Please help my pathetic rolls

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That thing up there.  That’s home-made sushi.

Yeah.  I know.  [The fact that I had to explain what a food photo is…speaks volumes…right?]

I’m really not sure what I’m worse at – rolling or slicing.  But it was bad guys.  Really bad.  I welcome all comments that can assist in future sushi making.  Clearly skimming the pamphlet that came with the sushi mat (back when I got it four years ago) wasn’t enough.

For filling ingredients we went kinda untraditional.

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This was a tofu spread that I made with extra firm tofu, tahini, and soy sauce.

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I also scooped out avocado and pulverized some carrots.

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I was going to shred the carrots, but after a few swipes on the cheese grater I decided that was going to take a lifetime.  The next (practical) option would have been the food processor with it’s shredding blade, but the idea of cleaning it for such a wimpy use turned me off.  So I tried using the magic bullet.  Hence the pulverizing.  My bullet’s blades are as dull as my New Year’s Eve plans.

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And since those three fillings seemed a little lame, we decided to spring for some crab.  Whole Foods didn’t have anything fresh so we randomly chose Blue Star’s lump meat.  I have no idea what makes crab meat good or how a person should go about selecting it.  This package was one of two options and it looked better.  It was marginally more expensive, so maybe that means it was superior in quality (??).  Whatever.  It tasted fine.  We only used half of it because we had the tofu too.

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The things about nori sheets is that I think maybe you’re supposed to toast them before using them?  I’m iffy on this and (clearly) didn’t bother doing any research.  Feel free to chime in if you’re Japanese or at all knowledgeable about sushi making.

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Probably the biggest issue was the fact that we used brown rice instead of sushi rice.  I figured this was going to be a problem, but I didn’t care enough to get sushi rice.  I made it in the rice cooker and added ~1/4 cup extra water in an effort to alter the stickiness of it (which didn’t work at all).  The rice cooker is pretty much the best appliance ever, so trying to outsmart it was a dumb idea all around.  After it was done I mixed it with brown rice vinegar (because that’s how real sushi rice is made).

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Assembly time!

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Nori sheet (shiny side down), rice (with an inch of free room at the top), carrots and avocado…

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With crab for one roll and tofu for the other.

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I rolled one, then Kyle rolled one.

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Don’t they look more like a burrito that sushi?  Probably would have been easier to eat that way too.  Amateurs.  Complete amateurs.

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They were fat, loose, and messy.  Not good traits, whether you’re sushi or human.  But cutting them proved to be an even bigger disaster – they basically turned into a sloppy pile.

Because I was starving (and impatient to boot), I suggested we share these rolls before going back for round two.  Chopsticks weren’t in the cards.  This was a fork, spoon and knife kind of sushi dinner.

The next round of rolls never happened…

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Eff the stupid nori.  How about we just make sushi bowls instead?

To get the seaweed flavor, I sprinkled some aji nori furikake on top.

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Maybe we’ll try again some time.  After you all leave me tips on what I can do to improve my sushi making.  Suggestions for stuffing ingredients are welcomed too.

UPDATE: I just watched this video and it turns out I wasn’t using the mat correctly at all (which I figured after reading all the tips below).  Thanks readers!!!  Keep leaving your tips because I’m learning so much from them all :)

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50 thoughts on “Please help my pathetic rolls

  1. Dlbarry

    Looks like my first attempt at sushi! I couple summers ago I nearly mastered the art of sushi, I. Found the key was to use the sushi rice, everytime I tried with brown rice no luck. My standered filling was avocado cucumber ‘grated’ carrots and thin strips of pan fried tofu ( fried in a skillet with sesame oil and soy sauce). I never used a sushi matt but with a couple attempts I could roll it tight enough with my hands to be able to slice and use chopsticks!

    Reply
  2. sarah

    I agree with the above commenter – you have to go with sushi rice and it helps to follow the traditional cooking instructions. I am sure you can switch to brown once you master the art. You also have to be sparser with the fillings than you think you need to. The first time I made sushi, I followed Vegan About Town’s recommendations here: http://veganabouttown.blogspot.com.au/2008/10/sushi.html.

