Learn how to make Futomaki or Maki Sushi, a traditional thick and fat sushi roll filled with colorful ingredients. You can make this sushi roll ahead of time and bring it to festivals, potlucks, or picnics.
When I ask people what’s their favorite sushi, the answers I often get are some types of sushi rolls, like Dragon Roll, California Roll, or Spicy Tuna Roll.
In Japan, sushi usually implies the traditional style “nigiri sushi”, which consists of raw fish on top of the rice pillow. However, when we say sushi roll, it’s typically referring to Futomaki (太巻き) – a thick and fat sushi roll with colorful fillings.
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What is Futomaki (Maki Sushi)?
Futomaki (太巻き) is the most classic sushi roll in Japan. Therefore, when you say Maki Sushi* (巻き寿司) or sushi roll, it implies Futomaki.
Here are some of the unique characteristics of Futomaki:
- The diameter is about 2 to 2.5 inches (5-6 cm) thick.
- It incorporates a mix of fresh and dried ingredients common in the Japanese pantry.
- The typical filling consists of a variety of vegetables, and sometimes with the addition of cooked fish like unagi (freshwater eel) or anago (saltwater eel).
- It can be prepared ahead of time.
With its attractive look, Futomaki is a popular sushi roll to make for festivity events, holidays, potluck, or bento.
*Note: The word “Maki Sushi” is often used in the Osaka area. In the Tokyo area, sushi roll is called Nori Maki (海苔巻き). It is then further divided into Futomaki (太巻き), Chumaki (中巻き), Hosomaki (細巻き) based on the size of the rolls.
What’s Inside Futomaki (Maki Sushi)
Each family chooses different fillings for futomaki. Some people use 5 ingredients and some include more than 10. It really depends on the family. And that is what makes Futomaki such fun sushi to share!
The most common ingredients include cucumber, seasoned kanpyo (gourd strips), shiitake mushrooms, and tamagoyaki (Japanese rolled omelette).
In my rolls, I include the following 7 ingredients:
- Tamagoyaki / Dashimaki Tamago
- Simmered Kanpyo (gourd strips)
- Simmered Shiitake Mushrooms
- Mitsuba or Spinach
- Cooked unagi (freshwater eel) or anago (saltwater eel)
- Sakura Denbu (Seasoned Codfish Flakes)
Other ingredients include kamaboko fish cakes (or imitation crab), koyadofu (freeze-dry tofu), shiso leaves, pickled ginger, carrots, tuna (sashimi), and salmon (sashimi).
I understand some of these ingredients are hard to find in your local Asian grocery stores. You will have better luck finding the products in Japanese grocery stores.
But remember, you can make futomaki with anything that you really like! Just keep in mind that the flavors should balance each other, and not have any single ingredient overpowering the rest.
Interesting Fact: Maki Sushi Turns into “Ehomaki” on February 3
The Japanese call this sushi roll futomaki all year round, 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).
What is Ehomaki?
Ehōmaki (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 depending on the zodiac symbol. For 2023, the lucky direction is South-southeast.
On the evening of Setsubun, we have a custom of throwing roasted soybeans around the house, and outside from the window while shouting “Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Devils out, happiness in”).
These beans are called Fuku Mame (fortune beans) and the bean-throwing ceremony is called Mame Maki. Afterward, everyone eats the same number of beans as their own age, wishing to be free of sickness during that year.
If you are interested in learning about Setubun, check out Setsubun: The Japanese Bean Throwing Festival.
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Futomaki (Maki Sushi / Ehomaki)
For Sushi Rice
- 3 rice cooker cups uncooked Japanese short-grain rice (540 ml, 3 gō, 3合, 450 g; See Notes)
- 540 ml water
- 1 piece kombu (dried kelp) (5 g; 2 inches x 2 inches or 5 cm x 5 cm; optional but it gives a nice aroma!)
