How to Prepare Fish for Sushi

Sushi rice – characteristics

Sushi consists of cooked vinegared rice with eggs, fish, vegetables, mushrooms, seafood or nori seaweed. Restaurants prepare sushi immediately before serving due to its short best before date. Shari is a type of slightly sour rice used by the Japanese to prepare excellent sushi. The rice used for this world-famous Japanese dish differs a little from the classic one. Shari is always made of one type of rice – no mixing is allowed here. The method of preparing shari is also crucial as sushi rice is unlike the rice added for instance to Indian food. Grains of short-grain rice reach a length of approx. 5 mm and they assume a slightly round shape. Due to high amylopectin content, the grains stick to one another easily once cooked, which makes the preparation of sushi much easier.

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Types of Sushi

Central to the sushi’s ingredients no matter where

Central to the sushi’s ingredients no matter where or when (the Japanese have a tradition of preparing meals with varying ingredients based on seasons) is how the vinegared rice is prepared.

Fillings, toppings, condiments, and preparation vary widely.

The mutation of the consonants in the Japanese language which is known as rendaku (連濁), sushi is then spelled with “zu” and not what the Western vocabulary designates it with the “su” when a prefix is linked to it (e.g. nigirizushi).

You can also read our in-depth post about the types of sushi.

Chirashizushi (sushi bowl)

Chirashizushi (ちらし寿司) is also called barazushi or “scattered sushi.”

The chef places the rice in a bowl instead of wrapping it around the different ingredients. Then, the chef garnishes it with fish and vegetable toppings.

It is an annual dish eaten during Hinamatsuri in March. People love to eat it because it’s easy to prepare and it can make you full with just 1 meal.

Edomae Chirashizushi (Edo-style scattered sushi) is a variation of the chirashizushi that is served with raw ingredients arranged in artistic rendering.

Gomokuzushi (Kansai-style sushi) is another variation of the chirashizushi that has raw or cooked ingredients mixed in a bowl or plate of rice.

Sake-zushi (Kyushu-style sushi) ferments the cooked rice with rice wine (mirin) instead of vinegar. Then it’s garnished with shrimp, sea bream, octopus, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and shredded omelet toppings.

Inarizushi

Inarizushi (稲荷寿司) is a type of sushi named after the Shinto god Inari. It’s packed in a pouch made out of fried tofu with rice in it.

In Japanese legends, the foxes were the messengers of the god Inari and according to the tale they like fried tofu a lot.

This is the reason why the Inari-zushi roll has pointed corners in order to symbolize fox ears like a call back to Inari’s fox messengers.

Some regional variations of the inarizushi have pouches that are made of the thin omelet in place of the fried tofu, they are called fukusa-zushi (帛紗寿司), or chakin-zushi (茶巾寿司).

Makizushi

Makizushi (巻き寿司) is the famous rolled sushi with varying names like the nori roll (海苔巻き) and variety of rolls (巻物).

It looks like a cylindrical piece of food that is reminiscent of electrical tape in both shape and size. It’s formed using a makisu (巻き簾) or bamboo mat.

The makizushi is normally wrapped in nori (seaweed), but sometimes can also be wrapped with other elements including shiso (perilla) leaves, cucumber, soy paper, and thin omelet.

The chef would cut the makizushi into 6 – 8 pieces of two-thirds of an inch thick from a single roll order.

Types of Makizushi

We’ve listed some of the most common types of makizushi that you can find in most Japanese restaurants; however, there are more kinds of makizushi than these.

  • Futomaki (太巻, “thick, large or fat rolls”)
  • Tamago Makizushi (玉子巻き寿司)
  • Tempura Makizushi (天ぷら 巻き寿司) or Agezushi (揚げ寿司ロール)
  • Hosomaki (細巻, “thin rolls”)
  • Kappamaki, (河童巻)
  • Tekkamaki (鉄火巻)
  • Negitoromaki (ねぎとろ巻)
  • Ehōmaki (恵方巻, “lucky direction roll”)
  • Temaki (手巻, “hand roll”)

Modern Narezushi

Narezushi (熟れ寿司) also called “matured sushi” is one of the well-known traditional fermented sushis in Japan.

Making the sushi starts with skinning and gutting freshly caught fish, and then stuffing them with salt.

They are then placed in a wooden barrel and drenched in salt a second time. Then, a pickling stone called “tsukemonoishi” is placed on top of the barrel to weigh them down.

Each day all the moisture is removed from the barrel.

