Ultimate Sushi Guide
When you think of Japanese cuisine, chances are that your first choice will be sushi. In the world of culinary arts, sushi is the ultimate art form. The dish includes a variety of ingredients artfully presented on vinegared rice rolls, from raw fish to vegetables, and most importantly, dipped in a sauce for added flavoring.
Like many other artful dishes, enjoying sushi used to be something you had to go out to a restaurant to try or befriend a sushi connoisseur and endure the unnecessary pleasantries that come with such arrangements. However, you can make delightful sushi rolls from your kitchen with a sushi kit. Before you get started, you must familiarize yourself with the history of sushi, the types of sushi, and how you can prepare this meal. Let’s take a deep dive into the world of sushi.
What is Sushi?
Sushi is a traditional Japanese dish comprising vinegared rice and various toppings, such as raw fish, cooked seafood, vegetables, eggs, or seaweed. While there is a wide range of sushi styles and presentations, the key ingredient is “sushi rice,” also known as sumeshi or shari.
Sushi is often served with soy sauce which adds flavor, although it's used sparingly to avoid overpowering the delicate flavors of the raw fish. Wasabi is also used as it adds a bit of heat. Pickled ginger can also be served to help cleanse the palate between bites.
History of Sushi
While the word “sushi” comes from the Japanese language meaning “soured things,” the earliest forms of sushi were created in China over two thousand years ago and introduced to Japanese culture in the eighth century. AD.
The modern form of sushi was developed during the Edo period (1603- 1868) in Japan. During this period, many different types of sushi became popular, especially nigiri sushi consisting of a small mound of vinegared rice with a piece of raw fish topping.
The 19th and 20th centuries brought faster transportation methods and the development of refrigeration, which revolutionized the sushi industry. With the improved preservation techniques, sushi quickly became popular around the globe gaining international recognition in the mid-20th century while undergoing various adaptations to suit local tastes. It's important to note that even with these changes in ingredients, creative presentations, and preparation techniques, the core principle of combining vinegared rice with fresh seafood remains at the heart of sushi cuisine.
Why are There so Many Types of Sushi?
Due to a combination of historical, regional, and cultural factors, there are multiple types of sushi. The regional differences often lead to distinct culinary skills, and the ingredients used tend to differ. An excellent example of how the availability of ingredients dictates how sushi is prepared would be in Osaka, where the fishing industry led to the development of the “Osaka-style” sushi which includes large portions of raw fish. Coastal areas with access to diverse seafood tend to incorporate more seafood-focused sushi styles, while inland regions incorporate freshwater fish or other locally produced ingredients.
The culinary creativity of the sushi chefs who constantly experiment with new combinations of flavors, ingredients, and techniques to offer unique sushi experiences has given rise to various sushi rolls. A classic example of this is fusion sushi, combining Japanese and other cuisines in innovative presentations.
Consumer preferences have also played an essential role in the ever-evolving nature of sushi cuisine. As the dish spread worldwide, local variations emerged to sweet the local consumer’s tastes and preferences. A great example is the California rolls designed to cater to a different palate while using locally available ingredients.
Types of Sushi
Nigiri sushi is the most familiar style of sushi because it is easy to make. Nigiri consists of an oval-shaped mound of vinegar rice topped off with a thin slice of raw fish, although some chefs do place a bit of wasabi between the rice and the slice of fish and some type of garnish such as ginger or minced scallions on top of the fish.
The word nigiri is a derivative of the Japanese nigirizushi, which means “hand-pressed sushi.” Most restaurants offer chopsticks as part of the sushi etiquette, which involves picking the nigiri upside down so that the fish slice can be dipped in the soy sauce. This prevents the rice mound from coming into contact with the sauce, which could otherwise absorb too much soy sauce.
key features of nigiri sushi
Rice: The rice used in nigiri sushi is known as "shari" or "sushi rice." It is short-grain rice seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. The rice should have a slightly sticky texture that holds its shape when pressed together.
