to look for some sushi books. They had nothing! I mean absolutely nothing!
Joined Jan 6, 2010
To give your homemade sushi extra pizazz, pick up some Furikake at a local Japanese market or sometimes you can find it at whole foods. It is dried bonito, nori, and sesame seed and will add a lot of flare and flavor to your rolls. I usually sprinkle this on the rice before flipping and filling my nori. And if you are on a low sodium diet and want to make low sodium sushi, there are two versions which have no added salt and no msg.
Joined Nov 6, 2004
Thanks sodium girl! I have got a large Asian grocery store that I go to from time to time. I like to cook alot...but this place has so many items that I've only heard of in the original Iron Chef :lol:. The amount of vegetables and types...my gosh! Meats and fish upon fish upon fish! Not to mention when the blue crab are in season they'll have a bin of those pinching guys for the hauling.

I also ran into a bit of a snag the other day going to my seafood place. It was the Monday after New Years Eve and he was sold out of everything! I mean every fresh item that he had was gone. He apologized an called his delivery guy to see when they were going to arrive, but they were running late. I suppose I would rather my fish guy be waiting on supplies of fresh fish rather than seeing the same ol' dried up fish on display.

He did have a nice tasso andouille, so I ended up making Gumbo :)

I'll try the sushi next week :thumb:

Joined Nov 6, 2004
No books so far! :mad:

I've been doing alot of reading on the internet and watching videos. So far I've been making Nigiri with wild caught salmon and yellowfin. I'm trying to cook fish on Monday/Tuesday each week, on Monday I'm trying to make some sort of sushi. Practice makes perfect...although talking sushi...practice makes adequate. With the fish I've bought so far I'm not only trying to get nice smoothly cut pieces but also pieces cut at the wrong bias. I'm hoping this allows me to not only learn what to do, but what not to do.

Today I made my first Maki roll. Wetting fingers and knife edges is certainly a must! I really didn't get that through my head when making the Nigiri, but with rolls it's a must. I got just a regular ol' sushi Mat for a couple of bucks.

Spreading the rice evenly and thinly went well. I thought I filled the roll adequately and began my roll. The roll went pretty good...and finished nice (I was surprised it turned out halfway decent). When slicing I started with my Masamoto. Perhaps not the best choice...but it's certainly my sharpest choice. I sliced half of the roll with the Masamoto and the switched to my (twin soldier) carving knife, which has a much thinner blade. One slice and I went right back to the HC knife. After slicing...theey looked pretty good. Not perfect...but decent. One thing that was quite apparent is that I didn't fill the roll with enough tuna. It seemed fine when I started...just too thin.

I can't wait to keep practicing :)

thanks all,
Joined Nov 16, 2009
Hi, I got a great sushi recipe: Popular Sushi - California Roll Uramaki

there is also a video for the recipe, can't upload here, go check at:
Popular Sushi - California Roll Uramaki - BeTheCook - Food & Cooking Recipes


  • Crab meat
  • 2 Avocado strips
  • Japanese mayonnaise
  • 1 nori seaweed sheet
  • sushi rice
  • 1 sushi rolling mat
  • 1 bowl of water

Step 1

put the rolling mat on a place with flat and smooth surface, we have covered it in cling film so it can be cleaned easily.
Lay the nori which is the seaweed on top, closest to edge that is nearest to you.

Moisten your hands in the bowl of water. Then spread a thin layer of the specially prepared sushi rice on top of the nori. Make sure the rice evenly covers the nori and press it down firmly, ensuring the rice has stuck, without mashing the kernels.
Step 2

Flip the nori over so laying rice side is down.
Place the avocado strips horizontally across the centre of the nori. Then squeeze a line of mayonnaise next to that. If you do not have a squeezy container, you can use a knife to spread a thin line instead. Place the crab on top of the mayonnaise. Make sure the fillings lie evenly as this will make fir a better roll.
Step 3

lift up the nearest side of the mat and fold it over to make a cylindrical shape. Use your fingers to tuck in the edge of the nori to make a complete roll.
Keep pressing the roll gently, using your fingers to compress and shape the Uramaki. Make sure not to press it too hard but be sure that it is in a good even size.
Step 4

In order to complete the roll, put the Uramaki in a container of roe, keep turning it until it is covered. If there is no such a large amount of roe, you could use your hands to press the roe into the roll.

