Recipe: Hand-Shaped Sushi

Bonus recipe from The Complete Guide to Sushi & Sashimi by Jeffrey Elliot and Robby Cook.

Kara Rota
5-minute read


This is the basic technique for making nigiri. But even though it’s somewhat basic, it will require a lot of practice. Until you master hand-shaping the sushi rice, it’s best to limit the types of fish you practice with, to avoid any waste. Preslice the fish using the sogizukuri technique before beginning the recipe.

Flip Method (Yokotegaeshi)

2 cups Sushi Rice (see recipe below), divided (500 mL)

20 pieces sushi fish (about 1 lb/500 g), sliced sogizukuri-style

Dab wasabi paste  

To serve:       

Pickled ginger

Wasabi paste

Soy sauce


Any type of high-quality fish can be used to make nigiri. Tuna, salmon, yellowtail and white fish are all excellent to use if you are a beginner. Once you become more proficient, you can try flatfish and shellfish.

To make these using the roll method (kotegaeshi), in Step 9 use the fingers of your guide hand to roll over the sushi so that it is fish side up.

When making nigiri, you will need to rewet your hands repeatedly to prevent sticking. If you prefer, use nonstick gloves.


•                Wet towel

•                Nonstick gloves, optional

For vegetarian sushi: Try using pickled vegetables found at Japanese supermarkets, such as cucumber (kyu¯ri), eggplant (nasu), burdock root (gobo), daikon radish (takuan), ginger shallot (myo¯ga) or Japanese turnip (kabu). You can also use fresh or lightly blanched daikon sprouts (kaiware). In fact, you can use any vegetable you have on hand, as long as it will stay on top of the rice (although you can use a piece of nori to help).

Sushi Rice



Making rice for sushi is the most important thing you will learn in this book. Without good sushi rice, you can’t make sushi. Apprentice chefs in Japan may take one to two years to perfect rice before they move on to fish. Using a rice cooker will take some of the guesswork out of cooking rice, but following this recipe will help you to cook it on the stovetop.

2 cups water (500 mL)

2 cups sushi rice (500 mL)

1 piece (4 inches/10 cm) konbu (optional)

1⁄2 batch Sushi Vinegar


•                Fine-mesh sieve

•                Large bowl

•                Heavy saucepan with tight-fitting lid

•                Hangiri, optional

•                Rice paddle (shamoji) or spatula

•                Fan, optional

      Place rice in sieve and place sieve over bowl. Rinse thoroughly with running water, swishing rice gently with your hands.

      Drain water and repeat rinsing 4 or 5 times, until water becomes almost clear. Set rice aside for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes to drain thoroughly.

      Remove from heat and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes to rest then transfer rice all at once to hangiri (rice should be steaming hot).

      In saucepan, combine water, drained rice and konbu, if using. Cover and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes, reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

      Using the paddle spread out the rice.

      Gently pour sushi vinegar over shamoji or spatula so it cascades evenly over surface of rice.

      Using rice paddle and working quickly, gently fold vinegar into rice. Fan the rice as you fold.

      Finish with the rice pushed to one side of the bowl.

      Evenly distribute rice in hangiri so it is flat. Set aside until cooled to room temperature.

      Using a horizontal motion, break up any lumps to ensure that each grain of rice is coated with vinegar. If possible, simultaneously fan rice to help it cool.

      Once rice is no longer steaming, gently flip it over. Set aside until completely cooled. (If desired, use fan.)

      Transfer rice to a bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towel for up to 6 hours; if setting aside for longer, refrigerate (bring to room temperature before using).


While your rice is cooking, soak your hangiri and rice paddle in cold water to prevent sticking. Drain and wipe dry before adding the rice. If you don’t have a hangiri, use a wide, shallow non-reactive bowl or a clean wooden salad bowl.

If you don’t have a Japanese rice paddle (shamoji), use a wooden or silicone spatula, lightly moistened with water.

Your finished rice should be subtly flavored, free of any clumps and firm but tender, never mushy.

Sushi Vinegar Awasezu



•                Small saucepan

Sushi vinegar needs to be made at least an hour before using so that it has time to cool before stirring into the rice.

7 tbsp red or white rice vinegar (105 mL)

5 tbsp granulated sugar (75 mL)

2 tbsp salt (30 mL)

1 piece (4 inches/10 cm) konbu    

1.              In saucepan over medium heat, heat vinegar.

2.              Add sugar and salt and bring to a simmer, stirring frequently until completely dissolved.

3.              Remove from heat, add konbu and set aside for at least 1 hour to cool. If not using immediately, transfer to a resealable glass container and refrigerate for up to 1 year.

Step-by-step instructions:

  1. Lightly wet your hands in the ice water, shaking or clapping off any excess

  2. Pick up about 1 tbsp (15 mL) sushi rice in your knife hand

  3. Lightly shape it into an oblong—do not squeeze the rice, as that will make it too tight and chewy and unpleasant to eat

  4. Using the thumb and forefinger of your guide hand, pick up the fish and rest it across the other three fingers of the same hand

  5. While cupping the rice ball in the fingers of your cutting hand, dab some wasabi on the fish, using the forefinger of the same hand

  6. Place the rice on top of the fish in your guide hand

  1. Gently place the thumb of your guide hand on the center of the rice, and the thumb and forefinger of the other hand on the ends of the rice

  2. Lightly press, making a slight indentation in the top of the rice with your guide thumb and setting the length with the thumb and forefinger of your knife hand

  3. Cupping your guide hand slightly, lightly squeeze the sushi between the palm and the first knuckles of your guide hand

  4. Open your guide hand and, using your knife hand, flip over the sushi so the fish is on top

  5. Lightly press down on fish with middle and forefinger of knife hand while simultaneously gently cupping in guide hand and setting the length with the thumb

  6. Rotate the sushi 180 degrees. Repeat Step 12, pressing down on the fish. Place finished nigiri on cutting board. Repeat process with remaining rice and fish

  7. Arrange nigiri on a serving plate. Garnish with additional wasabi, ginger and a small dipping bowl of soy sauce


When making nigiri, it is important to work quickly. If you go too slowly, you will transfer too much body heat to the fish and rice, which will make it too warm for serving (sushi should be served at room temperature). This is why it is best to practice making rice balls without the fish, until you develop comfort and speed.

Courtesy of The Complete Guide to Sushi & Sashimi by Jeffrey Elliot & Robby Cook © 2015 www.robertrose.ca. Reprinted with publisher permission. Available where books are sold. Image credits: Andrew Scrivani.

About the Author

Kara Rota

Kara Rota headed children’s programming at Chicago’s Green City Market and studied food politics at Sarah Lawrence College. Kara has been a featured speaker at numerous venues including Food Book Fair, the Roger Smith Food Conference, and the Brooklyn Food Conference. She has written about food for Irish America Magazine, West Side Rag, Recipe Relay, and Food + Tech Connect, and is the former Director of Editorial & Partnerships at Cookstr.com.