Successful sushi rolling is easy with these step-by-step instructions. Fun for date nights, girls nights, slumber parties & ringing in the new year. Instructions include how to make the best spicy tuna and sriracha mayo along with tips and shortcuts for creating your own favorite rolls.
Midway through a busy month, rolling your own sushi may seem like THE LAST thing you should add to your to-do list. But I have a few reasons why it might be just the thing to try!
First off, it’s a really fun activity to relax and enjoy with your partner, friends, sister or kids, all in the warmth of your own home. Whether served as an appetizer or entree, rolling your own sushi also offers deliciously edible entertainment for a girls (or boys) night out－even a teenage slumber party－and would be a festive way to ring in the New Year.
In addition to step-by-step directions, I’ve included my easy recipes for the ever-popular spicy tuna and sriracha mayo as well as ideas for creating your own favorite rolls. Cooked options are available, as are my best tips and shortcuts that make the art of rolling your own sushi as easy as it is fun.
Of course, if you like the cuisine but not the project, you may skip the rolling and enjoy your chosen ingredients as a sushi bowl (or this budget bowl). Either way, it’s a light yet filling meal that can be customized to satisfy anyone’s tastebuds.
If this will be your first time rolling your own sushi, I can almost guarantee success if you simply read through the guide I created and then keep it nearby for a quick reference as you go. We may not make the rolls as quickly as the restaurant pros, but they will look nearly as good－and quite possibly taste even better! 😉
How to cut fish for sushi rolls:
When buying sushi grade fish, it will likely come in a rectangle and look like a thin block. Cut straight down through the fillet so you have ¼ to ½-inch slices. Then cut those slices in half lengthwise so you have two narrower strips. The idea is to have long strips that can be laid across the length of the nori.
How to cut vegetables for sushi rolls:
Here you have two choices. First, you can follow the same logic, as with the fish – the aim is to have long, thin slices that will evenly span the width of the nori. When using a cucumber, for example, peel and seed, and then slice into thin strips that are the same length as the nori is wide. Avocado can be cut into thin slices, about three of which will be needed to span the nori. Alternatively, you may julienne the vegetables and distribute a small amount evenly across the nori.
Standard vs. large roll:
You may use the whole sheet of nori, which will produce one large roll, or cut the sheets in half for two smaller/standard-size rolls. Bigger rolls are easier to make when learning, and you’ll make quicker progress. Half sheets are perfect for those who like the pieces of sushi to be truly bite-size. Either way, start with the shiny/smooth side of the nori facing down and the rough side facing up. You also have the option of making rolls with the rice on the inside or outside, which I explain in the recipe instructions.
Here’s the thing. Even if your rolls aren’t flawlessly shaped and picture perfect, they will still taste every bit as delicious as what you buy in a restaurant. All you have to do is start with fresh, quality ingredients. If you plan to use sushi grade fish, it might cost $15 to $20 dollars for half a pound. But if you consider that you will get eight regular or four large rolls out of that amount of fish, you’ll be far ahead of what you’d likely spend at a restaurant. Plus you get a fun activity out of it!
I’ve included several prep photos, below, to illustrate a few key points and helpful hints, but the step-by-step instructions in the main recipe card cover all of the bases. Below the additional recipes for spicy tuna and spicy mayo, I’ve also included a few final tips, serving suggestions, and what to do with any leftovers.
Keep in mind that it’s easy to customize the rolls in order to accommodate almost any dietary need, from gluten- and soy-free to vegan. This can be especially helpful for those with gluten and soy allergies, as their options can be quite limited at many Asian restaurants. You may also substitute cooked fish for raw and/or create combinations that range from classic to creative.
Sushi filling combinations:
- Basic tuna or salmon roll: These rolls typically include just tuna or salmon, without any other ingredients.
