Because of its compact shape, easy pick-up-ability, and that buffering layer or rice between tongue and a filling that may contain raw fish, makizushi is a great choice for sushi beginners before graduating to things like chirashi (scattered sushi) and nigiri (rice block sushi).
Step 1: Place the Nori
For futomakei (large rolls containing multiple ingredients, like a California roll), a full sheet of nori should be used. Here we are making hosomaki (skinny rolls), so the nori is first cut in half with a sharp knife before proceeding. Orient it along the bottom of your rolling mat with the shiny side facing down.
Step 2: Pick up Rice
When making sushi, always keep a small bowl of vinegared water nearby. It should be made at a ratio of around 3 parts water to 1 part vinegar. Moistening your hands with this mixture will ensure that the rice does not stick, as well as acting as a sterilizer. With a moist hand, pick up about a cup's worth of cooked sumeshi and place it on the left side of the nori sheet.
Step 3: Spread Rice
Use the vinegared water to moisten your hand as needed while you spread the rice into a thin, even layer across the whole nori sheet. Try to leave a gap of around 1/2-an inch on the top and bottom borders. When spreading rice, use just your fingertips and try not to smash or squash the grains at all—they should all remain individual.
Step 4: Place Filling
Place your filling right in the center of the rice. For hosomaki, a single filling should be used cut into strips about 1/2 an inch wide. For futomaki, 3 or 4 different ingredients may be used. Make sure the filling reaches all the way to the left and right edges (it's okay if it overlaps a little). Beginner maki-makers often suffer from what my wife calls "Burrito syndrome," the tendency to add too much filling to the point where the roll can't close. Choose your fillings wisely and sparingly, and all will be well.
Step 5: Begin Rolling
Lift up the back edge of the mat with your thumbs. As soon as the nori starts lifting, use the tips of your fingers to press back on the filling to ensure that it is tucked into the rice as you roll. Continue lifting the mat forward as you push back on the filling until you can touch the back edge of the nori to the rice on the leading edge.
Step 6: Tighten as You Roll
Continue rolling the sushi by pulling forward on the folded-over edge of the bamboo mat, advancing it about a quarter inch at a time. With each forward movement, pull back on the roll while firmly holding the bamboo mat in place in order to tighten the roll. Continue until the roll is completely sealed. Roll it off the mat and place on your cutting board seam-side down for 1 minute before slicing in order to allow the nori to seal and soften.
Step 7: Slice
Using a sharp, moist knife, slice the roll in half. Align the two half rolls. Wipe the blade down with a damp cloth, then cut the two half rolls into three pieces each using three strokes. You should end up with 6 bite-sized rolls of an equal height. The key to cutting sushi well is to make sure that your knife is clean and damp. Wipe it down between every single cut, or the rice will stick.
Maki are a fantastic way to host a sushi party. Have a plate full of pre-cut ingredients, give each guest a rolling mat and instruct them on how to make maki rolls, then allow them to pick their favorite fillings. Slice all of the rolls together and serve them so that everyone can try everyone else's creation. Award a sack of live sea bream to whoever had the tastiest roll.
Step 8: Serve
Serve maki rolls with small dishes of shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) and some grated wasabi if desired. Gari (sweet pickled ginger) should be served on the side to be eaten as a palate cleanser between bites of sushi.