Toppings: The topping of nigiri sushi consists of a thin slice of fish or seafood placed on top of the rice. Common toppings include raw fish like tuna (maguro), salmon (sake), yellowtail (hamachi), and shrimp (ebi). Cooked toppings like grilled eel (unagi), egg omelet (tamago), or octopus (tako) are also popular. Nigiri sushi allows the natural flavors of the fish to shine.
Wasabi and Soy Sauce: A small amount of wasabi, a pungent green paste made from Japanese horseradish, is often placed between the fish and the rice to enhance the flavor. Soy sauce (shoyu) is usually served alongside nigiri sushi for dipping. It is recommended to dip the fish side of the nigiri into the soy sauce to prevent the rice from becoming too soggy.
Presentation: Nigiri sushi is typically served in pairs or sets. The chef carefully shapes each mound of rice by hand, ensuring it is firm and well-proportioned. The topping is precisely placed on top of the rice, and the overall presentation is simple and elegant.
Condiments: Nigiri sushi is often enjoyed with additional condiments such as pickled ginger (gari), which acts as a palate cleanser between different types of sushi, and sometimes a small side of grated daikon radish. These condiments provide contrasting flavors and aid in digestion.
Nigiri sushi is highly regarded for its balance of flavors, the quality of the fish, and skillful preparation. It allows sushi lovers to appreciate the fish's delicate textures and flavors while savoring the rice's subtle tanginess.
Maki sushi is the most common type of sushi roll, with its classic tube-like shape held together by nori, a sheet of dried seaweed. The roll contains a layer of rice and fillings consisting of raw fish slices, vegetables, cooked shellfish, and cream cheese. The preparation of maki sushi tends to be more intricate, unlike nigiri sushi. The roll of maki sushi is then sliced into bite-sized pieces, which are some of the most recognizable forms of sushi.
Maki sushi is appreciated for its versatility, allowing for a wide range of flavor combinations and presentations. It is a favorite choice for sushi lovers who enjoy the convenience of bite-sized rolls and the ability to incorporate various ingredients in one serving.
Key features of maki sushi
Rice: Maki sushi is made using sushi rice, which is short-grain rice seasoned with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. The rice should be slightly sticky to hold the ingredients together when rolled.
Nori: Nori is a dried seaweed sheet that provides structure and flavor to maki sushi. It is usually dark green or black and has a slightly salty taste. Nori sheets are typically toasted before use to enhance their crispness and flavor.
Fillings: Maki sushi offers a wide variety of fillings. Common fillings include thinly sliced raw fish (sashimi), such as tuna, salmon, or yellowtails, and cooked seafood like shrimp or crab. Vegetarian options often include cucumber, avocado, carrot, and pickled radish. Other fillings can consist of tempura, cream cheese, or spicy mayonnaise.
Rolling Technique: A bamboo mat called a makisu is used to make maki sushi. The nori sheet is placed on the mat, and a thin layer of sushi rice is evenly spread over it, leaving a small margin at the top. The desired fillings are placed in a row along the lower edge of the rice, and the mat is used to roll the sushi into a cylindrical shape tightly. The moisture from the rice helps seal the roll.
Slicing and Presentation: Once the maki roll is tightly rolled, it is typically sliced into bite-sized pieces, usually between 6 and 8 pieces per roll. The cross-section of the roll reveals an attractive pattern of rice, nori, and fillings. Maki sushi is often arranged on a plate and served with pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce for dipping.
Variations: Maki sushi offers numerous variations and creative combinations. For example, Futomaki refers to thick rolls with multiple fillings, while Hosomaki refers to thin rolls with only one filling. Popular maki variations outside Japan include California rolls, spicy tuna rolls, and rainbow rolls.
Temaki sushi, also known as hand rolls, is a type of sushi that is shaped like a cone and made by hand. It is a popular and enjoyable way to eat sushi, as the cone shape allows you to hold and eat it with your hands.
Temaki sushi offers a fun and interactive sushi experience, allowing you to enjoy the flavors and textures of sushi in a convenient handheld form. It is often served as part of a sushi platter or as a standalone dish in sushi restaurants or at home gatherings.