- Spicy tuna or salmon roll: Use the spicy tuna recipe, or take a shortcut and drizzle the plain fish slices with spicy mayo (both recipes are below)
- California roll: cucumber, crabmeat or imitation crab sticks and avocado
- Ahi roll: Yellowfin, cucumber, daikon and avocado
- Shrimp tempura roll: shrimp tempura, avocado and cucumber
- Philly roll: smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese
- Sushi grade or smoked salmon + cucumber + avocado
- Buffalo chicken + celery + carrots
- Cooked shrimp + cucumber + asparagus
- The following can be mixed and matched with any of the above ingredients to make combinations that sound good to you: shredded beets, shredded carrots, roasted sweet potato, cream cheese, tofu (raw or glazed with an Asian marinade), sesame seeds
Tips & troubleshooting:
- Wet your fingers as often as needed to keep the rice from sticking to them.
- Be careful not to spread the rice too thick, as this will make it difficult to roll the sushi, and could even cause the nori to break. Also, bulky pieces or too much filling make closing the roll difficult.
- A kitchen scale makes portioning the right amount of rice really easy. If not using a scale, however, you’ll start to get a sense of how much rice to use after your first few attempts.
- If you like sesame seeds, you can sprinkle some over the rice before you add the fillers－or use as a garnish. (Lightly toast the seeds in a dry skillet for added flavor.)
- Be careful not to roll your mat up in the sushi by mistake!
- If raw fish is being used, it is important to use only the freshest fish from a trusted source to avoid food poisoning.
Sushi mat: Used to help roll the sushi tightly, these are thin, flexible bamboo mats and are available quite inexpensively online and at stores like Target, Walmart, etc. You could use a tea towel or flexible placemat, but the mat will likely be most helpful to roll the sushi tightly. Tip: Wrap the mat in plastic wrap for easy cleanup.
Nori: This is edible seaweed that has been shredded and pressed into thin sheets. The dried sheets are like thin paper and serve as the base of the rolls. Many grocery stores carry nori, as do Asian markets and a variety of online vendors. Tip: When buying, make sure you purchase sheets that are made for sushi as opposed to snacking. The latter will likely be too brittle to roll.
Sushi rice: Sticky sushi rice is critical to the success of these rolls, and it’s easy to make. (Click here to make your own.) For a shortcut, you can purchase hot, cooked sushi rice very inexpensively at grocery stores that sell sushi. You could also purchase the cooked rice from a nearby sushi restaurant (the prices will likely vary more).
A bowl of water: This is for dipping your fingers. Sushi rice is sticky, and wet fingers prevent sticking and make spreading the rice over the nori sheets much easier.
Fillings: These can be raw or cooked, vegetarian/vegan, etc. Salmon, tuna, cucumbers, avocado are some of the popular choices, but there are many more ideas listed below.
Accompaniments: For serving, soy sauce or tamari, pickled ginger and wasabi paste are traditional, but you can choose what sounds good to you. I like to mix some of the 2-ingredient spicy mayo and offer chopsticks, of course! A side of steamed edamame in the shell provides a little extra. For a fun dessert, you could purchase fortune cookies.
Prepare any sauces you will be making to use on your rolls ahead of time, so they will be ready. (I make the spicy mayo and then serve the sushi with wasabi, pickled ginger and soy or tamari sauce. Coconut aminos is a good soy-free alternative.)
Cut any vegetables you will be using in long thin strips about 1/4″ or julienne them. (I like using seeded and peeled cucumbers, carrots, avocados and green onions. Shredded beets, red pepper, radishes, sprouts and roasted sweet potato are good options, too).
Prepare the protein: If using sushi fish, cut into in similar long strips (more details in “How to cut fish for sushi rolls,” above). If using cooked shrimp or crab sticks, you’ll need two per roll. Smoked salmon and canned (well drained) tuna are easy, ready-to-use, cooked alternatives. Roe (fish eggs) offers a fancy extra for those who enjoy. (I recently purchased a small container for $2.00. It was $24.00 per pound, but it’s very light, and a little bit makes a lovely garnish or filling.)
