The common ingredient in all the different kinds of sushi is sushi rice. Variety arises in the choice of the fillings and toppings, in the choice of the other condiments, and in the manner it is put together. The same ingredients may be assembled in entirely different ways to different effect. The following are some of the more common ingredients.
Sushi is made with a white, short-grained, sweet rice mixed with a dressing made of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, konbu, and sake. It is cooled to body temperature before being used.
Sushi rice (sushi-meshi) is made with Japonica rice, which has a consistency that differs from the strains commonly eaten outside of Japan. The essential quality is its stickiness. Rice that is too sticky has a mushy texture; if it is not sticky enough, it feels dry. Freshly harvested rice (shinmai) typically has too much water, and requires extra time to drain after washing.
There are regional variations in sushi rice, and of course individual chefs have their individual methods. Most of the variations are in the rice vinegar dressing: the Tokyo version of the dressing commonly uses more salt; in Osaka, the dressing has more sugar.
Sushi rice generally must be used shortly after it is made.
The vegetable wrappers used in maki and temaki are called nori. It is an edible seaweed traditionally cultivated in one of the harbors of Japan. Originally, the plant was scraped from dock pilings, rolled out into sheets, and dried in the sun in a process similar to making paper. Nori is toasted before being used in the food.
Today, the commercial product is farmed, produced, toasted, packaged, and sold in standard-size sheets, about 18 cm by 21 cm in size. Higher quality nori is thick, smooth, shiny, and has no holes through it.
For both sanitary and aesthetic reasons, fish eaten raw must be fresher and higher quality than cooked fish. A professional sushi chef is trained to recognize good fish, which smells clean, has a vivid color, and is free from harmful parasites. Only ocean fish are used raw in sushi; freshwater fish, which are more likely to harbor parasites, are cooked.
Commonly-used fish are:
- tuna (maguro/toro)
- yellowtail (hamachi)
- salmon (sake)
- smoked salmon (sake kunsei)
- red snapper (tai)
- mackerel (saba)
The most prized sushi ingredient is known as toro, a fatty, marbled cut of tuna.
Fish is not the only meat included in sushi. Other seafood is commonly used. Some of it is cooked, some is raw, some is salt water, some is fresh. The can be:
- squid (ika)
- octopus (tako)
- shrimp (ebi)
- sweet shrimp (amaebi)
- eel (unagi)
- salmon roe (ikura)
- smelt roe (masago)
- flying fish roe (tobiko)
- sea urchin (uni)
Pickled daikon radish, fermented soybeans (natto), avocado, cucumber, tofu, pickled plum.
Eggs in the form of a slightly sweet, layered omelet, called tamago. Raw quail eggs (uzura) are put on top of a maki roll of usually flying fish roe (tobiko).
- Shoyu (Soy sauce)
- Wasabi (Green paste with a sharp, horseradish-like flavor)
- Gari (Sweet, pickled ginger)