Step 5

Slice the roll into two. Place the 2 sides parallel to each other, then slice them into six pieces.
Dip the end of your knife in the water bowl, it makes it easier to slice through the roll cleanly.
Step 6

Turn each slice on its side, So you to see the colours and pattern of the fillings, and the display on a serving plate.

There are more recipes are at: BeTheCook - Food & Cooking Recipes
Joined Nov 6, 2004
Just when I thought things were going well I decide to try my first attempt uramaki sushi. Things went well from the aspect of one ingredient...the wild caught tuna was quite fresh and delicious. That was the high point of the roll.

I did just refreshen my knife and it cut the tuna sooooooo nice. Clean and smooth as glass. I did, however, forget to moisten the knife when I cut the uramaki roll. As you can guess...big mistake! Well...it didn't tear them up that bad...but it did make it difficult and the end result was less than satisfying. Re-reading a few things, including this post, I can't believe I didn't catch on to what was happening.

The last maki sushi that I made turned out real nice. The only problem was the tuna was cut too thin. So this time the tuna was cut to an adequate size...and I laid a small (fake) wasabi strip next to the tuna and cucumber. Lol, now I like horseradish...but YIKES! I over did it...just a tad :lol: Speaking of wasabi...I wonder where I can find some fresh wasabi? How long does fresh wasabi keep? Hmmm...maybe I'll have to go look at the Asian grocery store for it. The fresh wasabi that I've had hits hard and then dissipates as fast as it arrived. Is all real wasabi like that?

As I said, the maki sushi went well. But I learned that uramaki wouldn't be as easy to achieve "adequacy". Something even as easy as flipping the nori with rice over on the sushi mat was a bit clumsy. My next attempt I will prepare myself better..but I may still have to make these a few times.

Well, until next week :)

Joined Feb 3, 2010
I have played with sushi for a bit... nothing even approaching proper maki but we enjoy it.

One thing in Chefguy's instructions caught my eye.  For a california roll, if you put the nori down on a bamboo mat, add the rice and then a layer of plastic film, then another bamboo mat on top it makes it super simple to flip the whole thing over.  Just try to make sure the plastic wrap overhangs the bamboo a little on the side closest to you so you can tuck it and keep it from getting caught up in the rolling.

Also, and I don't really know if it matters, I was told by the sushi chef at my asian market to put a bit of rice vinegar in the bowl where I dip my fingers.  Maybe overkill, but when I do as she says things tend to turn out well. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/thumb.gif
Joined Nov 6, 2004
    Thanks Charron :)  Using two mats and some plastic wrap sounds like it may help.  I'll definitely give it a try :)  Right now I only have one sushi mat, so I'll have to wait until I can get to the store to buy another one.  But I can still experiment with the plastic wrap idea in the mean time.  

     thanks for the help!
Joined Feb 3, 2010
maybe try subbing in a tea towel lined with paper towel under the nori?  Its only purpose is to allow you to pick up the lot... if you use a towel just grab the short edges of towel and bamboo mat, pull outwards with just enough tension to keep it all flat, and rotate it over.

If you find the tea towel isn't staying flat enough, you could tuck chop sticks through the end seams.


Yup, and if that ain't workin jus break out the duct tape and bailin' twine....

geeps, I think all the years of 'making due with what I have' has addled me a tad /img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif
Joined Nov 1, 2009
Yup, and if that ain't workin jus break out the duct tape and bailin' twine....

geeps, I think all the years of 'making due with what I have' has addled me a tad /img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif
I'm with you.  When I was in the US Coast Guard, our un-official motto was "We the willing, led by the unknowing, are doing the impossible for the ungrateful.  We've done so much, for so long, with so little, we are now qualified to do anything with nothing." /img/vbsmilies/smilies/wink.gif
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