Eating a tasty dish of sushi is something that can keep you going until the weekend. But a dish of fine, visually appealing sushi can be so expensive that you may reserve it for special occasions. The good news is you can make sushi at home for cheap and satisfy your love of the Asian specialty whenever you like.
To make cheap sushi at home, skip the fish because it’s the costliest ingredient. You could use chicken instead of fish and mix it with different veggies. Additionally, you can replace nori with thinly sliced cucumber, lettuce, or rice wrap. Instead of rice vinegar, you can use apple cider vinegar.
Read on to learn how to make cheap sushi at home with the most delicious ingredients and some tips to make your sushi close to restaurant quality. We’ll also talk about why sushi is so expensive.
How To Replace Expensive Sushi Ingredients
Making sushi at home doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. You can make up to six dinners at home with the price of one using the ingredients you have at home.
Plus, it can be a fun activity you can do with all your friends and family, each person doing their own sushi rolls. But before knowing what ingredients you can use to whip up your homemade sushi, there are some tips and tricks to consider.
Here are the most important ingredients in sushi:
Not every rice variety is suitable for making sushi. The rice suitable for sushi is starchy and sticky to keep the sushi together. It should also be short-grained since long-grain rice is usually not starchy enough. But it doesn’t need to be as starchy as risotto, for example.
Botan CalRose or Koshihikari are suitable and are both available on Amazon.com. Although made in the US, these two varieties are the closest in taste to the rice grown in Japan, as reviewed by verified customers. If you can’t find these varieties, any rice labeled “sushi rice” will do.
Just make sure to store rice in an airtight container and a cool, dry place. If you keep it in a moist place, it’ll form mold or will lose its quality.
Fish and rice are equally important in making restaurant-level sushi. The most important point in choosing sushi-grade fish is that it should be parasite-free since it’s eaten raw.
The most suitable fish for sushi are tuna, yellowtail, salmon, seabass, halibut, and gizzard shad. These are resistant to parasites but need some form of processing to kill all the parasites and bacteria.
According to the FDA, the best temperature to get rid of parasites in fish is -20˚C (-4˚F) for seven days or -35˚C (-31˚F) for 15 hours.
So, unless you’re sure the fishmonger or the market has complied with these guidelines, you can’t be sure of the fish’s safety. Plus, you may need several varieties for one dinner, making it even costlier.
If you get your hands on sushi-grade fish, you need to transport it home on ice and immediately put it in the freezer unless you plan to cook it immediately. When you thaw the fish, it should be in the fridge for 24 hours to avoid hitting the temperature danger zone.
So, if you want to keep your homemade sushi within a certain budget, you may need to go without fish and try other ingredients that can be as tasty. Plus, it can be much safer since you can’t be 100% sure that the raw fish is free of bacteria and parasites.
Sushi means “sour flavor” in Japanese, which gets its name from the sour taste of rice vinegar. So, it’s an essential ingredient of sushi that complements the fish and adds a rich flavor.
There’s a wide variety of rice vinegar on the market mimicking the original Japanese taste and flavor. For example, this Marukan Genuine Brewed Rice Vinegar on amazon.com has delicate acidity perfect for sushi and is kosher, vegan, non-GMO, and gluten-free.
However, you could replace it with apple cider vinegar to get the same taste if you’re on a budget. It has a sweet flavor that’s perfect for sushi as it also contains sugar added to the rice vinegar. In addition, you can reap the many health benefits that come with apple cider vinegar.
Nori is the seaweed wrap that gives sushi its distinctive look. Although nori can be a costly ingredient, you can replace it with a cheaper substitute. But, if you want to make restaurant-quality sushi at home, it pays to invest in premium nori sheets.
Still, you can use some substitutes if you don’t mind the not-so-authentic taste or you don’t like seaweed in general. You can give the sushi a modern twist and add variety to your presentation, too.
Cucumber. Thinly sliced cucumber is one of the most popular substitutes for nori. You could take a large cucumber and cut it into thin slices using a mandolin. Alternatively, you may choose to core the cucumber and stuff it with the sushi ingredients if you don’t have fine slicing skills.
Lettuce leaves. Compared to cucumber, lettuce leaves are thinner and more manageable while wrapping. However, they may not do a good job of keeping the sushi wrapped. So, it’s better to use the softer end of lettuce which is more tender and flexible.
Rice paper. If you don’t like greens or vegetables, you could opt for rice paper. It’s thin, doesn’t need cooking, and easily wraps around the ingredients. The only catch is that it’s round in shape, so you may need to make more of them to hit your desired number.
Traditional sushi chefs use bamboo mats to roll the nori sheets. These mats aren’t expensive, and you can get one with a few bucks on Amazon.com, like Helen’s Asian Kitchen Sushi Mat made sustainably from 100% natural bamboo.
But there’s no need to use bamboo mats unless you want to have the authentic sushi-making Japanese experience. You could easily replace the mat with plastic wraps or roll the nori sheets with your hands if you have enough skills.
Cheap Sushi Recipes
Now that you know it’s possible to make sushi for cheap, you can try our recommended sushi ingredients. After you get the hang of making sushi, you can get creative and explore new recipes and try any new ingredients that you like.
You could choose any of the following ingredients that are right up your alley:
- Bell peppers
- Green onion
- Sweet potato
For the side Side dish:
- Soy sauce
- Pickled ginger
Here are the basic steps to making cheap sushi:
Step One: Prepare the Rice
The first step to making sushi is preparing the rice. The amount of rice depends on how many rolls you plan to make, but as a rule of thumb, one cup of rice will be enough for making three rolls.
- Wash the rice grains and drain them several times until the water becomes clear.
- Pour the rice in a pot or the rice cooker, add one cup of water, and wait until the water boils.