Ready your mat: For easy cleanup, cover your mat with plastic wrap, and make sure the mat is positioned so that the bamboo slats are lying horizontal to you. (If you don’t have a sushi mat, a flexible placemat or kitchen towel topped with a sheet of plastic wrap can serve as a substitute.)
Position the nori: Place the nori on the mat with the shiny/smooth side facing down. Use the full sheet for larger rolls, or cut the sheet in half horizontally for two standard-size rolls.
Spread the rice: Keep a bowl of clean water next to your work area to wet your fingers. This prevents the rice from sticking to them. Scoop about 1 cup (6 ounces) of rice for a full sheet of nori and ½ cup (3 ounces) for a half sheet, and place it in the center of the sheet. Pat the rice down gently until it’s evenly distributed over the surface of the nori.
For rice on the outside (an “inside out” roll): I think these are easier to make because there is less risk of overfilling, which makes the roll harder to close. Spread the stated amount of rice evenly over the nori and right up to all the edges. When finished, flip the nori so that it is on the mat with the rice side facing down. (Don’t worry, the rice sticks!)
For nori on the outside: Use slightly less rice and leave about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of empty space at the top of the nori sheet. This is necessary for this type of roll to seal once it’s been rolled. (Helpful hint: you must be especially careful not to overfill this type of roll, especially when using a half sheet of nori, or the roll will not close.)
Place the filling ingredients: Place your chosen ingredients in a line that extends the width of the nori sheet. For a half sheet of nori, start closer to the near edge. If using a full sheet of nori, you can place the filling about a third of the way from the edge that’s closer to you. Each ingredient should be in its own line, and the lines should be sandwiched close together. Use about ⅓ of a cup, give or take, of the prepared veggies, fish and other ingredients of choice. After one or two rolls, you’ll get a good feel for the right amount.
Rolling the sushi: You want to roll from the bottom (edge closer to you) using your mat as a guide. Start by sliding your thumbs under the edge of the mat and lift it up and over to fold the nori over on itself. Then continue to pull the mat forward, rolling and applying even pressure to help mold the roll until it closes. At this point, I pull back the mat and look at the roll and then gently squeeze again with the mat if the roll looks like it needs some evening out. (Also, I end up rinsing my fingers often when I make sushi, as they tend to get messy!)
Slicing the rolls: A sharp knife is critical to make clean cuts and not squish the rolls. I prefer a sharp chef’s knife over a serrated blade. Wetting the knife with cool water, as you did with your fingers, helps, too. (A dry blade tends to stick to and mangle the sushi.) You can dip the blade of your knife into a container of water, or run it under the tap from tip to handle. I do this after every few slices and rinse off any sticky rice residue at the same time. I find it easiest to slice the rolls in half first, and then slice each half in half again until you have a total of eight pieces. (It’s easier to create uniform pieces this way as opposed to slicing down the line from left to right.) If you prefer larger pieces, you can slice the rolls into six pieces.
•Wet your fingers as often as needed to keep the rice from sticking to them.
•Be careful not to spread the rice too thick, as this will make it difficult to roll the sushi, and could even cause the nori to break. Also, bulky pieces or too much filling make closing the roll difficult.
•A kitchen scale makes portioning the right amount of rice really easy. If not using a scale, however, you’ll start to get a sense of how much rice to use after your first few attempts.
•If you like sesame seeds, you can sprinkle some over the rice before you add the remaining ingredients or use as a garnish.
•Be careful not to roll your mat up in your sushi by mistake!
•If raw fish is being used, it is important to use only the freshest fish from a trusted source to avoid food poisoning.
