In Japan, sushi usually implies traditional style “nigiri sushi”, which consists of raw fish on top of rice pillow. In recent years, you might find California Roll on the menu in some sushi restaurants, but it’s still pretty uncommon.
However we definitely have traditional sushi rolls in Japan. When Japanese talk about a sushi roll (“Maki-sushi” in Osaka area or “Nori-maki” in Tokyo area), we are usually referring to Futomaki (太巻き) for this large thick sushi roll.
What is Futomaki?
Futomaki is a thick sushi roll consists of several ingredients. The diameter is about 2 to 2.5 inches (5-6 cm) and it is typically filled with a variety of vegetables and sometimes include cooked fish like unagi or anago (fresh water eel or salt water eel).
Since you can prepare Futomaki ahead of time and it looks very pretty, it’s often made for festivity events, holidays, potluck, or bento.
One of the unique facts about Futomaki is that unlike fresh ingredients used for typical sushi or sushi roll, the common ingredients are dried ingredients common in Japanese pantry. Since dried shiitake mushrooms or dried kanpyo (gourd strips) may not be the typical ingredients in your pantry, please feel free to substitute ingredients you like. More about this topic in the following section.
What’s Inside the Futomaki
Each family choose different fillings for futomaki, but common ingredients include cucumber, seasoned kanpyo (gourd strips), seasoned shiitake mushrooms, tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette).
Some people put 5 fillings, some put more than 10. It really depends on the family.
In my rolls, I include the following 7 ingredients:
- Tamagoyaki / Dashimaki Tamago
- Simmered Kanpyo (gourd strips)
- Simmered Shiitake Mushrooms
- Mitsuba or Spinach
- Cooked unagi (fresh water eel) or anago (salt water eel)
- Sakura Denbu (Seasoned Codfish Flakes)
Other ingredients that people commonly use include kamaboko fish cakes (or imitation crab), koya dofu (freeze-dry tofu), shiso leaves, pickled ginger, carrots, tuna (sashimi), salmon (sashimi), and more.
I understand some of these ingredients are (incredibly) hard to find in your local Asian grocery stores (you will have better luck finding the products in Japanese grocery stores). But please remember – you can make futomaki with anything that you really like. Do keep in mind the flavors should balance each other and not have any single ingredient overpower the rest.
Futomaki or Ehomaki?
One interesting fact about this roll is that the Japanese call this sushi roll futomaki all year around, except for one day out of the whole year. On February 3rd, the day of Setsubun (節分, the day before the beginning of spring in Japan), the same sushi roll is called ehō-maki (恵方巻).
Ehō-maki (恵方巻) is eaten uncut, like a burrito, and you would eat it while facing the lucky direction (the eho). This lucky direction changes every year depends on the zodiac symbol for the year.
On the evening of Setsubun, there is the custom of throwing roasted soybeans around the house and outside the house from the window while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out, happiness in”).
These beans are called Fuku Mame (fortune beans) and bean-throwing ceremony is called Mame Maki. Afterwards everyone eats the same number of beans as their own age, wishing to be free of sickness during that year.
I hope you will enjoy making this Futomaki recipe! If you try it, don’t forget to share your picture on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter with #JustOneCookbook. Thank you so much for reading, and till next time!
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- 3 rice cooker cups Japanese short grain rice
- 2" (5 cm) kombu (optional but it will give nice aroma!)
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) rice vinegar
- 3 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 ½ tsp. salt
- 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup (240 ml) water
- 0.4 oz (10 g) dried kanpyo (gourd strips)
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 Tbsp. sugar
- 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
- Tamagoyaki / Dashimaki Tamago (recipe here)
- Small bunch of mitsuba / spinach
- 1 broiled unagi (fresh water eel)
- 1 Japanese cucumber
- 1.4 oz (40 g) Sakura Denbu / seasoned cod fish flakes (1 package)
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tsp. rice vinegar
- In a bowl (or measuring cup like I use), put 8 dried shiitake mushrooms and pour 1 cup water to cover the mushrooms. Place a smaller bowl on top so that mushrooms will stay submerged. Soak for 15 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, bring water to boil. Quickly rinse the kanpyo in running water and drain. Rub kanpyo with 1 tsp. salt. Rinse and drain well.
