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How to Make Masterful Hand Rolls at Home, According to Two Sushi Chefs

Leave the Very Serious Stuff to the pros. Here’s how to have fun while still doing it right.

Nami Nori chefs Taka Sakaeda and Jihan Lee Sebastian Lucrecio

A high-class sit-down sushi experience can quickly become a reverent study of a master at work, and safe to say, this is not the atmosphere you should expect for sushi night at home. Take it from chefs Taka Sakaeda (left) and Jihan Lee, who met and honed their skills at the much-revered Masa, America’s only Michelin three-star sushi restaurant, and now serve a laid-back, convivial take on temaki (sushi hand rolls) at Nami Nori, their current venture, in New York’s West Village. Their approach is simple and delicious and skimps on neither craft nor fun—the perfect at-home sweet spot.

First, Sakaeda says, don’t be intimidated. “It’s pretty common in Japan for people to have these temaki parties,” he says. “All the ingredients and vegetables are laid out and people make their own hand rolls at home.”

The most important component is the rice. Start with a short-grain varietal like the Koshihikari by Matsuri (which the duo use at the restaurant) and then remove the excess starch before cooking. “Rinse it until the water runs clear,” Sakaeda says. “It’s important to have a strainer underneath, because if there are a lot of broken rice pieces, it lets them fall out. Those tiny pieces will turn into starch and make your rice overly sticky.”

Nami Nori Temaki

A selection of Nami Nori’s temaki.  Sebastian Lucrecio

At home, Sakaeda uses a Zojirushi rice cooker for consistently excellent results. Just follow the manufacturer’s directions, and when it’s done, mix with vinegar, sugar and salt. Or use a sushi-ready vinegar (Lee recommends Mizkan) that pre-mixes sugar and salt.

And while the rice and proteins are the stars, don’t overlook the accouterments. Put out a variety of produce such as cucumber, avocado, scallion, shiso leaf and daikon. Nori, for the wrapper, can range in price but Sakaeda says you get what you pay for, so don’t cut costs. Look for Takaokaya nori, served at the restaurant. You’ll also need a quality soy, which is as easy as Kikkoman’s premium offering, and while fresh wasabi from a local Japanese market will always give you the best result, “if you can’t get fresh wasabi, check the label to make sure it’s not just horseradish and food coloring,” Lee says. “And stay away from the powdered stuff.”

Nami Nori Tamaki

Nami Nori’s temaki with salmon, tomato, onion cream and chives.  Sebastian Lucrecio

For fish, salmon and tuna are your best bets for procuring high-quality product all year—but not at Whole Foods. Find your local Japanese market—like Nijiya, in California—or a dedicated local seafood purveyor such as Greenpoint Fish & Lobster in New York. And don’t feel the need to confine yourself to raw seafood. “A good-quality scallop with a quick sear will make it feel safer for consumption,” Sakaeda says. “Also use poached crab or lobster or shrimp. And if you see some caviar, why not?” (To take the pressure off of making perfect slices of fish, steal a page from Lee and Sakaeda and cut your seafood two ways, a fine mince and diced cubes, then mix them for a nicely varied texture.)

With your proteins selected, imagine flavor combinations that make sense to you, even those that aren’t traditionally Japanese. Sakaeda and Lee riff on different cultures in their rolls, like the Chinese-influenced scallop with XO sauce and the Korean flavors of sea bass with daikon, perilla and chojang. “Crème fraîche and smoked salmon would make a good roll, too,” Sakaeda says.

Save yourself the hassle of breaking out a bamboo mat and rolling each combo into a maki. Instead, let people build their own by filling their nori with rice and then toppings, so it looks like a taco. And sauces help tie your roll together, so have fun. “Anything mixed with Kewpie mayo is going to be good,” Lee says, “and you can create an umami bomb.” Try mixing your favorite hot sauce with the Japanese condiment for your own creamy, spicy tuna temaki. That one might even earn you a bow.

5 Essential Tools

Sakai Takayuki Blue Steel Honyaki Yanagi

Sakai Takayuki Blue Steel Honyaki Yanagi  Supplied

Sakai Takayuki Blue Steel Honyaki Yanagi

The long blade allows for slicing fish in a stroke instead of sawing, which damages the delicate flesh.

Masamoto KS Hongasumi Usuba

Masamoto KS Hongasumi Usuba  Supplied

Masamoto KS Hongasumi Usuba

A thin, flat knife designed to cut vegetables. It’s so sharp that the blade minimally damages cell walls, thus preventing oxidation that can change the produce’s taste and appearance.

Korin Hangiri

Korin Hangiri  Supplied

Korin Hangiri

For overachievers, this cypress-wood bowl absorbs moisture while mixing in the vinegar and sugar for the perfect sushi-rice texture.

Oroshigane Grater

Oroshigane Grater  Supplied

Oroshigane Grater

The best wasabi is made by grating the plant stem à la minute. If you want to avoid a traditional sharkskin grater, this stainless-steel version creates a similarly fine paste.

Zojirushi Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker & Warmer

Zojirushi Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker & Warmer  Zojirushi

Zojirushi Induction Heating Pressure Rice Cooker & Warmer

This machine’s onboard computer solves all the guesswork for you by sensing when heat and pressure need to be changed and adjusting accordingly. Perfect rice every time.

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