The first consideration when preparing sushi is the kind of tools that are needed. I certainly recommend traditional tools, but there are more common substitutions that are perfectly feasible, so do not be discouraged if you cannot obtain certain materials.
1. Rice cooker
Now a rice cooker is not necessarily essential, but I could not really imagine life without one. If you have a gas top range, you can get by using a covered pot. You do not have as much control with an electric range which can easily jeopardize your rice, and rice is the most important part so you should really take the time and care to prepare it right.
A hangiri is a wooden tub designed for preparing sushi rice. You can find these online or in specialty Asian stores. The higher quality cypress wooden tubs can be pretty expensive averaging just below $100. Do not fret however, as sushi rice can just as easily be prepared in any non-metalic mixing bowl, like a salad serving bowl. The real key is to use a mixing surface made of a porous material to absorb excess liquid.
A wooden rice paddle, or shamoji, often come packaged with hangiri, or DIY sushi kits. You just need a simple paddle made of bamboo or wood. You should not have any trouble finding one. Look in your canister of baking utensils…did you find a wooden spoon? Good. You can use that.
Any kind of wide-based strainer that does not allow rice to pass through will work. I have heard of bamboo strainers made specifically for draining polished rice, but I’ve never actually encountered one unfortunately.You could also line a colander with cheese cloth or sturdy paper towels. This is an important tool and technique not to be skipped out on as it oftentimes is. Short-grain rice needs to be rinsed until it runs clear, then it needs to be well-drained so that a more precise water measurement can be taken to cook the rice. We will go into more detail about rice preparation in lesson 3.
A chef’s best friend. Really any type of sharp high-quality knife will do, but what you see sushi chefs using most often is a sashimi knife. Other chefs may call it by other names. A sashimi knife has a long, slender blade which is used to cut fish in one skillful slicing motion.
This is an item most people will recognize, but do not quite grasp the concept of how to use it. Makisu is the Japanese name for the bamboo rolling mats used to create maki rolls. These are cheap and there is no substitution. They are also easy to find these days. Sometimes they are included in poorly crafted home-made-sushi kits, so many of you probably already have one. I had my first one for years before I started actually making sushi.
Nigiri sushi may look simpler and easier to make than maki rolls, but don’t be fooled. Hand-formed nigiri sushi is one of the more difficult techniques, and is one of the last mastered by a professional sushi chef. With enough practice, you can learn to do it by hand, but you can crank sushi out faster and more consistently with the use of a nigiri mold. Work sushi rice into a ball and place in the mold, then place the other piece of the mold on top, and you have the rice base for nigiri sushi. Next, top with your favorite ingredients.
This tool is not so much as essential as is the idea behind it. This is used to speed up the necessary cooling process. If your rice is too hot, it will ruin the nori and turn into a mess; if the rice is too cold, it will be clunky and hard to work with. Sushi rice should be room temperature. The fan speeds this along which can be nice because making sushi rice is a fairly lengthy process. You can also use an electric fan, but the traditional one is better because uh…it looks cooler.
It may seem silly to mention this because any well-equipped kitchen will have kitchen towels and paper towels, however, I can’t stress enough how important this is. When making sushi, you always want to have a bowl of water and a cloth handy. Sushi rice sticks to everything. The easiest way to get frustrated while making sushi is to have rice sticking all over your hands, boards, utensils, and even shoes. If you keep your hands moistened, you can prevent this. You also want to wipe your blade often.
10. Nori box
Although not neccessary, I recommend one of these nori storage containers for those who make sushi often at home. This will keep nori fresh and crisp if you store it with one of those moisture-absorption packs that usually come with nori you buy from the store. A good alternative is a ziploc bag with the aforementioned pack inside. As a side note, I have no idea what the Japanese name is for these; so if anyone knows please leave a comment.
You also want to have a large cutting board, and a flimsy plastic one to put on top of it to ease cleanup. Plastic wrap is another common tool that is often used in sushi preparation techniques. Basically you should really only have to worry about getting the first 6 items listed here. Anything else not listed here is either above and beyond, for limited specific uses, or used for serving (lesson 6). I will gladly answer any questions you have about equipment in the comments section below. Also please share any other alternative ideas you come up with!