- Reduce the heat and cover the pot to let it cook for 15 to 20 minutes.
When the rice gets sticky and cooked, it’s done. So, let it cool down completely.
Step Two: Vinegar Mix
While the rice is cooking, you should prepare the vinegar mixture.
Add ¼ cup (2 oz) of vinegar, one or two tablespoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, and a few drops of rice wine (optional) to a pot and mix all of them well. You could heat the mixture until the sugar grains melt. Sugar can help the rice get stickier, but you can eliminate it if you don’t like it.
When the rice and the vinegar mixture are at room temperature, sprinkle the rice with the vinegar mixture. Fold the mixture gently and let it sit.
While waiting for the rice to cool down, prepare the veggies by slicing them into long thin pieces.
Step Three: Wrap the Sushi
Now prep your work table by spreading the bamboo mat or the plastic wrap. You could put a layer of plastic wrap on the bamboo mat to avoid mess and help the roll cut easier.
- Put a sheet of nori on the plastic wrap or the mat.
- Take a generous ball of rice and spread it evenly using a spoon, and leave the top side bare for one inch (2-3cm).
- Place the veggies on the top and start rolling, keeping a tight roll all the way and making sure nothing falls out.
- Cover the rolls in plastic wrap and put them in the fridge until firm enough to cut.
Here’s a video that shows how to roll the sushi:
Chicken Teriyaki Recipe
In addition to the veggies and instead of fish, you can use chicken prepared to your liking. One of the best types of chicken for sushi is chicken teriyaki. The ingredients are the staples of every kitchen, so you can make your sushi cheap, adding a bit of meat.
- One boneless chicken breast
- Teriyaki sauce
- Brown sugar
- Sesame oil
To make the chicken teriyaki:
- Slice the chicken breast into thin strips and place them in a plastic bag.
- Add the teriyaki sauce and other ingredients, mix well and put it in the fridge for a couple of hours.
- Take out the chicken and fry it for 3 to 4 minutes on high heat until it’s crispy on the outside.
- Set aside to cool and put it on the layer of rice along with the veggies.
Tips on Making Homemade Sushi
- Since sushi rice is sticky, always have a bowl of warm water to make your hands wet while making the rolls.
- Never touch the nori with wet hands, or you’ll ruin them.
- One side of nori is shiny, and the other side is rough. Place the shiny side on the bamboo mat and the rough side facing up.
- Don’t put too much filling on the rolls because overstuffing makes it difficult to hold things together.
- Use a super-sharp knife to cut the rolls and wet the blade every time you cut.
- When you add the vinegar mix to the rice, the goal is to add the maximum amount without making the rice mushy or soaked.
Why Is Sushi So Expensive?
If you’re not familiar with what’s involved in making sushi, you may wonder why sushi is so prized. After all, it’s just a mixture of raw fish and vegetables. But there’s more to a roll of sushi than you think.
The exquisite sushi that you eat in restaurants needs fresh ingredients of premium quality. The most important ingredient is the fish, which has to be parasite-resistant and of the finest quality.
Some of them can cost hundreds of bucks per pound, and some restaurants have to import them directly from Japan. As mentioned earlier, the FDA has strict guidelines for storing sushi-grade fish, and not every market or fishmonger has the freezers to store the fish at the right temperature.
Another expensive ingredient is nori since it’s also imported from Asia. It has a complicated production process, and the algae used for its production is also expensive. Although different types of algae can be used to make nori, a high-quality product needs a good crop, namely Pyropia, which you can only find in Japan.
Plus, not every alga grown in Japan is quality nori. It needs unpolluted water free of any sewage. If the nori comes from polluted waters, the pollution ends up in the final product.
Then, you should consider the added expense of transportation since most nori products come from Asia. And since nori easily absorbs moisture, it requires super careful handling during transport.
More than being a fine dish, sushi is an artful craft ending up on your plates. Although everyone can make sushi, not every person can make an exquisite dish that’s taste-succulent and satisfying.
Sushi chefs need years of training to perfect the art of mixing subtle flavors so that they go with each other and form a presentable arrangement of colors and textures.
Sushi is an expensive dish because not everyone can make it of premium quality. It needs high levels of manual skill to wrap the ingredients in rolls and combine the tastes artfully.
Although making sushi is more about the process than the components, a lot goes into choosing the right ingredients. Sushi-grade fish is costly, to begin with, and the storage process adds to the expenses.
But you can make budget sushi at home by swapping the costly ingredients for cheaper options. For example, you could use chicken instead of fish and use a wide variety of veggies to make acceptable sushi.
Here are some of my favorite sushi making tools
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you find it useful as you make sushi at home. Here are some tools I’ve used that I hope you’ll find helpful, too. These are affiliate links, so if you decide to use any of them, I will earn a commission. But honestly, these are the exact tools that I use and recommend to everyone, even my family.
Rice cooker: For getting started, I really like Zojirushi Rice Cooker. The Zojirushi Rice cooker does not only make rice-cooking dirt simple, but it is a quality gadget that cooks better than most chefs can. Unlike most kitchen gadgets, it does not sacrifice quality for convenience.
Knife:The Kai Knife is one of the best sushi knives in the market. Made in Japan’s famous knife-making capital, Seki city.
- FAO: EDIBLE SEAWEED PRODUCTS IN JAPAN
- RB Sushi: ALL ABOUT THE SAUCE: WHAT TO EAT YOUR SUSHI WITH
- Alyona’s Cooking: Rice Vinegar Substitute
- USDA: Danger Zone
- Web restaurant Store: Sushi Grade Fish Explained
- Fav Family Recipes: How to Make Sushi Rice
- Oola: 7 Best Tips For How To Make Restaurant-Quality Sushi Rolls At Home