In Japan, chefs often go through 10 or more years of training before earning the title itamae, sushi master. But that doesn't mean you can't become a maki master in your own home. Tuna Bar owner and executive chef Ken Sze says making a salmon avocado, spicy tuna, or other favorite roll — raw fish included — needn't be intimidating.
"Honestly, sushi is not that hard if you have a little patience and a sharp knife," Sze said. "The hardest part comes before the rolling, with the fish before it's filleted."
Find a reliable fishmonger who can recommend and debone various cuts for you, and the process becomes fully doable. Sze says maki (rolls) are the ideal place to start, because the outer layers — rice and seaweed — can help cover up any technical mistakes that might happen along the way.
"If your cuttings aren't perfectly uniform, it's OK — you're not working for me, so you don't need to be too hard on yourself," Sze joked. "Even if the roll's a little messy and the fish isn't sliced exactly like your sushi chef would, it'll still taste good."
The only essential tools for making sushi at home are a sharp knife and a bamboo rolling mat.
The first step, and arguably the most important, is to invest in a sharp knife. If you already own one, pull out that sharpener and make sure your blade is 100 percent ready to go.
"A chef's knife will work, but if you want to get serious, invest in a Yanagi knife," Sze said. "The blade is super-thin, which makes it easier to slice."
A bamboo paddle for fluffing rice and chopsticks are also nice to have. Both can be purchased online or at various stores in Chinatown.
Everything else you can get at the grocery store. As you shop, refer to the following list:
Nori (seaweed wrappers)
Sushi- or sashimi-grade fish (read more on this below)
Veggies and toppings of your choice (avocado, cucumbers, scallions, mayo, sriracha, sesame seeds, etc.)
Plastic wrap (to cover the bamboo mat for easy cleanup)
Feel free to get creative with ingredients — that is, after all, one of the best parts of making sushi at home.
It would be easy to mistake sushi rice for plain white rice, but it has a bit of strategy and seasoning behind it.
Sushi rice — white, short-grain rice — has higher levels of starch, which means it's stickier. It's cooked in a 1:1 ratio of water to rice, as opposed to the traditional 2:1, and then seasoned with a vinegar solution.
"When pouring the vinegar, you want to picture the rice like a family. Every kernel gets some food, some vinegar," Sze said, noting that it's important to add the seasoning a little at a time. The goal is to distribute it as evenly as possible. A bamboo paddle or a spatula can help.
"You want to fold in the vinegar, not smash it," Sze said. "The kernels should remain intact when you're done."
After seasoning, place a warm, damp cloth over the bowl of rice until you're ready to use it.
"If the rice is too cold, it's harder to spread, but when it's too hot, it makes the seaweed soggy and it will break," Sze said, noting that just-warm-to-the-touch (slightly above room temperature) is ideal.