Makizushi may look like they are more difficult to make than say, nigiri, but with the aid of a bamboo rolling mat, they are actually quite simple. The key is to keep your hands moistened at all times in order to help you spread the rice thin enough, and to use fillings sparingly (I've had rolls burst on me, and believe me, it ain't a pretty sight).
After rolling into one large log, the rolls are cut into six individual serving pieces. When perfectly fresh, the rice should be tender but distinct (never cold!), and the nori should be soft, but not leathery. This is accomplished by using fresh nori (look for sheets that are deep green in color—they turn brownish as they age), and allowing the rolls to rest long enough that the nori loses its crackly crispness, but still retains a snap when bitten into. A few minutes should do.
Makizushi come in four basic forms:
- Hosomaki are thin rolls made with a half sheet of nori and generally contain a single ingredient. Common hosomaki include tekkamaki (tuna rolls), kappamaki (cucumber rolls), other raw fish, various pickles, blanched spinach, or avocado. They should be consumed in a single bite.
- Futomaki are larger rolls that contain two or more ingredients. Particularly popular in American sushi restaurants, classic American examples include the California roll (crab stick, avocado, and cucumber), spider roll (tempura softshell crab with avocado and cucumber), or the Philadelphia roll (smoked salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber). In Japan, futomaki are generally made with vegetabales, such as a mix of pickled radish, marinated shiitake mushrooms, and blanched spinach, sometimes topped with garnishes like tobiko (flying fish roe).
- Uramaki are also a largely American form of sushi in which the rice and nori are reversed so that the rice is on the exterior of the roll and the nori is in the middle wrapping the filling directly. Often uramaki are coated with sesame seeds. To make uramaki, the rice is spread over the nori just as with a regular roll, then the whole sheet is flipped over before adding the filling (make sure to wrap your rolling mat in plastic wrap to avoid sticking). While they can look pretty and are a fun addition to a sushi platter, they are a bit like eating a hamburger with the meat on the outside and the bun in the middle.
Cutting raw fish for maki is exceptionally easy. All it requires is an extremely sharp knife and an extremely high quality fresh seafood, which should be purchased from a fish supplier or a supermarket who specifically sell fish for sushi or sashimi. Most often, the fish will come in blocks, like this piece of yellowfin tuna:
Notice the grain the connective tissue makes between the swaths of meat? The idea is to cut against those at an angle, as well as cutting the block into long thin strips. Most of the time, this is easy—just cut perfectly parallel to the long edge of the block, and if the fish was butchered properly, the connective tissue should end up automatically being severed at a 30 to 45 degree angle. If not, some minor trimming and adjustment may need to be made. Cutting the connective tissue at an angle is of utmost importance, as it makes the fish easier to chew.
As with vegetables, try to cut the fish into strips with a cross-section approximately 1/2 an inch square.
Personally, I'm a maki-purist. I shun a lot of the overstuffed overblown Western maki in favor of simple hosomaki with a single, bright, clean tasting ingredient. My wife is the opposite. Which is odd, because she's skinny and I'm not. Opposites attract, I suppose.
What are some of your favorite maki ingredients or combos?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.