The fish ferments for about 6 months’ time before it’s taken out and eaten.

Since it is now fermented, then it will last for another 6 months or more and will not spoil.

The funa-zushi is the most famous variety of narezushi which is a specialty dish of Shiga Prefecture.

This sushi is made with the nigorobuna, a goldfish from the crucian carp genus, and is endemic to Lake Biwa.

Nigirizushi

Nigirizushi (握り寿司, “hand-pressed sushi”) otherwise known as “hand-pressed sushi.” The chef scoops a handful of rice and squeezes it in his palms to form an oblong/oval-shaped sushi rice with neta toppings.

The nigirizushi is commonly served with a tablespoon of wasabi. The neta could consist of tuna, salmon, other types of fish, or seafood.

Some toppings are also wrapped around the rice using a thin strip of nori. These include sweet egg (tamago), squid (ika), sea eel (anago), freshwater eel (unagi), and octopus (tako).

One order of a given type of fish typically results in two pieces, while a sushi set (sampler dish) may contain only one piece of each topping.

Gunkanmaki (軍艦巻) also called “the warship roll” is oval-shaped sushi rice that has a strip of nori wrapped around its external portion. It has a fun shape that almost resembles a battleship.

The oblong sushi rice is filled with soft, loose, or fine-chopped ingredients. These include quail eggs, scallops, corn with mayonnaise, sea urchin roe (uni), oysters, natto, and roe.

It’s significant as this type of sushi which is a variation of the nigirizushi was invented at the Ginza Kyubey restaurant in 1941.

It was also because of the gunkanmaki that the use of soft toppings in sushi was revolutionized.

Another variation of the nigirizushi is the temarizushi (手まり寿司) or “ball sushi.” This one is molded into a spheroid shape, unlike the oval-shaped gunkanmaki.

Also read: these are the different calorie counts for the 11 most popular types of sushi

Oshizushi

Oshizushi (押し寿司) “pressed sushi,” also known as hako-zushi (箱寿司) “box sushi,” is hand-pressed sushi that originated from the Kansai region and is a favorite and a specialty of Osaka.

A wooden mold called oshibako is used to form the block-shaped sushi.

First, the chef places the toppings on the kitchen counter or baker’s table. Then, he covers them with sushi rice and later presses the oshibako down in order to create a compact oshizusi.

The sushi block is then removed from the oshibako and sliced into bite-sized pieces.

Saba zushi (鯖寿司) or battera, pressed mackerel sushi (バッテラ) is particularly popular in Osaka region. This type of sushi has all of its ingredients cooked or cured and the chef never uses raw fish.

Western-Style Sushi

There are also Western-style sushis which ingredients have radically been changed to fit the taste of Westerners and are entirely created outside of Japan. I think most people are familiar with the California roll or Dragon roll – that’s what we mean by western sushi. Those are not popular in Japan. 

Well, to be precise Western sushi lovers actually borrowed the famous Japanese sushi dishes and evolved it with their own version of cooking and preparation techniques.

Here are the 2 most famous Western-style sushis:

Uramaki

Uramaki (裏巻) translated as “inside-out sushi roll” in English is mid-sized circular sushi that has at least 2 fillings. It is an analog of the California roll (a sushi preparation method to conceal the nori).

Although at first glance the makimono and uramaki may seem similar, they differ. For example, the uramaki has rice on the outer layer and the nori inside.

The uramaki’s fillings are in the center surrounded by a concentric ring of nori, rice, and other ingredients. These include toasted sesame seeds or roe which serves as an outer coating of sorts.

The uramaki has versatile ingredients for its fillings that includes carrots, cucumber, mayonnaise, avocado, crab meat, or tuna.

American-Style Makizushi

In the U.S. the futomaki is the preferred sushi. This is a variation of the makizushi that adopts the names of the places where each sushi originated.

There is an array of sushi rolls and may include dozens of different kinds of ingredients. An example is the tempura roll, where either the entire roll is battered and fried tempura-style or the shrimp tempura is stuffed inside the sushi roll as its filling.

Other ingredients may also include assorted vegetables such as cucumber and avocado, okra, chicken or beef teriyaki roll, spicy tuna, and chopped scallions.

In the Southern United States, a lot of sushi restaurants prepare rolls using crawfish.

In some cases, the sushi rolls are made with black or brown rice that are akin to Japanese sushi recipes also.

More recently, vegetarian and vegan sushi is rapidly gaining popularity. Avocado and sweet potato are common vegan fillings. 

