How To Make Nigiri Sushi

Nigiri is one of the most popular types of sushi. It is not the easiest sushi to make but you can do it.

What is Nigiri Sushi?

The actual Japanese meaning of nigiri is “gripped sushi.” This meaning refers to the way it is made. You will grip the rice and fish to bond it together and make nigiri. When you look at the beauty and complexity of sushi rolls you might think that they are the pinnacle of difficulty when it comes to making sushi.

However in my experience Nigiri can be just as difficult if not more so. There are a few steps to making nigiri that need to be learned in order to make not only acceptable nigiri, but beautiful well-balanced nigiri that is the centerpiece of your meal. In this article we will talk about why I say that and also I will show you the techniques needed. When we are finished you will know how to make nigiri sushi. So here we go.

Sourcing Suitable Fish


We won’t spend a lot of time on this subject here because I already discussed this topic in this article on this site. I will remind you though that you just can’t go down to your local grocery store and pick up fish that looks good.

With that said though, I know the butcher at a small grocery store close by and I have on more than one occasion purchased Atlantic salmon from him because I knew the day that it arrived and I knew that it was fresh.

It also passed the smell test which I talked about in the aforementioned article. Bottom line is, make sure the fish is sushi grade and fresh. There is one exception to the rule. I get vacuum packed frozen albacore loins that I keep in the freezer and pull out when I have a hankering for sushi.

Here is a short list of what you will need to make nigiri sushi:

1- Rice

2- Fish

3- Wasabi

4- Sushi knife

5- Cutting board

Again this is a short list that may lead you to think that nigiri is somewhat easy. At this point though I will remind you again that patience and skill are required if you want to learn how to make nigiri sushi that looks like the presentations at your favorite sushi bar.

Cutting the Fish


The first thing you will need is a good sushi knife. You may think that the filet knife you keep in your knife block will do but trust me you will want to get a good quality knife for sushi.

First you will need to cut the fish into suitable pieces. For this article we will be using salmon. Different fish will need to be cut in different ways. Salmon can be cut in a number of different ways which will also add to the artistic style of your nigiri. Notice how beautiful this salmon nigiri is, and it has been cut in several different ways



The belly section of the fish is more fatty which is the same with most other fish as well. This allows you to cut the fish in such a way that the fat layers make for a nice design in your nigiri.



It will take a few times to get the hang of cutting your fish perfectly but with practice you will get the hang of it. You don’t want it too thin or too thick. The optimal thickness is around 1/4 of an inch or maybe just a little under that. Also, different fish will need to be cut a little thicker because of the texture and make up of the fish.

Fish Meets Rice

If you are right-handed take a piece of fish and place it in the palm of your left hand about at the spot where your fingers meet your hand. Now moisten your right hand in with some warm water, be careful not to soak your hand you are only getting it moist so the rice won’t stick to it.

Pick up a little bit of rice with your right hand, it takes a while to get the amount just right but it will be about the size of a ping pong ball or just a little bit less. This is where the definition of nigiri that we talked about at the beginning of the article starts to come into play.

Gently start molding the rice into an oblong ball by softly pressing it together and rolling it in the palm and fingers of your hand. Be careful not to squeeze the rice and crush the individual kernels. You are just trying to form it gently so it sticks together when you place the fish on it. It is important to note that it is critical to have rice that is the correct consistency. You can find the instructions for how to make perfect sushi rice on this site.

Take a small bit of wasabi on your right index finger and apply it to the center of the piece of fish.



When you have a nice consistent oblong rice ball place the fish over the top of the rice. Cup your hand so that the fish and rice are cradled in your right hand. Press the fish down on the rice with your index and middle fingers, again not too hard, you don’t want to crush the rice and have to start over. As the definition of nigiri says, it feels like you are “gripping” it.

You will continue to form the fish and the rice together until the fish seems to just drape over the top of the rice. This technique will take you some time to master. Not only that but since each fish is different in texture you will need to adjust your technique a little with each kind.


A Few Tips

One of the most important things I can tell you as you learn how to make nigiri sushi is not to get too upset if it doesn’t come out perfect. It will still be edible although it may not look like what you get at sushi bar.

Remember that it takes a light touch when working the rice and the fish together.

When you are working with the rice don’t get your hand too wet or you will ruin the consistency of the rice, the moisture is only used to keep the rice from sticking to your hand.

You are now ready to try to make your own nigiri, I know you can do it!