Sushi is just cooked rice, seafood, and some seasonings, but the finest sushi chefs in Japan distinguish themselves from the rest by carefully selecting their ingredients and employing secret techniques that they've developed to transform these basic ingredients. The first step to perfect sushi, whether you're making nigiri sushi or a sushi roll, is to master cooking Japanese short-grain rice. The second step is to make seasoned sushi vinegar that maintains the perfect balance between savory, sweet, and sour. In this sushi vinegar recipe, I'm going to show you everything you need to know to make the perfect seasoned vinegar. The best part is this sushi vinegar can be made ahead and used to season a wide variety of dishes, from a humble bowl of sunomono to the tangy allure of nanbanzuke.
Why This Recipe Works?
- The balance of savory sweet, and sour tastes gives sushi rice the perfect balance of tastes while infusing it with an additional layer of rice flavor from the vinegar.
- Because there are only 3 ingredients in this recipe, it's essential to use the best quality rice vinegar, sugar, and salt.
- Mixing a big batch in a squeeze bottle makes it super easy to mix up a batch of perfect sushi rice, and it can also be used as a seasoning and condiment for other dishes such as sunomono, nanbanzuke, and quick pickles.
- Rice Vinegar - Rice vinegar, which is also sometimes called rice wine vinegar, is brewed with fermented rice. It's milder and less acidic than other types of vinegar, with a subtle sweetness that mellows it out. This makes it perfect for all kinds of sushi, where we want a delicate balance of flavors. There are a few types of rice vinegar in Japan. For this sushi vinegar recipe, you'll want to use regular, unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar to maintain control over the balance of sugar and salt in the mixture. Look for bottles labeled "rice vinegar" or "komezu" when shopping for it. Since this is the primary ingredient, the more flavorful your rice vinegar is, the better your sushi vinegar will taste, so look for the best quality rice vinegar you can find at Asian or Japanese grocery stores. If you can't find rice vinegar, the closest substitutes are apple cider vinegar, champagne vinegar, or white wine vinegar. They're not quite the same, but it will work in a pinch.
- Sugar - Sugar is crucial in sushi vinegar as it adds sweetness to balance out the acidity of the rice vinegar. I prefer using evaporated cane sugar as it tends to be more flavorful with some caramel notes, but white granulated sugar will work too. I don't recommend using sugar with a strong taste, like brown sugar, maple syrup, or honey, because they will overwhelm the taste of the other ingredients.
- Salt - Salt seasons the vinegar, rounding out the sweet and sour tastes. I like to use a nice sea salt with a lot of umami, such as mojio or a salt infused with kelp (kombu) extract. You also want to ensure that the salt crystals are not too large or won't dissolve properly.
How to Make Sushi Vinegar
To begin, you'll need a bowl or a plastic squeeze bottle, along with a scale, for accurate measurement. I prefer using a squeeze bottle because it lets you mix, store, and dispense the sushi vinegar more conveniently, but a bowl will work too.
Place your container of choice on a scale and tare or zero out the scale before measuring in the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Once you have all three ingredients in your container, it's time to combine them. If you use a squeeze bottle, close the lid tightly and shake the mixture vigorously. If you're using a bowl, a set of chopsticks or a whisk will do the job nicely. Just stir until you can't see any more sugar or salt granules.
How to use Sushi Vinegar
This versatile seasoned vinegar can be used in many ways, but here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Season Rice - Sushi vinegar gives sushi rice its characteristic sweet, tangy, and savory taste, that's the hallmark of good sushi. It's not hard to make, but the key is in how you mix the vinegar into white rice.
- Sunomono - Sunomono is a Japanese vinegared salad that's most commonly made using thinly sliced cucumbers. The cucumbers are salted and sweated before they're squeezed to transform their texture, and then you can dress them with this sushi vinegar mixture.
- Nanbanzuke - Nanbanzuke is a dish where deep-fried fish or meat is marinated with shredded carrots and sliced onions in a vinegar-based sauce. I'll often make this if I have leftover karaage. Just mix the veggies with a generous amount of seasoned rice vinegar and pour the whole mixture over your fried chicken.
- Quick Pickles - While it's not Japanese cuisine, you can quick pickle veggies like radishes, carrots, cucumbers, red onions, or cabbage by salting and squeezing them and then covering them with sushi vinegar. Let them sit in the refrigerator overnight, and you'll have delicious and colorful pickles to serve with any meal.
- Condiment - Sushi vinegar can also be used as a condiment or base for various sauces, marinades, or salad dressings. Mix it with boiled potatoes and mayonnaise to make potato salad, use it as a base to make an agrodolce sauce, or drizzle some on grilled vegetables to bring out their sweetness. Its well-rounded taste profile lends a depth of flavor to a wide range of dishes.
- California Rolls
- Spicy Tuna Roll
- Tempura Shrimp Roll
- Seafood Chirashizushi
- Caterpillar Roll
- Temaki Sushi
Sushi vinegar is a mixture of rice vinegar seasoned with salt and sugar. It gets its name because it is most commonly used to season sushi rice, but it can also be used to season other dishes.
You'll need to add sugar and salt to the rice vinegar to make sushi rice, but once you have sushi vinegar, you can add ⅓ cup of it for every 2 rice cooker cups (1 ½ US cups) of cooked Japanese short-grain rice. Follow my sushi rice tutorial to learn how to mix sushi vinegar into the rice in a hangiri with a rice paddle.
Because of the low pH and high salinity of sushi vinegar, it has a long shelf life and can be stored unrefrigerated. Just keep it in a sealed container or bottle with a lid that won't rust.
Both the rice vinegar and salt should be vegan. For the sugar, make sure you are using one that is labeled as being vegan.
- 175 grams rice vinegar
- 120 grams sugar
- 17 grams salt
- Put a bowl or plastic squeeze bottle on a scale and measure in 175 grams rice vinegar, 120 grams sugar, and 17 grams salt.
- If you use a bottle, close the lid tightly and shake the mixture until the sugar and salt dissolve fully. If you're using a bowl, you can do this with chopsticks or a whisk.