Sushi is rolled with nori: thin paper-like sheets of kelp seaweed. Nori is sold in packages. Pressed, roasted and ready to eat. For best results use the larger sheets with a size of approximately 8”x 7” (20 x 18 cm). If you’re a novice, I recommend to use a bamboo rolling mat for rolling your first sushi rolls.
1. Rolling circular or square
In general sushi rolls are circular or square. If you have the skills, you could even make the rolls triangular. The exact shape is strictly a matter of personal choice.
More important is the quantity of nori to be used: either half a sheet or a whole sheet. As a novice, you’re more likely to overstuff your sushi rolls. This can cause problems when it comes to closing and sealing your sushi roll. Using a whole sheet, you can pretty much use as much filling as you want. If you use half a sheet, you’ll have to exercise greater control over the quantities used.
2. Dividing the nori sheet
To divide a 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 run the sharp end of a knife along the inside of the seam.
3. Basic sushi roll
The simplest type of sushi roll is called Maki, which is short for Makizushi (Japanese for ‘rolled sushi’). A maki roll consists of a nori sheet with a layer of sushi rice and filling on top of the rice. The rice and filling are simply wrapped up inside the nori.
Rolling a maki is easy. Place a nori sheet on a flat, dry surface and gently spread cooked sushi rice on the sheet. Use your fingers to evenly spread the rice. To prevent rice sticking to your hands, first wet your hands with cold water or better yet, a mixture of one part water and one part rice vinegar. Dip your hands in it and clap your hands to get rid of most of the moisture. This creates a thin film of liquid on your hands that prevents rice from sticking to your hands.
Use about 150 g (5 oz) of cooked sushi rice. Don’t cover the sheet completely with rice. Leave an area open of 0.75 inch (2 cm) wide on one side of the sheet.
Rolling by hand
If you want to roll the maki by hand, start with the side that’s covered with rice. This enables you to easily close the roll with the side of the nori sheet that has no rice on it. Once the empty part of the nori sheet touches the roll, press it gently with your fingers to close the roll.
Rolling with a rolling mat
If you want to use a rolling mat, line up the edge of the nori sheet that has rice on it with the edge of the mat. Lift the mat using your fingers and start rolling. Work from the middle (rather than the corners) to roll the nori sheet over the contents until the edge is in line with the ‘space’ on the other side. Continue rolling until the remaining section of nori sheet sticks to the roll. Press it gently with your fingers to close the roll. Watch the video on the left from 7:20 to see how all this is done.
4. Inside-out roll
The inside-out roll has rice on the outside of the roll, and filling on the inside. Start by spreading 150 g (5 oz) on one side of the nori. Make sure the entire sheet is covered with rice. Now one of the advantages of using sticky rice becomes clear, because the next step is turning the nori upside down. Place the filling on the top side. You are now ready to roll inside-out.
Rolling by hand
If you’re experienced, you can roll this partly by hand. Lift up the sheet and gently wrap it around the filling. Hold the filling in place with your fingers. Keep rolling until the filling is completely wrapped by the nori sheet, and make sure one side of the sheet overlaps the other to create a single seam. Next use a bamboo rolling mat to evenly press the rice against the nori. Watch the video on the right from 2:55 to see how it’s done.
Preparing the rolling mat
Before you use the rolling mat, put it in a plastic zip-lock bag. The plastic will prevent rice from sticking to the bamboo. Don’t completely seal the mat (unless you’re able to vacuum seal the mat in the plastic). Leave some space open at the side for air to escape. This prevents bubbles to form, which will otherwise make it very hard to make an even 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 sticking to the plastic. The same goes for your knife. Simply run it under cold water before using it for preparing sushi.
Now shape the sushi roll further with the rolling mat. Cover the roll with the mat. Use your fingers to gently press the sides and the top of the roll, refining its shape. Take the mat off the roll, turn over the roll, cover it again with the mat and press again with your fingers. Repeat this until you are satisfied with the shape. Three, maybe four times should do the trick.
Rolling with a rolling mat
Prepare the rolling mat as described above. Now put the nori with the rice covered side down on the rolling mat and place the filling on top. Lift up one side of the mat and roll it over the sheet until the side of the mat touches the sheet. Apply pressure with your hands to give the roll a circular or square shape. Now lift the side of the mat a bit, give it another roll and again apply pressure to enhance the circular or square shape. Watch the video from 4:15 to see how it’s done.
5. Rolling towards or away from yourself
If you are a beginner, you may find it easier to roll a sushi roll towards yourself. This enables you to spot mistakes and correct them quickly. Most sushi chefs on the other hand prefer rolling away from themselves. This allows for greater control over the contents with the index fingers. It also makes it easier to push the roll over from the rear while being able to hold it firmly with the other hand.
It doesn’t really matter which way you want to roll. It also doesn’t matter if you roll freehand or with a rolling mat. Try out both methods and find the rolling style that you like best. After all, making sushi should be fun too!