What Is Nigiri?

When it comes to sushi, what first crops up in most people's minds is the sushi rolls. However, people who are more familiar with sushi know that the nigiri is a more popular and original form of sushi, despite the fact that it looks easier to make.

Nigiri is just a ball of vinegared sushi rice, topped with slices of sushi-grade fish or seafood, or in some cases even with vegetables. The fish can be sometimes cooked such as the unagi (bbq eel), shrimp, crab meat and octopus, or marinated such as mackerel.

Nigiri sushi

Nigiri Sushi with Salmon, Avocado & Tuna

Vegetarian nigiri is not common, but in my sushi restaurant I used to sell nigiri with avocado, asparagus or roasted red peppers. Before I put the vegetarian nigiri in my menu I did not know if anyone had tried to do that or if it will sell good, but it did really good for me and all the feed back was great. The nigiri picture above is made of albacore tuna nigiri, salmon nigiri and avocado nigiri. In the corner there is a little bit of homemade sushi ginger. If I had six or eight of those nigiri pieces it was usually enough for me for one meal, but I know people who can eat way more than that.

For about 30 nigiri sushi pieces you need two cups of uncooked rice, 2 cups cold water, 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 2 teaspoons sugar, some wasabi and whatever toppings you want to use.
Recipe: Rinse the rice thoroughly and cook it with the cold water. (For more complete explanation on how to cook the sushi rice visit my sushi recipes page. The link is at the bottom of this page). Let the rice sit for about 10 minutes then lift the lid and fan it until most of the steam is gone. Add the sugar and rice vinegar to the rice and mix well. Let the sushi rice sit again for 30-45 minutes before using it. With slightly wet hands form the nigiri pieces and smear just a touch of wasabi over each one. Top the nigiri rice with your favorite toppings and use a thin strip of nori to secure the pieces that are with cooked seafood. For example raw and smoked salmon will stick nicely over the rice, but you will need a strip of nori for bbq eel, avocado or octopus.
All good sushi restaurants know that the nigiri is at its best when made with slightly warm rice. Therefore, the nigiri sushi sold in the grocery stores is not at its best, more so than the rolls, because it is being kept under refrigeration for days.
The beauty of nigiri is that you can use even more types of seafood than for sushi rolls. Some examples are fresh squid, scallops, mackerel, snapper, hamachi, kingfish (harimasa).

Some other forms of sushi include:
Maki rolls - maki roll is a sushi made using nori (seaweed) sheet, then cut to six, eight or ten smaller rolls.
Chirashi - Chirashi is a bowl of rice, topped with fresh fish slices (sashimi) and often other ingredients, such as avocado, cucumber, egg, etc.
Sashimi - Slices of fresh raw or cooked fish and other seafood.
Hand rolls (tamaki) - Similar to maki rolls, but in the shape of a cone. Find a picture here.

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Chef George Krumov
About the author: George Krumov is a Red Seal certified chef with many years of culinary experience working around the world in Europe, the Middle East, the cruise line industry and North America. In the last two decades he has headed the kitchens of several restaurants in Canada, and ran his own restaurant.

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