Homemade Sushi

27 Apr

Sushi is a familiar item on the Western menu these days — let’s face it, if you can find it at the SuperTarget in Cedar Rapids, it’s not exotic any more — but it seems like most (non-Japanese) people’s experience is limited to nigiri and maki, which is sushi with a slice of protein on top and sushi rolled with fillings in the middle, respectively. The world of sushi is much wider; the word refers to any dish made with seasoned rice (which, incidentally, was developed around the 8th century as a means of preservation). The sushi pictured above is called chirashi, or bara, and it’s basically sushi rice with an array of seasonal toppings (in this case, omelet, seasoned mackerel, tuna sashimi, and braised shitake); it’s often made at home for special occasions, like Girls’ Day (Hina-matsuri), as it was in my house, or in my grandma’s case, when my mom and I show up for a visit and she feels like making sushi.

My grandma is originally from Kumamoto, on Kyushu, the westernmost island of Japan (we’re not counting Okinawa here), so she makes her sushi in the kansai, or western style, with lots of mix-ins. (Like northern cornbread vs. southern cornbread, there are marked differences in kansai vs. kanto, or eastern, cooking. But that’s a subject for another post.) Here’s a basic sushi recipe to try at home, including the stuff my grandma usually adds in.

Sushi Rice (makes 6 cups)


3 cups rice (not actual cups; use the plastic cup that comes with your rice cooker. And if you don’t have a rice cooker, get one. I recommend Zojirushi.)
60 ml rice vinegar (not seasoned rice vinegar. In fact, read the ingredients to make sure it doesn’t contain anything weird, like salt or MSG)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 piece of konbu (kelp), cut to fit the rice cooker

Optional mix-ins:

All mix-ins should be diced finely.

2 pieces of dried shitake, rehydrated overnight and braised in 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, 1 teaspoon of sugar, and some water
1/2 carrot, blanched
2 teaspoons sesame seeds


  1. Cook rice, with the konbu, in your rice cooker as you would normally, unless you have a super-fancy rice cooker with a “sushi” option, in which case, this would be the perfect opportunity to use it.
  2. Combine vinegar, sugar, and salt.
  3. When the rice is cooked, transfer it to a large, shallow, non-reactive bowl (a wooden salad bowl is ideal, but I’ve used stainless steel before). Mix in the vinegar mixture with the rice paddle (this should have come with your rice cooker) with large, cutting motions; this keeps the rice from sticking together. Simultaneously, with your free hand, wave a large fan to cool the rice. (If you’ve got someone in the kitchen with you, get them to do the fan-waving part.) And don’t throw the konbu away! Slice it up to mix in with the rice, if  you’re doing the mix-ins, or add it to a salad or something. It’s very good for you.
  4. Once the rice has cooled to room temperature — “skin temperature” is what the Japanese call it — it’s ready for use. Add the mix-ins at this stage, if using.

Now what do I do?

  1. Make chirashi sushi: put the sushi rice on a large plate or shallow bowl, and artfully arrange the toppings of your choice. Traditionally, this would include cooked shrimp, sliced omelet, snow peas, lotus root in vinegar, braised shitake, and nori, but feel free to use anything that tastes good at room temperature and with rice. Just make sure you have a balance of colors (red, yellow/ white, green, and brown/black). For example, you could do a very Western-style chirashi with smoked salmon, crab meat, and cucumber. Or a vegan one with fried tofu, snow peas, shitake, and carrots (cooked).
  2. Have a sushi party: get some large sheets of nori, a variety of fillings (anything that works in a chirashi would work here), and have your guests assemble their own. You don’t need a roller; temaki is by definition done by hand, so it’s more like making tacos.
  3. Make inari sushi: buy some seasoned tofu pockets (the ones in a bag, not in a can), or make your own. Stuff with sushi rice. (Incidentally, these are named after a Shinto deity whose shrines are guarded by foxes because…foxes love tofu pockets? Then again, once you’ve had inari sushi, you’d understand why foxes like them, too. They’re that delicious.)

One Response to “Homemade Sushi”


  1. Seasonal McD’s: Matcha Shake and McNuggets with Plum Sauce | Straight Out of Kampung - April 23, 2013

    […] Last month saw me back in Tokyo for my grandma’s 99th birthday. I hope that I’m as accomplished of a cook when I get to be her age; she still makes her own pickles, and has never used a microwave. (I’ve blogged about her cooking here and here.) […]

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