    That said, my husband mastered it on the first try and I failed miserably several times over, so there’s definitely some art along with the science :-)

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      thanks for the link! i guess my burrito making experience made me want to pack everything in. next time ill use sushi rice and less inside stuff :)

      Reply
  3. Moises

    Sushi rice and cooking method is a must. It gets really sticky, and that’s why it really helps to give structure to the roll. A good and very sharp knife also helps. When cutting, you can have a bowl with cool water to clean the knife every time it gets too sticky to cut with ease.

    Reply
  4. Moises

    Sushi rice and cooking method is a must. It gets really sticky, and that’s why it really helps to give structure to the roll. A good and very sharp knife also helps. When cutting, you can have a bowl with cool water to clean the knife every time it gets too sticky to cut with ease.

    Reply
  5. Moises

    Sushi rice and cooking method is a must. It gets really sticky, and that’s why it really helps to give structure to the roll. A good and very sharp knife also helps. When cutting, you can have a bowl with cool water to clean the knife every time it gets too sticky to cut with ease.

    Reply
  6. Lee

    I agree with the other commenters that you need to use sticky rice. I’ve made sushi before, but my friend has always cooked the rice. I can ask him what he did specifically if you want. I’m pretty sure he used a special sushi sticky rice.

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      seems like thats the consensus among commenters. next time ill use sushi rice. i know its in the bulk bins section, i was just too lazy since i had brown rice already. cutting corners, per usual :P

      Reply
  7. Abby

    Veggie sushi is one thing I will always just pay to eat instead of trying to make myself. It’s much less painless. But I also make sushi bowl-type things as well with the same ingredients minus the rolling and headache. Much easier, although I admit, not quite as fun as eating sushi.

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      does rice wine vinegar have alcohol? i used brown rice vinegar because i didnt know if i could have rice wine vinegar during pregnancy.

      Reply
  8. Cat

    So what I do when I make sushi (once a month).

    Use any short grain rice, brown often works, I rarely do white. Make sure you rinse it first. Cook it as usual, let it cool and then mix with about 1 tbsp sugar (i use raw) and a few teaspoons rice wine vinegar. That is what really makes it sticky. Stir stir stir until its nice and sticky in big chunks. It helps when spreading the rice to dip your hands in water, since it will be so sticky.

    Also, slice the ingredients. You want carrots, cucumbers, mushrooms, avocado, etc to all look like long straws. Julienne is the best technique I have found. That gives the sushi some internal structure.

    I always wrap my sushi roll in plastic wrap to keep the nori from sticking to it, and it helps to wrap the sushi really really tight, you want to be putting as much force on it once the mat is all the way around the sushi as possible. Sometimes I toast the nori to get a nice flavor. Also helps if it is not a freshly opened package as the seaweed can become a tad stale and then harder to work with.

    Lastly, use a sharp knife! There is a reason the sushi chefs have those crazy looking knifes. Just as you would when slicing a cake, it can help to dip it in water between each slice to make sure the knife doesn’t stick to the seaweed or rice and it really cuts through.

    I hope that helps! I know either way, it is delish!

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      cat – this is so helpful! thanks you! youre the first person to give me hope that brown rice can work.

      i used brown rice vinegar because i didn’t know if i could have rice wine vinegar while pregnant (does it have alcohol or not?).

      i mixed it when it was hot, but i didnt use sugar, and it never got mushy or clumpy. next time ill try a short grain sticky rice and rice wine vinegar. im thinking itll be post pregnancy.

      the rest of your tips make perfect sense too, so now im pretty confident ill make it work. :)

      last question. when rolling, do you only use the mat for the first part of the roll? or the whole thing? and do you put the saran wrap between the mat and the nori? or were you saying you use the saran wrap instead of the mat? i cant seem to get it tight enough without all the stuff oozing out or getting on the mat. im almost thinking it would be easier to use my hands.