How to Make Perfect Sushi Rice

Ingredients You’ll Need

  • Japanese short grain rice
  • Kombu (kelp) — Optional, but highly recommended! It’s the top secret for achieving best aromatic sushi rice.
  • Rice vinegar
  • Sugar
  • Salt

Overview: Cooking Step

  1. Cook rice with kombu using your preferred cooking method.
  2. Make sushi vinegar (seasoning).
  3. Transfer cooked rice to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a sushi oke or hangiri (traditional method).
  4. Season the rice with sushi vinegar then mix with a rice paddle (slicing motion!)
  5. Cover with a damp towel and ready to use.

Tips To Avoid Mushy Sushi Rice

Have you ever made a batch of sushi rice but ended up with a mushy pile of goo? We’ve all been there! That’s why I wanted to make this helpful guide for you all. Learning how to make sushi rice correctly is important because mushy rice will definitely not work for sushi.

To avoid this catastrophe, follow these four tips.

  1. Make sure the rice is hot when you pour the vinegar on top so that the rice turns out nice and shiny.
  2. Don’t stir and squish the rice while mixing in the vinegar; you need to “cut” it into the rice.
  3. Use a fan to cool the rice as you “cut” the vinegar into it, so the rice is shiny.
  4. Cool to room temperature and cover the rice with wet kitchen cloths to avoid the rice getting dry. Do not keep it in the fridge!
Mixing sushi vinegar into rice
Mixing sushi vinegar into rice

Temperature Abuse and Bacterial Contamination: The Real Danger

Haraguchi and Herron agree that parasites in raw fish are less of a concern than bacterial contamination. "At the end of the day, we can freeze this product—so we've gotten rid of the worms—but you could temp-abuse it at home, we could temp-abuse it here, there's a million different things that can impact the bacterial count on that fish," Herron says.

By "temp-abuse," or temperature abuse, Herron means that the fish could be kept at unsafe temperatures for a long enough period of time to encourage the growth of pathogenic bacteria. Generally speaking, fish must be kept below 40°F (4°C) to inhibit that growth. Bacterial strains of all kinds are worrisome to health authorities, but some are specific to certain kinds of fish. For example, above 40°F, tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herring are susceptible to the growth of bacteria that produce histidine decarboxylase, an enzyme that produces scombrotoxin (also known as histamine), which can cause symptoms of poisoning in humans. Histamine is not eradicated by cooking or freezing, so it's a particular concern for fish purveyors.

In addition, fish processors and markets must limit the introduction of pathogens, which means that those who work with the fish must work clean—in clean facilities, with clean tools and clean hands—and minimize their contact with the fish flesh. Fish sellers have a vested interest in keeping their product as pristine as possible, to maximize their chances of selling it before it goes bad. But home cooks who want to prepare raw fish at home should take similar precautions: sanitizing their work areas and tools, working with clean hands, touching the fish flesh as little as possible while they prepare it, and doing all they can to keep the fish as cold as possible.**

** Note that pathogenic bacterial growth is a function of temperature and time. If a piece of mackerel rests at room temperature for several hours, it is not irremediably contaminated. The FDA guidelines include a range of acceptable periods of time that fish can be kept at higher-than-refrigerated temperatures, although the general rule is that the colder you keep your fish, the longer it will keep and the safer it will be to eat.

Sashimi from Osakana. Clockwise from top left: sea bass, torched Spanish mackerel, porgy yubiki.

What Kind Of Sushi Rolls Are Cooked?

  • The Avocado Roll is made of avocado.
  • The cucumber roll from Kappa is a great way to enjoy a meal.
  • The Vegetarian Roll is a five-piece assortment of fresh vegetable rolls.
  • Roll made with crab, avocado, and cucumber.
  • Roll of spicy California crab, avocado, and cucumber.
  • Roll of shrimp tuna…
  • Roll in Philadelphia.
  • California Roll is a crunchy roll.
  • How Is The Fish In Sushi Prepared?

    The term sushi refers to fish that is sushi-grade. Fish caught in sushi-grade conditions are quickly captured, bled, gutted, and iced. Salmon, for example, should be frozen at 0F for 7 days or flash frozen at -35F for 15 hours, killing any parasites present in the fish.

    Necessary and traditional equipment for making sushi at home:

    Your food items. Whether fish, vegetables, or whatever may strike your fancy, you probably won’t overlook these, but the key is to have them prepared for inclusion in or on your sushi before you start construction. You don’t want to have to cut a fillet while making sushi, the pieces should already be sushi size when you sit down to make your sushi. But remember, safety first! Keep all raw seafood chilled and away from contaminants until you are ready to make your sushi.

