Basic Sushi Rolling

An introduction to the art of rolling both inside-out and maki sushi rolls using either the freehand, or the rolling mat method.


1. Rolling Square or Circular Sushi

When it comes to rolling sushi, there are generally two accepted sushi roll styles: square and circular. For most people, it’s simply down to personal choice. The next decision pertains to the quantity of nori to be used – either half a sheet, or a whole sheet. In terms of versatility, a full sheet is usually better. As a novice, you’re more likely to overstuff your sushi rolls until you get the hang of the correct quantities to be used. This can cause problems when it comes to closing and sealing your sushi roll, hence why a larger nori sheet can often come in handy. Using a full sheet, you can pretty much use as much filling as you want, whereas if you use half a sheet, you’ll have to exercise greater control over the quantities used.

2. Half Nori Sheet Rolling

To divide your nori sheet, simply fold it in half, pressing firmly along the seam. Then gently tear along the seam so that you end up with two equal halves. For a cleaner edge, you can also run the heel of your knife along the inside of the seam.

3. Spreading Rice on Nori For Inside-out Sushi Rolls

Transfer 150 g/ 5 oz cooked sushi rice onto half a sheet of nori. Using your fingers, gently fluff out the rice, and spread it outward to the edges. Ensure even coverage over the entire sheet of nori.

4. Rolling the Sushi Freehand

Flip the entire nori sheet over with the rice-covered side face down on your chopping board. Add three segments of avocado (or whichever filling you are using) along the central length of the sheet. Top with sliced salmon fillet, or your own choice of sushi grade fish.

Lift up the edge of the nori sheet closest to you with both hands. Gently begin to manipulate it over the filling, using your fingers to roll it over and compress gently. You’ll also have a greater deal of control while rolling if you use your middle fingers to hold the contents in place as you roll. Keep rolling over until the nori sheet encompasses the contents, and one edge of the nori sheet overlaps the other to create a single seam.

Shape the sushi roll further with your bamboo rolling mat. Ideally, it should be covered in a plastic zip-lock bag to prevent the rice sticking to the bamboo. Use your fingers to gently compress the sides and the top of the sushi roll, refining its shape. Turn the sushi roll over once and repeat. This will help to achieve a more uniform square shape.

5. Rolling an Inside-out Sushi Roll With the Bamboo Rolling Mat

Prepare half a sheet of rice-covered nori by following the instructions in the “Spreading Rice on nori” section.

Next, lay the nori sheet face-down on your plastic-covered bamboo rolling mat. Leave approximately 1 inch of rolling space between the edge of the mat, and the edge of the nori sheet. Add your filling approximately 2-3 inches in from the edge of the nori sheet.

To roll the sheet, bring up the edge of the mat closest to you with both hands. Use your middle fingers to keep the contents in place as you curl the mat over the filling. As the edge of the mat comes over the filling, use your fingers to compress it gently. Apply pressure to the back length of the roll with your thumbs. This helps to create a uniform square with straight, equal edges.

Detach the edge of the bamboo mat from the sushi roll with one hand by lifting it up gently. With the other hand, push the sushi roll forward from the rear. Once again, compress the sheet by applying pressure with your fingers to both sides of the roll. Repeat once more, or until you get to the end of the nori sheet. Use your index fingers to press down on the top of the roll firmly. Gently unravel the bamboo mat and cut into sections as desired.

6. Rolling Towards Yourself or Away From Yourself?

There is no hard and fast rule as to which direction you should roll a sushi roll. Some people prefer rolling it towards themselves as it gives them greater visual control when rolling. Most sushi chefs on the other hand prefer rolling away from themselves as this allows for greater control over the contents with the index fingers. Additionally, it makes it easier to push the roll over from the rear whilst being able to hold it firmly with the other hand. If you are a beginner, you may find it easier to roll towards yourself at first, simply because you’ll be able to spot mistakes and correct them quickly.

7. Tips For Rolling Inside-Out Sushi Rolls

Covering the bamboo mat with a plastic zip-lock prevents the rice from sticking to the mat. To avoid air build-up within the bag, leave it slightly open at the corner. This will allow any trapped air to escape as you roll.

To prevent rice sticking to the zip-lock bag, run it under cold water prior to rolling. The rice will soak up the moisture, preventing it from adhering to the plastic.

Prevent rice from sticking to your fingers, and your knife, by also running them under a cold tap prior to working with sushi rice. This applies when transferring the rice to the sheet, spreading it out, rolling the sushi roll, and slicing it.

8. Rolling a Maki Sushi Roll

Prepare the nori sheet as detailed in the “Spreading Rice on nori section”, however, do not cover the entire sheet. Instead, leave a space approximately 3/4 of an inch (1.5 cm) in width along one edge.

Place your choice of filling horizontally along the center of the bed of rice.

You can either roll the maki roll freehand, or by using a bamboo rolling mat. If using the rolling mat, simply line up the back end of the nori sheet (the edge closest to you) with the edge of the mat. Lift the mat using your fingers. Working from the middle (rather than the corners) roll the nori sheet over the contents until the edge is in line with the ‘space’ on the other side. Continue rolling so that the remaining section of nori sheet adheres to the sushi roll. Compress gently using your fingers, then unroll slowly.

How Should You Roll?

Find a style of rolling that suits you. If you don’t quite have the patience to master it freehand, there’s no shame in using a rolling mat. More importantly, find a style that you feel most comfortable with – after all, sushi-making should be fun too!




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