This might the most intimidating part of sushi-making. But seeking out a fishmonger with whom you can build a relationship will help make it less scary.
"A fish supplier is like a good hairdresser — the more you go to them, the higher your confidence becomes, and then you begin to feel comfortable asking for recommendations and trying new things," said Joseph Lasprogata, vice president of Samuels & Son Seafood Co. "When you're going to eat something raw, you want it to know it's the freshest of the fresh."
Sze sources all of his seafood from Samuels, a wholesaler near the stadiums in South Philadelphia. Samuels' retail store, Ippolito's Seafood in East Passyunk, supplies smaller orders. (Note: Ippolito's is undergoing renovation. In the meantime, Samuels has put a retail section in its headquarters at 3400 S. Lawrence St.)
Madame Saito, who teaches sushi-making classes near Headhouse Square, recommends Hmart, with locations in Upper Darby, Elkins Park, and Cherry Hill. Sashimi-grade fish is also available from grocery stores like Whole Foods, but Sze says it's best to call ahead and place an order.
"You should let them know you're making sushi, so they give you the freshest cut," Sze said.
"Anything wild, you have to freeze to get rid of potential parasites — it's a health-code regulation to address things on the side of caution," Lasprogata said. "Then you have to invest in learning about all the different defrosting techniques."
Farm-raised salmon and yellowfin tuna, two classic sushi fish, are safe to start with. If possible, order it with the skin off to save time — otherwise, be prepared to work your knife skills to remove the skin.
Also, check to make sure the fish has a dry shine and doesn't smell fishy.
"Texture is also an important indicator of freshness. You want the fish to bounce back when you press it," Sze said. "If it sinks in or feels soft and mushy, it's probably been sitting around for a bit."
Store the fish in the refrigerator and use it within a day. (Your refrigerator temperature should be 35 to 38 degrees.)
When slicing, cut across the grain of the fish and aim to produce four-inch strips that are about ¼-inch thick.
"Just cut as best as you can," Sze said. "Don't think too much into it. Making sushi at home is meant to be relaxed and fun."
How to assemble
Once all ingredients are prepped and you're ready to roll, place a sheet of nori on a bamboo mat and scoop half a cup of sushi rice into your hands. Shape the rice into an oval and place it on the left edge of the nori. Use your hands to spread the rice from left to right.
"Be gentle. You don't want to smush the rice, so keep a light touch as you're pressing," Sze said.
Next, layer your ingredients across the roll lengthwise, starting with the most solid ingredients — generally the fish or the avocado — and continuing with the looser ingredients in the front. The rice can be positioned on the inside or the outside of the roll.
Roll the bamboo mat up and away from you, using your fingers to curl the nori and rice around the filling. Give the roll a gentle squeeze, and then continue to work it forward until the outer edges are sealed. Once finished, gently press on the left and the right side of the roll to neatly secure the ingredients inside.
To cut, transfer the roll from the mat to a board or other flat surface. Dip the tip of a long, sharp knife into a bowl of warm water. Let the water run down the length of the blade to dampen the knife. Starting toward the back of the knife (closest to your body), use a long slicing motion to cut the maki in half, and then cut each half into thirds to form six even pieces, rewetting the blade as needed.
"The less motion the better when slicing," says Sze. "You want it to look more like a rocking action then a sawing."
Serve with a side of soy sauce and wasabi, as well as pickled ginger, if desired.
Mistakes to avoid:
When it comes to making sushi, Sze has several golden rules.
Never use a dull knife. You're more likely to injure yourself — and butcher your roll — with a blade that's not sharp.
Always dampen your knife before slicing. A dry knife will cause the rice to stick and the roll will fall apart.
Avoid using too many ingredients. The more ingredients, the harder to roll.
Go light on the sauces. Excess sauce will make the roll too wet.
Avoid a heavy hand with the rice — a thin layer will do the trick.
Find a fishmonger you can trust. It'll expand your fish options and ease your mind.