      Reply
      1. cat

        I don’t know about the alcohol, never considered it.

        As for the wrapping. I wrap the entire mat in Saran wrap so none of the mat is exposed. Then, after putting the ingredients on the nori, I line up the nori with the bottom if the mat and til the entire thing over so the edge of the mat meets the rice on the nori. Squeeze! This should get that first tight roll all the way around the filing. If any filling tries to pop out, stuff it back in with your fingers. Then continue to til with your palms, using the same force, and pull the mat up as you go so it doesn’t become part of the roll. Once you get to the end, press the mat tightly over the roll. Keep it in a circular shape. Unroll and cut!

        Reply
  9. Christy

    I know its possible to do brown rice sushi rolls, because I’ve had some AMAZING ones… but I don’t know how to pull it off like they do at Whole Foods.

    I’ve had marginal success with overcooking brown rice, adding plenty of seasoned rice vinegar while hot (this gives sushi rice the characteristic vinegar twang and stickiness help from the sugar in the seasoned vinegar), and mix it up a few times till its cooled.

    It also looks like you might try to roll them tighter? I pull the mat away from me with one hand, while tightening the first “roll over” towards me with my other, Once you have that as tight as you can without everything smooshing out the sides from the middle, you can pull the mat away and roll the rest of the way by hand.

    Also, I’ve made extra rolls, and wrapped them in saran wrap to store in my fridge overnight. This can help tighten brown rice rolls and make them easier to cut (then I just toss them in my bag for work and the chill is off by the time lunch rolls around, *har har*). Using a very sharp knife in a very light sawing motion also helps… don’t put any pressure down on the roll, just take the knife back and forth until it makes it way through. And rinse with water after each cut so it doesn’t stick.

    Definitely update if you find the recipe to the perfect brown rice rolls! I’m totally stealing your recipe, those look amazing. If I still lived in CA, I’d bribe one of the sushi chefs that made them to show me his secrets :)

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      you make it sounds so easy!!! i definitely tried to get it tighter. and your one hand on the mat with one hand on the roll technique is kinda what i was trying. hmmm…i guess i just need more practice!

      when you roll the first part over, does it get on the mat? because when i tried to make it tighter, it just got the insides all over the mat. i feel like i might be better without the mat and just using my hands! maybe not.

      at least you have given me faith that brown rice rolls can work. maybe ill go watch the sushi chefs at WF make them and see if i can figure out the process…

      Reply
  10. Kristen

    just a couple of thoughts: make sure the rice is hot when it is spread on the nori. i have used brown rice before, and it doesn’t work as well, but i think is still doable. cut your veggies long and thin, rather than shredding. i like cucumber, carrot, avocado, tofu. when you cut the roll, cut it in half first, then cut the halves in half. hopefully you got enough feedback to give it another go :)

    Reply
  11. Marei

    I’m in agreement with Cat above. You can use whatever rice you want, just make sure to add the rice wine vinegar and stir, stir, stir to cool the rice and get it sticky. Traditionally you use a little sugar too…any kind you want is fine. Easy on the fillings….a little goes a long way….and slice your filling long and thin. I use a sushi mat with plastic wrap on it and I don’t toast the nori. Comes out great….and EASY! Even the hubs, who is NOT a cook of any kind, got it perfect on the first try. And a SHARP knife dipped in water. I’ve even used a serrated bread knife when my fav Chef knife was missing(?).

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      i ALMOST used a serrated bread knife!! i really thought that would have been better. maybe i should sharpen my knives…

      thanks for the tips!!