- When the water is boiling cook kanpyo for 3 minutes. Transfer to iced water to stop cooking process and squeeze water out.
- When the shiitake mushrooms are soft and tender, cut off and discard the stem. Strain the shiitake liquid through a fine sieve to get rid of small unwanted bits.
- If the reserved shiitake liquid is not 1 cup, add water till you have 1 cup.
- In a medium saucepan, put the kanpyo and sliced mushrooms. Add 1 cup of reserved shiitake liquid into the saucepan.
- Add 1 Tbsp. sugar, 1 Tbsp. mirin, and 1 Tbsp. soy sauce to the saucepan.
- Bring it to boil and once boiling, lower the heat to medium and cook until most of liquid is gone, about 20-30 minutes.
- Cut the shiitake mushrooms to very thin slices and squeeze the water out.
- Squeeze the water out from kanpyo and cut into 8 inch (20 cm) length, which is about the same size as nori sheet.
- When shiitake and kanpyo have cooled, keep in the fridge till the next day.
- Make 1 tamagoyaki or dashimaki tamago ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator to save time. Recipe here.
- Cut tamagoyaki into long strips store in the fridge till ready to use.
- First make sushi rice (recipe here). Sushi rice is steamed rice that is seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. For 4 sushi rolls, you will need 3 rice cooker cups (1 cup = 180 ml) uncooked rice. Sushi rice should be similar to body temperature when you roll sushi.
- Unagi are typically already cooked/broiled when you purchase it. All you need to do is reheat in the oven. Set your oven to broil (high – 550F/290C) and preheat for 3 minutes. Line the baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spray oil on the aluminum foil and place the unagi on top. Put the baking sheet in the middle rack of your oven and broil for 5-7 minutes (no need to flip). Cut into 4 long strips.
- Tie the stems with cooking twine to keep them from being untied while cooking. Bring a pot of water to boil. Add 1 tsp. salt and blanch mitsuba or spinach just enough to tender. Do not overcook.
- Soak the blanched mitsuba in iced water and squeeze the water out. Set aside.
- Cut off the end and cut into quarter length-wise and remove the seeds. Set aside.
- Open the package and put it in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Prepare Tezu (water for dipping hands) by combining ¼ cup water and 2 tsp. rice vinegar.
- Place the bamboo mat on the working surface or cutting board and place a sheet of nori on the bamboo mat, shiny side down. Divide sushi rice into quarters. Dip your fingers in Tezu, and put ¼ of sushi rice on nori and spread evenly with your fingers. Make sure to wet your fingers with Tezu when you do this. Spread the rice evenly; otherwise your sushi roll won’t look even when rolled.
- Leaving about a ½ inch (1.5 cm) strip along the top of nori farthest away from you. You don’t put the rice till the end because after you roll, the white rice could come out from the seam and it won’t look pretty.
- Place the cucumber toward the bottom of nori. Front ingredients will need to go over the other ingredients. Therefore I recommend putting easy-to-hold ingredients toward the front, and put Sakura Denbu and Shiitake toward the top so the pieces won’t fall down when you roll.
- From the bottom end (of sushi rice), start rolling nori sheet over the filling tightly and firmly with bamboo mat until the bottom end reaches the end of sushi rice on top. Use your fingers to hold the ingredients when you roll.
- Hold the top of bamboo mat with one hand and hold the rolled bamboo mat with the other hand and pull against each other to tighten the roll. Lift the bamboo mat and continue to roll. Place the bamboo mat over the roll and tightly squeeze. Continue to make the rest of the rolls.
- Using a very sharp knife, cut the Futomaki in half first. Every slice or every other slice, wipe the knife with wet kitchen cloth so that you can cut nicely.
- Then cut each half into 3 pieces.