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  Nigiri  the Bijou  

How to Make Nigiri-zushi

握り鮨 (にぎりずし)

— Tegaeshi Method —
It is not so difficult to make a nigiri-zushi by hand-forming for the beginners,
but also is said that it requires a few years to master the way duly.

The sliced fish fillet (sashimi) should adhere onto the sushi rice (nigiri) and the nigiri should not be easily dissolved until it is in the mouth - this is a contradictory story - though it really makes the taste of the sushi differently.

The core story of this wisdom is interpreted as how much the air (hollow) is introduced into the nigiri rice, in order to easily be dissolved - hard enough and soft enough concurrently.

This is the most important factor to make a delicious nigiri-sushi so that there were so many artifices invented ever for sushi home-making devices, and recently (2003) a theoretically reasonable and ready to use utensiles appeared on the market, that has an peak on the center of the bottom of the nigiri press cavity that enables to introduce a space/air in a pressed nigiri rice easily.

This is surely an invention based on a technic of professional sushi chef, who always gives one skilful push in the very first stage of nigiri making, as explained Step 4 below.


This technology will probably and quickly spread over the nigiri-press apparatus market and automatic sushi making robot machines worldwide, and it also gives us a good underneath idea to be in mind in nigiri-sushi making at home.
Sushi Sample Pictures
[ Sushi Sample Pictures ]

How to make 'Nigiri-zushi' by hands

An easy and step by step instruction of hand-forming (nigiri) method of sushi that is called 'Te-gaeshi' (hand-turning) is illustrated for practice.

Step Procedure Remarks
0 Preparation
  • Prepare the followings:
  1. Sliced fish, sushi toppings (Sushi-dane, or sashimi)
  2. Sushi rice (Shari)
  3. Grated Wasabi
  4. Diluted vinegar solution (Tezu)
  • Others have to be set up
    in advance:
  1. Wooden serving board/plate (Geta)
  2. Pickled ginger slices (Gari)
  3. Soy sauce (Sho'oyu/Nikiri)
  4. Chopsticks (Hashi)
  5. Hot green tea (Agari)
1 Step 1
  1. Moist your both hands with 'Tezu.'
  2. Take about one ounce (ca. 20-25 g) of Shari in your right hand and make a rice ball in egg-shaped within the palm.
  3. Pick up a piece of sliced fish by your two fingers, thumb and index only, and hold on.
Preferably the temperatures of Shari and hands should be the same.  Shari tends to stick to cold hands.

Te-zu (hand-vinegar) is prepared by diluting rice vinegar with water by about 1:3.
2 Step 2
  1. Holding the shaped sushi rice, scoop up a minimum of grated wasabi with the right index finger.
  2. Now rest the fish between the second and third joints of your left hand fingers.
Avoid to warm up the fish by your hand as much as possible.
3 Step 3
  1. Put the wasabi on the center of the fish.
Wasabi is not necessary to spread out, because it prevents a good cohesion of the fish and rice.
4 Step 4
  1. Place the rice on the fish and wasabi.
  2. Press the center of the rice a bit with the thumb to introduce some air into the rice.
To letting in the air is the most important point in making the sushi delicious.
5 Step 5
  1. Hold and close the nigiri by the four fingers and press with one or two right fingers.
  2. Push the tip side of the nigiri by the left thumb at the same time.
Do not press too firm but the fish must adhere to the rice.
6 Step 6
  1. Turn round your right hand to show your palm.
('Tegaeshi' action)
7 Step 7
  1. Transfer the sushi (nigiri) held in the left palm over to the right.
This successive processes (6 - 8) are called 'Te-gaeshi' (hand-turning.)
8 Step 8
  1. By turning each hand again in reverse, return the nigiri to left palm. Now it has been rotated horizontally by 180°.
  2. Again press and push in the same way above.
The other tip side is pushed by the thumb.
9 Step 9
  1. By rolling the nigiri (with a help of right index finger,) make it upside down and fish side is up.
  2. With right hand, place to the proper position on the left palm.
Skillful sushi chef does not do this with a help of a finger but a swift motion of the palm.
10 Step 10
  1. Again press and push in the same way above.
Do not press too much. The critical point is that the outer side of the nigiri is firm enough but inside is loose.
11 Step 11
  1. Pick up the nigiri and rotate horizontally by 180°.
  2. Again press and push in the same way above.
  3. Repeat this once or twice more.
Here does not do Tegaeshi because the sides of fish may peal off from the rice.
12 Step 12
  1. Make a final make-up and adjustment on both sides, if necessary, with thumb and index or middle fingers, then press once more.
Nigiri of 'Funazoko' (ship-bottom) shape is completed.

Nigiri is an art:

There are other methods for forming nigiri, called Tate-gaeshi (skips 6 - 8 steps above, and flipping to this side vertically to the position of 9) and Kote-gaeshi (skips 6 - 8 steps, only rolling by fingertip, an easiest/quickest way) and of those variations by individual chef.

Veteran sushi masters have their own, characteristic and excellent ways, to which one might be fascinated and admire the performances taken place in his/her face.

Quickness is also a factor to the lesser damages to the fish and rice, then it could be served faster.

The shapes of sushi are mainly categorized into four types, Kushi (comb,) Tawara (straw bag,) Funazoko (ship-bottom) and Jigami (fan) as seen in the cross section views below.  Funazoko type is the most common today.
Shapes of nigiri 1Shapes of nigiri 2
In the former times, about 50 - 60 years ago, the standard size of nigiri-zushi was so big compared to today's and that was one and a half mouthfuls large, in a Tawara shape, which would be able to imagine by an old Illustration of Hanaya Yohei's sushi.

It is getting smaller nowadays to about 20 g (0.7 oz.)/piece (kan) of sushi rice normally or in average, of which Calories are calculated to 30.5 kcal/piece.

How many times:
Nowadays, speed and quickness is important, so the most sushi chefs complete their Nigiri-making with only three times (or twice) pressings in their palms, in a few seconds, in so many varied ways derived from basic nigiri methods.  More than four pressings is seldom seen indeed.

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Updated on: 2009.03.05
Created on: 2003.06.24
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