You’ve probably seen nigiri sushi in Japanese restaurants, in movies, or on TV. Nigiri is a thin slice of seafood, raw or cooked, on a sticky mound of rice. Common nigiri include salmon or shrimp. Let’s learn how to make delicious nigiri at home!
First things first: people often confuse nigiri with sashimi. Sashimi is raw fish or meat, thinly sliced. Nigiri is a type of sushi, made with vinegar rice and a slice of fish. Sashimi can be one of the components of nigiri, but they are not the same thing.
Homemade Nigiri Tips
You don’t have to go all the way to a Japanese restaurant to enjoy some delicious nigiri! It’s easy to make at home and you can avoid additional ingredients or additives.
Nigiri is considered a delicacy in Japan because it allows you to enjoy all the flavors of your fish in tandem with the rice. Let’s look at how to make awesome homemade nigiri.
What is Nigiri?
Nigiri is usually made with a thin slice of raw fish. Firm fish like sushi or salmon is best for this. Their color really pops against the white of the rice, too!
You can also make nigiri with cooked fish, or use shrimp. Some nigiri is made with eel! Nigiri should be bite-sized, literally - you want to eat the nigiri whole in a single bite.
Homemade Nigiri Staples
To make authentic homemade nigiri, you’ll need a few kitchen staples.
- Sushi Rice: You’ll want to use short-grain Japanese sushi rice. The Japanese have perfected sushi rice over centuries, and it’s what the restaurants use. It’s designed to hold its shape so your nigiri doesn’t fall apart in your fingers.
- Sushi Vinegar: Sushi vinegar is easy to get in many Asian supermarkets. To make it at home, mix white vinegar with salt and sugar.
- Wasabi: This distinctive green paste is commonly found in Japanese restaurants. Use wasabi to balance out the salty taste of your fish, but not too much! It’s very spicy.
- Pickled Ginger: Pickled ginger is to cleanse your palate of the umami nigiri flavors. It can also bring a hint of freshness to your nigiri. You can pickle your own ginger or find it premade in the Asian section of your grocery store.
- Soy Sauce: Dip your nigiri in soy sauce! It’s got a bright umami flavor and comes in dark and light varieties. Soy sauce is critical to many Asian cuisines and nigiri is no exception.
- Very Sharp Knife: When slicing raw fish, you want to use the sharpest knife possible. This ensures that you can carve thin, smooth slices of your raw fish. A blunt knife will tear and mash the fish, which makes it useless for nigiri.
Favorite Topping Ingredients for Nigiri
- Salmon: You want sashimi-grade salmon if you’re serving it raw. The fresher, the better! If you don’t like raw fish, you can use smoked or canned salmon.
- Tuna: The best tuna for nigiri will have a vibrant pink color. You need to use sashimi-grade tuna, preferably fresh from a fishmonger. You may also use cooked slices of tuna.
- Shrimp (Ebi): Buy raw jumbo shrimp, with the shells still on. Boil them in the shell, remove the shells, heads and tail, and butterfly your shrimp for serving.
- Tamago: This is a fluffy rolled omelette, made with eggs, sugar, mirin, and rice vinegar.
- Yellowtail (Hamachi): As with tuna and salmon, be sure to use sashimi-grade yellowtail. Anything less won’t have the color and flavor you need for sashimi.
- Eel (Unagi): Eels are commonly eaten in Japan! Unagi has a salty flavor perfect for nigiri. Both freshwater and ocean-going eels are perfect for unagi. The Japanese freshwater eel actually lives in either the sea or fresh water at different stages of its life cycle.
- Octopus (Tako): Fresh octopus, thinly sliced, is a delicious topping for nigiri.
- Uni (Sea Urchin): You don’t eat sea urchin spines, but the meat inside is considered a delicacy. The uni is yellow or orange in color with a custard-like consistency. As with all seafood, it’s best enjoyed fresh.
How to Make Nigiri Sushi
- Make sushi rice. Wash and rinse the sushi rice until the water runs clear. Leave in a strainer until drained. Cook the rice according to the package instructions. Once it is cooked, remove from the heat and allow to cool down for 10 minutes.
- When it is still warm, add in the sushi vinegar and mix well to combine.
- Prepare the slices of smoked salmon or any other toppings you wish to use in nigiri. Using a sharp knife, cut salmon into 3-inch long and 1 inch wide, and ¼ inch thick slices.
- Dip your hands in water to prevent rice from sticking. Take about 3 tablespoons of cooked rice in your hand, squeeze and shape it into an oval. Flatten the bottom.
- Spread a small amount of wasabi on each sushi and top with a salmon slice.
Tips for Perfect Nigiri
- Use a 1:1 water to rice ratio when cooking your short grain Japanese sushi rice.
- If using raw fish, cut it against the grain using a sharp knife. A specialized sushi knife is best for this. You want your sashimi about a ¼ inch thick for the best flavor, texture, and appearance.
- Before handling rice, dip your hands in Tezu water, a mixture of water and vinegar.
Nigiri vs Sushi vs Maki
Sushi is a generic term, used to refer to the whole gamut of Japanese delicacies comprised of rice, vinegar, and either fish or meat. Nigiri is a type of sushi, as is maki. Nigiri, as in this recipe, is a slice of protein placed on a ball of sushi rice. Maki is sushi that has been rolled and cut into smaller pieces. The sushi rolls you’ve seen in stores are classic maki sushi.
How Long Does Nigiri Last?
Nigiri made with fresh fish should be eaten immediately.
You can refrigerate your food, but only for 24 hours.
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