- 8 ounces sushi grade tuna, minced (could substitute sushi grade salmon or even cooked tuna or well drained and flaked canned tuna)
- 2 tablespoons (26g) mayonnaise
- 2 teaspoons (10ml) sriracha sauce
- 1 teaspoon (5ml) soy sauce or tamari
- 1 scallion, minced
- Optional: 1½ to 2 teaspoons Tobiko or “flying fish roe” per roll
In a medium bowl, mix the minced tuna with the remaining ingredients. If using the roe, you can mix it in, but I like to spread a thin strip down each roll or top the sliced rolls with a small spoonful for visual appeal.
Use the spicy tuna mixture in the sushi rolls, as explained above.
Tip: I use 2 ounces of the mixture for smaller rolls made with a half sheet of nori and 2½ ounces for larger rolls, which use the full sheet of nori. (For more details on this, see the main recipe instructions, above.) If you don’t have a scale, divide the mixture into rough halves several times to ensure enough for the stated amount of rolls. Also, feel free to half or double the recipe as needed.
•I have learned that some fancy sushi vendors add ketchup to their spicy tuna mixture to enhance the color. I haven’t done this, but if you like the idea, you may wish to start with a small squirt and add additional sriracha to taste, if desired, to balance the sweetness the ketchup supplies.
FOR THE SPICY MAYO:
¼ cup (52g) mayonnaise
3-4 teaspoons sriracha sauce (or to taste)
Mix and refrigerate until ready to use. Double or triple the recipe as needed. If you’d like to artfully drizzle the sauce over the rolls, you can transfer it to a squeeze bottle or a baggie with a small hole snipped off the corner to squeeze through. I also like to drizzle a thin line over some of the fillings while making the rolls. (My favorite is salmon, cucumber and avocado with a drizzle of the sriracha mayo added before rolling.)
A few more things
Sushi rice: Click here for the recipe if you’d like to make your own – it’s easy – or you can take a shortcut and purchase freshly cooked sushi rice wherever sushi is sold. (Your favorite sushi takeout restaurant, for example…and Wegmans even has it!)
Alternative to raw fish: canned tuna, smoked salmon, imitation crab sticks, and tofu along with cream cheese and any and all vegetables that you’d like to include in your rolls
What to serve with your sushi: I like to offer soy sauce or tamari (check label for gluten-free, if necessary; coconut aminos can be used if there’s a soy allergy), pickled ginger and wasabi. For finishing touches, you may also sprinkle the top of the rolls with a pinch of toasted sesame seeds, a drizzle of spicy mayo or sriracha sauce, or a spoonful of roe.
➔For an easy accompaniment, I steam a bag of frozen edamame (the in-the-shell kind). Once drained, I spray or drizzle very lightly with olive oil, toss well, and then sprinkle with kosher or sea salt and toss again to evenly coat. (An oil mister works well, as you want just enough oil to make the salt stick without making the edamame too oily.)
Size of cut pieces is a matter of preference: For standard hosomaki rolls, each piece should be about 1 inch wide. Chumaki rolls can be slightly bigger at around 1½ inches, while futomaki (the largest type of hand-rolled sushi) pieces may be up to 2–2½ inches wide. Many people prefer to cut the large rolls (made with the full sheet of nori) slightly thinner than the smaller rolls made with the half sheet. I usually keep things simple and cut them all into 8 pieces.
Leftovers: Raw fish is best eaten the same day it is purchased, although the rolls may absolutely be prepared earlier in the day you wish to eat them. Simply cover and refrigerate until mealtime. (Tip: If covering with plastic wrap, add garnishes like spicy mayo just before serving to avoid smearing.) If I end up with a little extra sushi grade fish, someone usually snacks on it. I’ve also made a quick sushi bowl out of bits of leftover rice, fish and veggies – with a dollop of spicy mayo – for an easy and very tasty lunch. I have eaten leftover rolls the following day and have so far been fine, but I wouldn’t suggest it. However, if there are no raw ingredients, leftovers will be fine for several days. Just wrap them well so the rice doesn’t dry out.