Ready, Steady, Roll: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Sushi!

  • HOW TO
  • If you love eating sushi, chances are you’ve at least had the thought of trying to make it yourself. The first time I tried to make sushi I was 18 years old and had no idea what I was doing – I got overexcited with the filling and the finished products were so big that they ended up looking like Wagon Wheels.


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    But here in Japan, I’ve discovered that there are all sorts of implements you can buy to help you make the perfect sushi roll. Follow this guide to find out how I made my first real sushi rolls and how you can make them too.

    Buying a Sushi-Making-Implement


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    You don’t need fancy gadgets to make sushi, particularly if you’re just making the traditional ‘rice-ball’ onigiri which you can shape in your hand. However, the 100 Yen shops often have all sorts of products to help you turn out the perfect bento box, and for 100 Yen an item… you can’t go wrong. There are all sorts of things you can buy, from the traditional rolling mats to top of the range machines that practically make them for you (note – these are not available at the 100 Yen shop!)

    In my local Daiso I found a number of different sushi rolling ‘wands’ and, tempted though I was to plump for the one that turns out heart-shaped sushi rolls, I went for one that makes traditional, cylindrical sushi rolls. These can be cut into little pieces known as ‘maki’ which means ‘roll’ (so when you buy a ‘maki roll’ at the supermarket, what you’re actually buying is a ‘roll roll’.) However, a sushi roll can also be kept at full length and eaten without being cut into pieces.

    So, whichever sushi roller you go for, the instructions will be printed on the back (in English… with pictures! Oh how I love Daiso…) With these instructions it’s super easy to see how to use the sushi roller, and so I was pretty sure I’d get it right…

    Basic Instructions

    Here is a quick rundown of how to make sushi rolls using the sushi roller.

    Cook your rice and prepare your fillings.

    1. If you have used a rice cooker, as soon as your rice finishes cooking you should give it a good stir so that it doesn’t go all dry and hard on top and at the edges. Allow the rice to cool.
    2. Once cooled, you can start building your sushi. As per the instructions, put some rice in the bottom of your roller. You can press it down with the back of a spoon but don’t pack it in too tightly. Try to spread it evenly.
    3. Add the filling. Don’t over fill – try to keep the filling to the middle so it is cushioned by rice.
    4. Add the top layer of rice, making sure that your filling is completely covered and sealed in.
    5. Close the sushi roller tightly and shake up and down as per the instructions.
    6. Feed the nori (seaweed) into the roller and shake it so that it wraps around the rice.
    7. Open the sushi roller and carefully remove the sushi roll onto a plate… or straight into your mouth!
    How it Actually Happened…


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    Well, now that you know what the basic instructions are, let’s take a look at how it happened (for me) in reality. First of all, you can pick anything for the filling of your sushi rolls – I chose tuna mayonnaise with slices of cucumber and red pepper. One thing to point out is that I definitely cut my vegetables too bulky – they need to be super slim to fit inside the sushi roll, especially if you’re hoping to cram some other fillings in there too! With the tuna mayonnaise I was careful to drain the tuna and not add too much mayo – a filling that is too liquidly will soak into the rice and make the whole thing fall apart, so those are things to watch out for.


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    The first sushi roll I made was way too big. I got overexcited with the rice and really piled it on, much higher than was recommended in the instructions. Well, as you can imagine, what happened was that it didn’t really work. Because I’d piled the rice so high, when it came to the shaking it up and down part, the sushi roll had no space to move and so basically didn’t form a really nice roll shape despite the fact that I was throttling it with the vigour of a Duracell bunny. When it came to trying to feed the nori into the roller, there was nowhere for it to go and so it didn’t wrap around properly. Epic Fail.


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    Attempt number two went much better – I was very modest with the amount of rice I put in and didn’t cram too much tuna in there either. After I had added the second layer of rice it was still below the top of the guideline. So this time when I tried shaking it to get it into the roll shape, it moved around quite easily and didn’t need much more than a gentle shake to get it rolling itself correctly. The nori fed in easily too and so it wrapped up by itself. Take a look at my photo of the first and second attempt… can you guess which overly-fattened Christmas turkey was the first attempt?

    Other Handy Hints


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    So, now that I’ve made a dozen sushi rolls (clearly quite the expert) here are a few other hints and tips for when you make your sushi:

    • After I’d made a couple of rolls, I noticed that the nori wasn’t feeding in quite as well as it had done at first. I guess this is because the roller had become sticky from all the rice in it and was causing the seaweed to get stuck. I tried turning the sushi roller at different angles when shaking it and noticed that the nori went in much better when it was kind of upside down… but perhaps that’s just me. If you find that the nori is sticking you could always wash out and carefully dry your roller once it starts getting sticky.
    • One way to spice up plain rice is to add furikake, which are flavoured sprinkles that you sometimes get on the outside of rice balls. You can sprinkle these little flavour drops on the outside of your rice if you’re making something like California Rolls, but I tried just mixing it into the rice and that worked quite well too.
    • When storing your sushi, remember that if two are touching each other the rice will get stuck together and they will fall apart (photo of sushi roll pyramid for photographic purposes only – not recommended way of storing or presenting your sushi!) You can buy little plastic dividers (the ones that look like grass you always get in ready-boxes of sushi) to separate your rolls or you can package them separately. You can wrap them in cling-film to keep them separate, and when stored in the fridge it will keep the rice from drying out so quickly.
    • Sushi is best made and eaten fresh, even if you’re not using raw fish. But it is possible to store sushi in the fridge for one day, though you’ll notice the difference in texture the second time round – the rice will be harder and dryer and the nori will be chewy and no longer crunchy, even if you’ve wrapped it in cling film. As for freezing sushi rolls, you can’t refreeze anything that’s already been frozen (for example, if you used pre-frozen crab in your rolls) but rolls with non-frozen ingredients can be stored in the freezer. Just defrost in the microwave – don’t thaw out slowly. Sushi connoisseurs wouldn’t go near sushi that had been stored like this as part of the joy of sushi is enjoying it fresh. However, if you’ve so happened to have made a whole truckload of sushi rolls and can’t eat them all at once… give it a try. Just make sure the rolls are completely defrosted and warmed through before you eat them and be careful with ingredients like raw fish or meat, but if you just use tinned tuna and sliced vegetables like me… you shouldn’t have any problems. To be on the safe side, fresh is always best.


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    Well, that’s my guide to a first-timer’s exploration of sushi making! If you live in Japan (a place where delicious, fresh sushi can be bought for reasonable prices) then hand making your own sushi is more for the fun of it than for money saving. If you fancy the challenge then I recommend investing in one of the sushi rollers on sale at your local 100 Yen shop and get making!

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    Sushi, the Most Famous Japanese Food in the World!
    Onigiri: Sushi’s poor brother?