- ⅓ cup rice vinegar (unseasoned) (you can substitute it with bottled sushi vinegar (seasoned rice vinegar))
- 3 Tbsp sugar (skip if you are using bottled sushi vinegar)
- 1 ½ tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt (skip if you are using bottled sushi vinegar)
For Futomaki Fillings
- seasoned shiitake & kanpyo (recipe below)
- Tamagoyaki (Japanese Rolled Omelette)
- a handful mitsuba (Japanese parsley) (or spinach)
- 1 unagi (freshwater eel) fillet (broiled)
- 1 Japanese or Persian cucumbers
- 1 package sakura denbu (seasoned cod fish flakes) (1.4 oz, 40 g)
For Seasoned Shiitake & Kanpyo
- 8 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 cup water (for soaking)
- 0.4 oz dried kanpyo (gourd strips)
- 1 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt (for kanpyo)
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp mirin
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
For Wrapping Sushi Rolls
- ¼ cup water (for Tezu, finger dipping water)
- 2 tsp rice vinegar (unseasoned) (for Tezu, finger dipping water)
- 4 sheets nori (dried laver seaweed)
- sushi ginger (gari) (optional)
To Prepare Sushi Rice
- Start cooking rice and follow my sushi rice recipe here. Cover the prepared sushi rice with a damp cloth at all times to prevent it from drying.
To Make Seasoned Shiitake and Kanpyo
- In a bowl (or a measuring cup), add dried shiitake mushrooms and water and let them soak for 15 minutes. Place a smaller bowl on top so that mushrooms will stay submerged.
- In a small saucepan, bring water to a boil. Quickly rinse the kanpyo in running water and drain. Rub kanpyo with salt. Rinse and drain well.
- When the water is boiling cook kanpyo for 3 minutes. Transfer to iced water to stop the 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 (240 ml), add water till you have 1 cup.
- In a medium saucepan, put the kanpyo and mushrooms, and the reserved shiitake liquid.
- Add sugar, mirin, and 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 it into 8 inches (20 cm) length, which is about the same size as the nori sheet.
- Now shiitake and kanpyo are ready to use. You can make this ahead of time and store them in the fridge for a couple of days.
To Make Tamagoyaki
- Make one tamagoyaki (I have two versions: tamagoyaki or sweeter atsuyaki tamago). You can make it ahead of time and keep it in the refrigerator to save time.
- Cut tamagoyaki into long strips. Keep them in the fridge until they are ready to use.
To Prepare Unagi (Eel)
- Unagi is typically already cooked/broiled when you purchase it. All you need to do is reheat in the oven. Set your oven to broil (high – 550ºF/290ºC) 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.
To Prepare Mitsuba or Spinach
- 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.
To Prepare Cucumber
- Cut off the end and cut into quarter length-wise and remove the seeds. Set aside.
To Prepare Sakura Denbu (Seasoned Cod Fish Flakes)
- Open the package and put it in a small bowl. Set aside.
To Assemble Futomaki
- Gather all the ingredients. Prepare Tezu (finger dipping water) by combining ¼ cup water and 2 tsp rice vinegar.
- Place a bamboo sushi mat on the working surface or cutting board. Then place a sheet of nori on the bamboo mat, shiny side down. Divide sushi rice into quarters. Dip your fingers in Tezu, and put a quarter portion of the 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 the 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 a wet kitchen cloth so that you can cut nicely.
- Then cut each half into 3 pieces.
- Rice: 1 rice cooker cup is 180 ml, not the same as US 1 cup (240 ml). 1 rice cooker cup will make 2 rice cooker cups of cooked rice, roughly 330 g. 1 US cup of cooked rice weighs 6.3 oz (180 g). Estimate that each sushi roll like California Roll needs ½ cup (90 g) sushi rice. Please use short grain rice for sushi.
- Sushi Vinegar: There is a convenient Sushi Seasoning available at a Japanese/Asian grocery store.
Editor’s Note: The original post was published on January 30, 2016. The post has been updated in January 2020.
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