    A sharp knife (a bento knife if you prefer). Cutting up all your ingredients is going to be more time consuming and difficult if you do not have a proper knife for the job. The Japanese have created a special knife for cutting fish called a bento knife which does the job very well. However there is no need to go out and buy one just for this task as any sharp knife will do. But definitely make sure that the knife is sharp as the sharper the knife the more clean and precise the cuts you will be able to make. A dull knife will crush your sushi maki and make things pretty messy.

    Bamboo mat (called a sushimaki sudare or maki su in brief). This is used for rolling and shaping cut rolls, called maki or maki-zushi and are necessary if making maki. They are truly invaluable as they ensure consistency in the final product and without one you would be hard pressed (ha ha! a pun!) to roll something as wide as a sheet of nori (seaweed) without a fiasco. Some cover their maki su with plastic wrap which can make pressing and releasing the roll easier (and can keep the mat cleaner when using the more moist ingredients), however I never found it necessary unless you are making ‘inside out’ rolls, with the rice on the outside.

    Sushi rice. Properly cooked and seasoned rice is critical to the process. Having your rice the right temperature is also very important. Japanese short-grain rice (also called ‘sushi rice’ in western markets) is the only rice that can be used for making sushi, it has the right amount of starch to keep it stuck together and ensure a proper final product. If you have a rice cooker, this should work well for you, however if not, see our ‘fail safe sushi rice’ recipe for instructions as to how to make rice for making sushi at home. Rice for sushi should be well aerated and room temperature, not warm or chilled. This way it will have the proper consistency as well as the stickiness required for sushi. It will also not interrupt the flavor of the sushi by adding a temperature element. Room temperature rice will ensure that you really taste the fish (or vegetables) in your sushi, and is the one thing I really feel the need to stress for those making sushi at home.

    Soy Sauce (shoyu). I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use shoyu when eating sushi, but I thought to include this as I remember a time when I assumed I had some in the larder but when I went to get it, there was none to be found. Put it on your checklist. Some people prefer lower salt shoyu, which is perfectly fine, but I would like to point out to everyone that there is a definitely difference in quality shoyu versus the plain old stuff. For many people this may be immaterial, and that’s fine, It’s all about personal preference, but I would suggest that anyone who has access to a decent Japanese market seek out some of the higher end shoyu and give it a try. There is an endless variety, and I have found some excellent shoyu just by being adventurous and asking the shop owners what they would recommend. Shoyu is like wine, and you get what you pay for. Some ‘artesianal’ shoyu that I have had the good luck of finding has had some truly spectacular qualities that make just sprinkling a bit on a bowl of rice a wonderful meal.

    Nori (seaweed sheets). These are usually only necessary if you are making maki (cut rolls) or sometimes as a garnish on a piece of nigiri sushi. However if you are making sushi at home with more moist or softer ingredients (tobiko or uni, for example) you will need a piece of nori to form a cup to hold the contents of these kinds of sushi. Nori is generally bought ‘toasted’ which means that it is properly dried for maki production, so there is no need to toss it in the toaster oven if you hear this word and think it is a necessary step. Often nori is cut into two or three strips to make maki rolling easier (as depending on how you make your maki, one sheet may be too large). Personally, I cut mine in half which I feel is the perfect size for making maki sushi at home.

    Wasabi (Japanese horseradish). While called Japanese horseradish in western circles, wasabi is actually not related to horseradish at all. It is its own rhizome and like nothing else on this earth (well, except it is knobby like any other rhizome). Some people like this spicy condiment on their sushi and some don’t. Again, it’s all about personal preference. But for those who do, wasabi is a great addition to sushi and can be easily found. When being purchased in the store, if you are lucky you can find an actual rhizome that you can grate yourself (with any grater, but for authentic Japanese style one would us a special grater made of sharkskin called an oroshi). But it is also available powdered and in tubes. More often, the ‘wasabi’ found is really American horseradish with coloring and flavoring, sometimes with a touch of real wasabi thrown in for the ‘wasabi’ claim. In the US, horseradish products such as these can be legally called ‘wasabi’ adding to the confusion. That said, most of the time you are given this product in a sushi restaurant and won’t get authentic wasabi unless you ask for it specifically, and often with a surcharge, so for the most part you can use the regular, easy to find product and will discern no difference. For home use, real wasabi can be found at Catalina Offshore Products.

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