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What is Nigiri Sushi?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Nigiri sushi is a type of Japanese dish made with sushi rice and fresh fish. The sushi rice is hand formed into a small clump, and the fish is sliced and pressed on top of it. In some cases, nigiri sushi uses a small strip of toasted seaweed called nori to bind the whole mixture together, although this is not obligatory. Nigiri sushi is commonly found in sushi restaurants which have a reliable supply of high quality raw fish and well trained cooks.

Nigiri sushi is commonly called two kinds sushi because it involves two ingredients: sushi rice and a single topping. The topping is also known as neta, and usually takes the form of a type of seafood such as tuna, eel, haddock, shad, snapper, octopus, or shrimp. Depending on the type of fish, it may be served raw in thin slices, grilled, or batter fried. Because the fish is clearly on display, and often served raw, cooks select fish of the highest quality and cut it meticulously so that it is aesthetically pleasing and healthy to eat..

In many restaurants, nigiri sushi is offered on a combination platter, so that diners can try several different types at once. Nigiri sushi is often served with other types of sushi such as maki for a taste contrast. Some types of nigiri sushi incorporate multiple ingredients, although they are found more often outside of Japan. One of the most common nigiri sushi combinations is grilled unagi, or eel, and avocado.

Like other types of sushi, nigiri is traditionally accompanied with a variety of condiments and sauces. Pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce are all common, although other pickled vegetables such as shiso leaf are not unusual. Other garnishes might include shredded daikon radish and salted seaweed. Nigiri sushi should be eaten by hand, though some may choose to use chopsticks, and guests are usually provided with small individual plates and mixing bowls for sauces.

Nigiri sushi can be made at home, if you have a reliable source of very high quality fresh fish. If you live in an inland region, or are unable to obtain fresh caught fish, the fish should be grilled, roasted, or baked before being eaten. To make nigiri sushi, cook a batch of short grained sticky rice and season it with a mixture of one tablespoon rice vinegar, one teaspoon sugar, and a pinch of salt to every cup of rice. Let the rice cool while you prepare your neta. Dip your hands in water to keep the rice from adhering and pick up a small handful of rice, compressing it so that it forms a clump. Then place the neta on top of the fish, using a dot of wasabi for glue if you are concerned that the fish will slip, and serve with sauces and condiments.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon937284 — On Mar 04, 2014

I tasted salmon nigiri at my Japanese class this evening, hand made by my teacher. The thought of sushi has always put me right off, but actually, it was delicious, and I had five pieces! I've never had salmon or sushi before.I'd recommend it for a newbie to sushi. Really, give it a go! Now I need to learn to make it!

By jessiwan — On Dec 15, 2013

If you cook the fish in nigiri sushi, there will be no point in eating it. The raw fish is what makes it good. Although I personally still prefer maki rolls.

By anon354529 — On Nov 09, 2013

If you have fresh fish, Nigiri actually tastes less fishy than Maki rolls (since they are wrapped in Nori which has it's own fishy taste).

By anon354329 — On Nov 07, 2013

Although it's perfectly valid to not like something, in my experience people who say they don't like sushi have either never tried it and are just reacting to the thought of it, or have tried bad "supermarket" sushi. Well prepared nigiri sushi and/or sashimi is not fishy at all. With a little good quality soy sauce and wasabi, it's delicious.

Try it at a well respected sushi place and stick with salmon or tuna at first. If you really don't like it then, fine. But believe me, it's worth giving it a try. You might be surprised.

By anon349045 — On Sep 22, 2013

Only in Texas... I was at a sushi place the other night, enjoying a selection of sashimi cuts and prepared sushi rolls.

I overheard a couple of typical Texans a couple tables away, complaining that they were been given raw fish with their entrees.

By anon266553 — On May 06, 2012

Actually, It's better to get tuna that was flash-frozen on the boat. This kills any parasites and preserves the tuna, yet it doesn't significantly alter the flavor or texture.

Shrimp is cooked, eel is toasted right before serving, octopus is parboiled to improve the texture.

You can also get vegetarian sushi. Check the menu and see if there is a vegetarian combo.

Sushi shouldn't have a strong fish flavor. If the restaurant smells fishy, they're doing something wrong.

By anon161583 — On Mar 20, 2011

I tried a Love Boat at U.S. Sushi in Greensboro this weekend with sushi and nigiri. I enjoyed the sushi but the nigiri was a little too much like slime going down my throat so I fried the rest of it at home. But I also tried Octopus and it was okay.

So, if you are thinking about trying sushi or nigiri, go for it; you can always fry your leftovers. I think I will have to eat nigiri a little more, then maybe I would like it better.

By anon145851 — On Jan 24, 2011

If something tastes "fishy", that's a sign that the fish has gone bad. Fresh fish tastes delicious, be it raw or cooked. But for people not used to raw fish, salmon and tuna are the safest for your taste buds.

Not all nigiri is raw. For example, shrimp or crap will be cooked. Eel will be grilled and marinated for days, and tamago (Basically a tiny omelette) will be clearly cooked.

You could also have a plain rice ball, called onigiri.

By anon92599 — On Jun 29, 2010

I love sushi and would like to try nigiri but can you make it with cooked fish or meat? I know it's probably not traditional but I just don't like raw fish. Also what type of healthy sushi fillings would you recommend?

By smartypants4 — On May 31, 2010

I haven't been brave enough to try it...isn't it super fishy tasting? I can brave the rolls, but the nigiri just looks slimy. I don't think I could do it.

By samiamb34 — On May 31, 2010

I tried this for the first time last weekend and LOVED it! I think my favorite was the yellow-tail tuna. But the flying fish roe was good, too! Actually, all of it was good.

By knittingpro — On Mar 29, 2008

Although nigiri sushi is usually more expensive than the rolls, it enables you to really taste the flavor of the fish so much more than the seaweed.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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