Making sushi at home will become easier with practice. But it is always good to keep a few things in mind as you are making your first attempts and even throughout your career as a sushi shokunin. Herein I have compiled a list of tips that even I have to remind myself of sometimes when I get the urge to make sushi at home. Making sushi at home is not a breeze, but the fruits of your efforts will be worth it.
Remember to buy sushi grade fish or other seafood if you intend to eat anything raw. Otherwise you risk illness from parasites and bacterial contamination. And handle your food carefully, being particularly careful to keep your raw ingredients well chilled when not in use. Avoid cross contamination! Never let your raw ingredients touch anything other than your utensils and the food you intend to eat it with (N.B. Catalina Offshore Products is where I get most of my fish).
When working with the sushi rice remember to keep your hands moist otherwise the rice will stick to your hands as much as itself. Keep a bowl of water nearby and continue to moisten your hands as you go. Or rinse under a faucet if your hands become too sticky.
Don’t overwork the rice, either when seasoning or when creating the bed for nigiri sushi or maki. Your sushi rice needs air to make good sushi. Rice paste just doesn’t cut it (and that’s an ingredient for a subsequent section of this website… Desserts!)
Avocado can be slippery. Try to cut it into manageable slivers instead of chunks that will shoot out of your maki (cut roll). Placing it down before other ingredients can help it to stay in place while rolling your maki.
Some of the harder to find garnishes can be grown in your backyard. Daikon and Shiso (perilla) are available online and can be planted in your garden for use all summer. Daikon can also be stored for the winter in a root cellar or similar conditions. Just beware, plant shiso in an isolated container (like a planter) because it will spread fast and take over any area in which it grows. I learned this the hard way.
A sharp knife is your friend. Hone it before you use it for your sushi session. There are even special knives that an itamae will use to cut the fish called a bento knife. Whle this is a great tool, it is by no means required. But they are great to use if you have one. A dull blade will crush your maki, so have a sharp knife and use a clean motion with very little pressure to cut your maki. Your lack of effort will be rewarded.
Keep your knife blade barely wet when cutting your maki (cut roll). This will facilitate a clean cut so as to not crush the roll. A good way to do this is to dip the knife tip in a bowl of water and turn it so that the tip points up. Tap the handle on the table to let gravity do the work of sending the water down the cutting edge.
Keep your workspace clean. Stray rice can mess up making that next roll. Drops of water will make your nori gummy and difficult to work with.
Making sushi and especially maki is not easy. Think about what you are doing and keep practicing. Your first few attempts will almost certainly not turn out they way you want. Try not to get discouraged and it will become easier over time. If it has been a while since you made sushi, you may be rusty as well so keep that in mind and don’t expect your first attempt to turn out well.
If your maki doesn’t stay closed or falls apart you may have put in too much rice or filling. Don’t overstuff! Try to pay attention to how much of each you put on and don’t overdo it. Remember, you want a relatively thin layer of rice on the nori sheet, about ¼ of an inch thick or less and well aerated. You should also have at least one inch and up to ¼ of the nori sheet free of rice at the closing end or the roll will end up too large. Any leftover nori can be cut off the roll before it is sliced into pieces.
If you are getting frustrated with making maki, take a breather and make some temaki (hand rolls). They are much easier and just as satisfying. They look nice too.
The water you may keep near you can also be used to moisten the edged of the nori sheet to help it stay closed when making regular maki and gunkan maki (battleship rolls).
No one will be able to see the cat footprints in the rice after your maki is rolled up, so keep going and pretend it never happened.