Key features of temaki sushi
Cone Shape: Temaki sushi is made by wrapping a sheet of nori (seaweed) into a cone shape. The nori acts as the outer layer, holding all the ingredients together. The cone shape allows for easy handling and eating.
Fillings: The fillings of temaki sushi can vary widely and are usually a combination of rice, fish or seafood, vegetables, and other ingredients. Common fillings include sliced raw fish (sashimi) like tuna, salmon, or yellowtail, cooked seafood like shrimp or crab, avocado, cucumber, pickled radish, and various sauces or dressings.
Rice: Sushi rice is used as the base for temaki sushi. The rice is seasoned with a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. The slightly sticky texture of the rice helps to hold the fillings in place.
Assembly: A small amount of sushi rice is placed on one end of the nori sheet to make temaki sushi. Then, the desired filings are added on top of the rice. The nori sheet is then rolled into a cone shape, starting from the filled end, and the cone is secured by pressing the edges of the nori together. The cone can be left open on one end, or the bottom can be folded to seal it.
Eating: Temaki sushi is meant to be eaten immediately after it is assembled. It is typically enjoyed by picking it up with your hands and taking a bite. Combining the crisp nori, the flavorful rice, and the various fillings creates a delicious and satisfying bite.
Customization: One of the appealing aspects of temaki sushi is that it allows for customization and personalization. Each person can create their own hand rolls by choosing their preferred fillings and adjusting the amount of rice and ingredients according to their taste.
Sashimi is a type of sushi that does not contain any rice; instead, it consists of thin slices of raw fish typically served with pickled ginger, soy sauce, and wasabi. Sashimi focuses solely on showcasing the quality and flavor of raw fish or seafood. Technically sashimi should not be categorized as sushi as, strictly speaking, sushi must include rice. Another difference between other forms of sushi and sashimi is that sashimi etiquette requires it to be eaten using chopsticks. In contrast, sushi rolls can be picked up and eaten with your fingers.
Sashimi is appreciated for its simplicity and emphasis on the natural flavors and textures of the fish or seafood. It requires the use of high-quality ingredients and precise knife skills to ensure the best eating experience. Sashimi is commonly found in traditional Japanese restaurants, sushi bars, and high-end dining establishments.
Features of sashimi
Raw Seafood: Sashimi primarily features raw fish or seafood as the main ingredient. Common types of fish used for sashimi include tuna (maguro), salmon (sake), yellowtail (hamachi), mackerel (saba), and snapper (tai). Other seafood options may include scallops, squid, shrimp, octopus, and even sea urchins (uni). The seafood used for sashimi must be extremely fresh and of high quality.
Slicing Technique: Sashimi requires precise and skillful knife work. The fish or seafood is expertly sliced into thin, uniform pieces. The slices are usually cut at an angle to enhance the texture and presentation.
Presentation: Sashimi is often arranged on a plate in an aesthetically pleasing manner. The slices of fish or seafood are delicately placed, sometimes overlapping, to create an attractive display. For added visual appeal, the presentation may be garnished with edible flowers, shredded daikon radish, or shiso leaves.
Dipping Sauce: Sashimi is typically served with a dipping sauce called soy sauce (shoyu). The soy sauce may be mixed with wasabi, a spicy green paste made from Japanese horseradish, to add an extra kick of flavor. Some people also enjoy dipping sashimi in soy sauce mixed with grated ginger.
Accompaniments: Sashimi is often served with additional accompaniments to complement the flavors. These can include pickled ginger (gari), which acts as a palate cleanser between different types of fish, and a small mound of grated daikon radish, which can be used to cleanse the palate or as a condiment.
Chirashi sushi is made with a bowl of vinegared rice topped with a variety of seafood, vegetables, and sometimes fish roe which refers to fully ripe fish eggs. The word chirashi translates to “scattered” in the Japanese language, pretty much summarizing what the dish is; a deconstructed sushi that’s served in a rice bowl or a large wooden platter.
Chirashi sushi is popular for its vibrant presentation, the combination of flavors and textures, and the ability to showcase a diverse array of ingredients. It is often served in Japanese restaurants, sushi bars, and during special occasions or celebrations.