      Reply
  12. Stacey

    Hi & Happy 2013! Great sushi rolls are definitely doable with brown rice (short grained white sushi rice is the best but I would also highly recommend Lundberg short-grained brown rice too – I’ve purchased this before at the Westwood Whole Foods) Here’s some tips:

    (1) Rinse the rice (this is especially important for white rice and must be repeated until the water becomes clear but once or twice for brown rice is plenty)
    (2) Increase the ratio of water to rice (I would suggest a 2.5 to 1 ratio of water to rice for brown and a 1.15 to 1 ratio for sushi rice)
    (3) Bring the water to boiling point WITHOUT the rice.
    (4) Put the rice into the boiling water and continue to boil on the high heat level. Give the rice a few stirs occasionally to prevent the rice at the bottom from burning
    (5) After 2-3 minutes turn the heat down to lowest level. Put a lid on the pot and let the rice simmer for about 10-15 Minutes.
    (6) As soon as the rice has absorbed the water, pull it away from the stove and let it rest for about 15-20 minutes.
    (7) After 15-20 minutes add the sushi vinegar – sushi vinegar is traditionally made with a mix of sugar and RICE WINE vinegar ranging from 1:1 to 1:4 depending of taste preference. You can also use honey or agave to replace the refined sugar. I would definitely recommend the use of some sugar/honey/agave as this helps the stickiness of the rice
    (8) Spread the rice in the baking pan so that the rice cools down quickly (sushi rice should be used when it is cold). Cover the tray with a towel to prevent the rice from drying out.

    And that’s it for great sushi rice :)! If all else fails – default to cone hand rolls (they look great and don’t require cutting). Hope that helps!

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      stacey, youre awesome! thanks soooo much for all these helpful hints. ill definitely have better luck next time after making my rice this way.
      and btw, cone rolls are so smart! why didnt i think to just try that!!

      Reply
  13. Robin

    I would agree with the others about using sushi rice. However, I’ve long given up on the whole rolling routine and now I just make sushi bowls. There’s nothing wrong with that. I may have read that it’s common in Japan to just throw it all in a bowl (but please correct me if I’m wrong).

    Also, I’m 99% sure that rice wine vinegar has no alcohol. Any tiny bit of alcohol won’t hurt you, they just don’t want you getting drunk while pregnant! ;-)

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      ha! ok, good point. i hadnt really planned on guzzling the vinegar :)

      i thought the sushi bowls were perfect, so it wasnt really that big of a deal in the end. but i am glad so many people have been offering up tips for next time…

      Reply
  14. Lauren (@poweredbypb)

    I’m a horrible sushi maker, I don’t find the rolling too bad, but I just can’t slice it, it all falls apart. I think you need a really sharp knife for it. I usually just eat it like a burrito or as a sushi salad, much easier!

    Reply
  15. Tricia

    Hey Elise! I subscribed to your blog about a month ago and love it!

    So it’s really funny that you made sushi last night, because so did I! It was the first time I’ve made it, and it actually turned out great. Most of these comments say you need sushi rice, but I disagree. I used natural brown rice cooked in an electric pressure cooker and added rice vinegar until it was the right consistency . I really think almost any rice would work, as long as it’s not too dry. The trick, in my mind, is rolling it carefully and tightly so it all stays together, and wetting the ends of the nori to create a seal. The sushi rolls definitely got better the more I made last night, so I’m sure you’ll be better at it next time.

    I also made a double batch of garlic hummus last night – I must have been channeling HHP!

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      tricia we were totally on the same wavelength!!

      i think youre right, more practice will definitely make all the difference – thanks for the comment :)

      Reply
  16. Jin

    What you can also do is do half white and half brown rice. I always soak my brown rice in advance so that the cooking time is the same as white rice- just presoak brown rice a few hours (or overnight), change the water a few times… add it with the white rice and stick it in the rice cooker! and all rice should be rinsed. :)

    Also, nori sheets are used as it is- no need to toast them :)

    Making sushi may seem daunting but it just takes some practice ;)

    Reply
  17. Anna

    I find that if I put the filling closer to the rolling edge than is usually recommended I am able to get a tighter roll. On the mat, I do the first half roll (so the filling is covered), reposition the mat a little and then pull the first part of the roll towards me to help tighten it a lot. Once that’s tight (really tight), I do another half roll, reposition the mat (so it’s not sitting in the rice of the remaining flat part), and then pull it towards me again. Less is more in terms of the filling. Good luck with your next batch!

