Day 31: Sushi for Beginners

Sushi. Love it, hate it, or too scared to try it – it certainly divides opinion! I don’t remember the first time I had sushi. I do know that I love it, it’s healthy, and on Day 31 of #100DaysNoTV Rob and I had a go at making it.

Quick ‘hello’ to Marian Keyes fans who may have stumbled here by accident. Sorry, this has literally nothing to do with her bestseller of the same name!

This post is about our experience as sushi beginners; it isn’t a tutorial for the perfect sushi, as we have NEVER done this before. Instead, I’ll let you know how we got on, share some tips and a bit of my research into sushi etiquette, so you can impress your friends. 🙂

equipment & ingredients

You don’t need a lot of equipment to make sushi, and most are common kitchen items. I’ve listed everything we used to make ours; of course, your ingredients may be different, according to your tastes. All of our ingredients are available from larger supermarket chains.

Bamboo rolling mat (makisu)
Sharp knife/knives
Chopping board
Wooden spoon
Cling film
Serving bowls/plates

Nori (seaweed sheets)
Sushi rice
Rice wine vinegar
Mirin (sweet rice wine)
Tuna steak
Salmon fillet
Crab meat
Sesame seeds (black & white)
Wasabi paste
Pickled ginger
Soy sauce

sushi dishes

We decided to keep it simple, and try the dishes we love to eat:

Maki – cut sushi rolls (from ‘maku’, to roll)
Uramaki – inside-out sushi rolls
Sashimi – a thin piece of raw fish, nothing else
Nigiri Sushi – finger of rice covered with a slice of fish (from ‘nigiru’, to grasp/grip)

sushi rice

Far and away THE hardest thing to get right! Our first mistake was to rely on the instructions on the packet: boil in water, simmer for 20 mins, then leave to stand. The result was fairly bland rice that wasn’t “light, fluffy & sticky”! No mention of rinsing the rice beforehand, which turns out is extremely important!

We looked online, took some advice from friends, and realised there was another important element we missed: adding a special seasoning to the cooked rice (the ‘sushi su’). You’ll find lots of variations online. For 250g rice, we used 60 ml rice wine vinegar, 2 oz sugar, 3 tsp mirin*. Fold into the cooked rice (a little at a time). It adds to the flavour and texture.

When sufficiently cool, you can lay it on top of a sheet of nori (seaweed) ready to make your maki, uramaki or shape into fingers for sashimi.

*If you can’t find mirin, you can substitute with dry sherry or dry white wine mixed with a bit of sugar. There are lots of other substitutes online.

maki & Uramaki

Rob had the first go at this, using our brand new bamboo mat! The nori should be shiny side down; cover in a layer of rice about a quarter of an inch thick. Don’t squish it too much. We realised if you put your filling along the middle of the rice, it’s a bit too far up to roll neatly, so place your filling around two-thirds down, towards the end you roll from.

Keep everything as tight as possible when you roll, and take it slowly! Once you have your roll, slice it up. Tip: use a sharp knife wiped both sides with oil. Our rolls were a lot larger than expected. Later we tried halving the nori and made vegetable maki with avocado & cucumber – these were more bite-size, and next time we’ll do this for all of them!

Our fillings: salmon, avocado & cucumber; tuna & cucumber, avocado & cucumber.

Uramaki inside-out rolls have a couple more steps than maki rolls: place your nori on a chopping board and once you’ve covered the nori with the sushi rice, sprinkle sesame seeds all over (we used white & black); cover it all with a layer of cling film and carefully turn it over onto the bamboo mat. Then add your filling and roll, just as you do with the maki.

Our fillings: crab meat, cucumber & avocado (the classic ‘California roll’).

nigiri sushi

These were nice and simple! Mould your cooked rice into a finger shape – best to rub a bit of oil into your hands first, to stop the rice sticking – and lay a thin slice of raw fish over the top. For ours we used salmon & tuna fillets. It’s apparently standard to add a thin layer of wasabi under the fish, but we realised too late so added it just before eating.

As we had lots of nori left over I added a little slice around the middle of some of them to make them look a bit more interesting. 🙂


We chose to stick with salmon & tuna rather than be adventurous with squid or octopus! It was super simple – we just sliced slightly thicker pieces when we were doing the nigiri.

Rob is more of a sashimi fan than I am, to be honest – I’d rather eat it with the rice, but in small servings, with a bit of soy and wasabi, it is nice.

sushi etiquette

I did a bit of research on sushi etiquette, and there don’t seem to be any hard and fast rules. Rob and I always use chopsticks with sushi, even at home. If you don’t want to, or find it fiddly, the consensus seems to be that if you’re eating it in a restaurant, general politeness goes a long way. A fork is acceptable; stabbing the food with chopsticks is a no-no. 😉

You can eat nigiri sushi with your fingers.
Sashimi should be eaten with your chopsticks.
The sliced, pickled ginger (gari) is a palate cleanser to use between the different types of sushi, helping to enhance the flavours. (Who else has been using it incorrectly?)
Soy should be used in moderation. Dip your fish in the bowl, not your rice. The rice will soak up too much soy and overpower the delicate taste of the fish.
Eat your sushi in one bite (this is one rule I break every time), although many will find the nigiri sushi just a little too big for this!
Go careful with the wasabi! The chef will probably have added some to the nigiri already. For the brave, you can add more with your chopstick.
Sake is technically for drinking before or after the meal, and with sashimi. As it’s rice-based it is considered not to complement any sushi eaten with rice. (We broke this one too!)

Mini glossary

Domo arigato – Thank you very much
Dozo – Please
Hashi – Chopsticks
Itamae – Japanese chef
Kanpai – Japanese equivalent of ‘Cheers’
Oshibori – Hot, damp towel to wash your hands before and during your meal

How do you feel about sushi? Have you tried to make it yourself? Are you an expert with some tips you’d like to share? 🙂

Bye for now!

Emma heart pink slender

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