Features of chirashi sushi
Sushi Rice Base: Chirashi sushi starts with a bed of sushi rice (shari), which is short-grain rice seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and salt. The rice serves as the foundation for the dish and provides a neutral and slightly tangy flavor that compliments the toppings.
Assortment of Toppings: Chirashi sushi is known for its colorful and varied assortment of toppings. These typically include a combination of sliced raw fish (sashimi), such as tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and octopus, as well as cooked seafood like shrimp, crab, and eel. Other toppings can include tamago (sweet Japanese omelet), pickled vegetables, avocado, cucumber, and seaweed salad. The selection of toppings can vary based on personal preferences and seasonal availability.
Artful Presentation: Chirashi sushi is visually appealing and often arranged artistically. The toppings are carefully placed on top of the rice, creating an eye-catching display of colors and textures. The presentation may be further enhanced with garnishes like shiso leaves, radish sprouts, or fish roe.
Sauce and Condiments: Chirashi sushi can be enjoyed with various sauces and condiments. Common options include soy sauce (shoyu) for dipping, wasabi for added spiciness, and pickled ginger (gari) to cleanse the palate between bites. Some variations of chirashi sushi may include a drizzle of ponzu sauce and a citrus-based soy sauce.
Versatility and Customization: Chirashi sushi offers flexibility and allows for customization based on personal preferences. It can be adapted to include various ingredients, making it suitable for different dietary restrictions or preferences. The toppings and flavors can be adjusted to create unique combinations and variations.
Uramaki sushi, also known as inside-out rolls, is a type of sushi roll where the rice is on the outside, and the nori (seaweed) is on the inside. Uramaki rolls are a modern invention and have gained popularity both in Japan and internationally.
Uramaki sushi offers a different eating experience with the rice on the outside, allowing for more creative combinations and aesthetic presentations. It has become popular in many sushi restaurants and has led to the creation of fusion rolls that incorporate elements from other cuisines. The versatility and visually appealing nature of uramaki rolls have contributed to their widespread popularity.
Features of uramaki sushi
Rice on the Outside: Unlike traditional sushi rolls, where the nori wraps around the rice and fillings, uramaki rolls are made by placing a layer of sushi rice on the outside of the nori. The rice is evenly spread on a bamboo sushi mat (makisu) or a plastic wrap, and the nori is placed on top.
Fillings: Uramaki rolls can contain a variety of fillings, allowing for a wide range of flavors and combinations. Common fillings include fish or seafood (both raw and cooked), vegetables, and other ingredients. Popular choices include crab, avocado, cucumber, tempura shrimp, spicy tuna, and cream cheese. Uramaki rolls offer more flexibility in terms of fillings compared to traditional sushi rolls.
Nori Placement: With uramaki sushi, the nori is placed on the inside of the roll, making it less visible from the outside. This allows for a more subtle seaweed flavor and a softer texture compared to rolls with nori on the outside.
Additional Layer: Uramaki rolls often have an additional layer of toppings or coating on the rice. This can include sesame seeds, fish roe (such as tobiko or masago), or tempura flakes for added texture and flavor.
Slicing and Presentation: It is typically sliced into bite-sized pieces after the roll is tightly rolled. The cross-section of an uramaki roll reveals a colorful pattern of fillings surrounded by rice. Uramaki sushi is often presented on a plate, sometimes with decorative sauces or garnishes.
Sauce and Dipping: Uramaki rolls are commonly served with various sauces to enhance the flavors. Popular choices include soy sauce, spicy mayo, eel sauce, or sriracha. The sauces may be drizzled on top of the roll or served alongside for dipping.
Sushi is more than just a healthy food; it's as close as we will ever get to perfecting culinary art. With the unlimited flavor combinations to try when preparing sushi, it's no wonder it has become one of the most popular international dishes globally. Whether you are a food enthusiast or a beginner looking to venture into the world of sushi, the information covered in this guide will come in handy as you explore the endless options available when it comes to sushi dishes.
By Susan Grey
Written July 2023