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      this is the description i was missing. thank you! i totally get it now. i wasnt repositioning the mat. cant wait to try again :)

      Reply
  18. Dana

    I’m here to tell you that sushi can be made with (short grain) brown rice, even without the vinegar or sugar. We do it all the time at home! We have found (as other people mentioned above) that it’s important to work with long, thinly sliced veggies and to pack a roll with less than you think you need. We have wrapped our mat in saran, and when we put a sheet of nori on it, we use a little spray bottle to mist the nori with water before we put the rice on top. (It helps the roll to stick to itself.) We use that same ‘pull towards and tug away’ motion with the mat for the first part of the roll and then once we’ve pulled it good and tight, getting the rest of the roll done is pretty simple. Most of our fillings (avo, carrot, cucumber) get squeezed into the first part of the roll, leaving only some stray rice to make a swirl towards the outside of the roll with the nori. If you complete the first part of the roll using the very edge of the mat, getting the fillings everywhere shouldn’t be a problem. Oh, and definitely use a sharp knife. Our knives suck, so we usually end up slicing the rolls with a serrated bread knife. Not traditional, but still effective. Good luck with the next go-round! ;)

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      thanks for all the tips dana. i think these will definitely help next time.
      someone else mentioned the serrated bread knife worked for them too, so youre not alone in that!

      Reply
  19. BroccoliHut

    We used to make sushi all the time when we were dating, but I always let Seth do the rolling/slicing part. OK, so I just chose the ingredients and watched him do the rest.
    Anyway, I LOVE the combination of tofu, tahini, and soy sauce (the three main ingredients in my fave scrambled tofu recipe), so I can totally see how that would make for a delicious sushi filling.

    Reply
  20. Sarah C

    So the rice cooker is awesome, you say? Do you have a tutorial that you could point me to, perhaps? I got one for Christmas and the first batch of brown rice I made was awful – crunchy and undercooked, even though I swear I followed the directions! Any tips?

    Reply
  21. Jamie

    A for effort? I had a similar issue making spring rolls–the japanese sure know how to make cooking difficult! The french too for that matter…

    Reply
  22. mina

    I make brown rice sushi all the time, here is the foolproof technique:
    - use short grain brown rice
    - use 2.5 parts water to 1 part brown rice; let rice sit covered for 10 minutes after cooking is over
    - make a mixture of 2 tbsp rice vinegar, 2 tbsp cane sugar, and 1 tbsp salt (I use this much for about 3-4 cups cooked rice); heat it in the microwave until all the salt and sugar is dissolved
    - cut the vinegar mixture into the cooked rice using a large spatula
    - let the rice sit until it is room temp

    about the nori:
    - I’ve never toast the nori and my sushi has come out just fine; I always use a serrated knife to cute the sushi rolls which prevents them from getting squished when I cut them

    I hope this helped!

    Reply
  23. Amy

    I agree with the sushi rice just like the previous posts! In addition, I heard that there is actually a knife that is designed to cut sushi! That helps a lot too!
    Good luck with making sushi! :]

    Reply
  24. kathy

    I make brown rice vegan sushi all the time. I use a rice cooker, and follow directions for brown rice (I use short grain brown rice). When done, I put it in a big long plastic tub and spread it out to cool, while mixing it with a bit of rice vinegar and dab of agave.

    Sushi rice should be body temperature, works best.

    I dip hand in water, scoop up rice and spread 3/4 of the nori with it, leaving inch at top (at my belly) and the remaining space at the other end.

    Put thin strips of cucumber, and avocado, use a veggie peeler to make long strips of carrots (I can’t get them thin enough with a knife.) Add some radish sprouts, or similar sprouts or even better, watercress (YUM)

    Roll like the others have explained, but the key to cutting so it’s not square is to roll the roll after each cut so the cut isn’t in the same “side” of the roll (hope that makes sense)

    This is the best thing to eat, I don’t go to sushi places anymore, saves big bucks and satisfies my sushi cravings

    Reply

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