Spicy Tuna Roll (スパイシーツナロール)
Although Spicy Tuna Rolls don’t come from Japan (they were created in L.A.), this modern sushi has become the most popular roll in many parts of the world. It’s colorful, flavorful, and because the tuna is chopped up, even lower-quality tuna cuts with stringy connective tissue can be turned tender and creamy.
The piquant filling can be used in many different ways, and in this Spicy Tuna Roll recipe, I want to show you three different styles of rolling sushi.
Table of contents
- Spicy Tuna Roll (スパイシーツナロール)
- Gunkan Maki
- Why This Recipe Works?
- Ingredients for Spicy Tuna Rolls
- How to Make Spicy Tuna Rolls
- How to cut a sushi rolls
- Other Sushi Recipes
Hosomaki (細巻き) literally means “thin roll,” which is the most popular style of rolled sushi in Japan. The nori is rolled on the outside, with the rice and filling in the center. Common fillings include cucumber, pickled daikon, and negitoro, and it has a good balance of rice to nori to filling.
Uramaki (裏巻き) literally means “backward roll” in Japanese because the nori is on the inside and the rice is outside. This style of sushi was popularized outside of Japan to hide the nori as seaweed was considered unappetizing during the early spread of sushi worldwide. This style also allows for more filling to be added both inside and outside of the roll, opening new avenues for creativity.
Gunkan Maki (軍艦巻き) literally means “warship roll” because it is said to resemble old navy ships. It’s made by rolling a thin strip of nori around a small base of rice, which creates a big cup to add a lot of filling, such as Spicy Tuna. This creates a balance that’s more heavily weighted towards the nori and filling, making it a good option if you are trying to cut back on carbs.
Why This Recipe Works?
- Hand chopping the tuna rather than processing it gives you more control over the spicy tuna texture.
- A mixture of sriracha, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil makes for a more flavorful and balanced Spicy Tuna Sauce than just using sriracha.
- Three different styles of rolling the Spicy Tuna gives you options to find the style that you like best.
Ingredients for Spicy Tuna Rolls
- Tuna – The most important thing when selecting tuna is that it has been processed and handled in a way that makes it safe to eat raw. These are often labeled as “sushi grade tuna” or “sashimi grade tuna.” It’s worth noting that there is no official grading scale for tuna in the US, so it’s up to the retailer to appropriately label their tuna. Tuna that is safe to eat raw isn’t just about freshness. It also needs to be handled properly from the dock to your table; otherwise, you risk contracting a foodborne illness. This is why it’s super important to buy your tuna from a store that you trust. As for the variety of tuna, I used Bigeye, but Yellowfin or Bluefin will work as well.
- Sriracha – I like using sriracha sauce as my source of heat for Spicy Tuna Rolls because it includes a little garlic, and it’s not too acidic. That being said, any Asian style hot sauce or chili paste that isn’t too sour or sweet will work. Sambal oelek and doubanjiang are two other options.
- Soy sauce – Sriracha alone doesn’t have enough salt to season the tuna, so I like to use a little soy sauce to add salt and a lot of umami to the Spicy Tuna.
- Sugar – Some brands of sriracha sauce are quite sweet and do not need any additional sugar, but if you’re using brands like Huy Fong (Rooster brand), or you’re using a different hot sauce, you may want to add a bit of sugar to balance out the salt and heat.
- Sesame Oil – I like adding a bit of sesame oil to my Spicy Tuna, which gives it a warm, nutty flavor, but this is optional.
- Scallions – Scallions add a bit of fresh crispness to the Spicy Tuna while providing a pop of color. You can also use shallots or sweet onions if you like.
- Tobiko – This is totally optional, but I love adding a bit of tobiko, which adds the poppy texture of the flying fish roe. If roe isn’t your thing, you can also add other textural ingredients like fried onions, nuts, or sesame seeds.
- Sushi Rice – I have a whole sushi rice tutorial you can check out on the proper way to select, wash, cook and season rice for sushi.
- Nori – I usually start with whole sheets of unseasoned nori and cut it to the right size, depending on the type of sushi I am making. When selecting nori, you want to look for sheets that are uniform in grain and thickness and almost black in color with just a hint of green. Green nori or nori that’s semi-translucent is a sign of cheap nori. A reddish tint indicates the nori is old.
- Cucumber – For my Uramaki style rolls, I like to add a little cucumber for color and texture. I used Japanese cucumbers, but any thin-skinned cucumber, like Lebanese, Persian, or English (a.k.a. hothouse) will work. If cucumbers aren’t your thing, avocado and crispy tempura batter are some other good options.
- Black Sesame – I like to sprinkle some black sesame seeds on the outside of Uramaki rolls for a little extra texture and visual appeal. Other options include tobiko or fried onions.
How to Make Spicy Tuna Rolls
To make the Spicy Tuna, the first thing you want to do is chop up the scallions. I usually use the stems (white part) in the Spicy Tuna mixture and save the leaves (green part) to use as a garnish.
Then you need to mince up the tuna. The best way to do this is to cut the tuna into long thin strips and then turn the strips 90 degrees to chop it into cubes. You can then go back over the tuna repeatedly with the knife to mince it as finely as you like. I usually like to leave a little bit of the texture, so I don’t mince it too finely, but this is up to you. I also mince in the scallion stems with the tuna to make sure they’re nice and fine.
Now you can put the minced tuna mixture into a bowl and add the sriracha, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and tobiko. Then it’s just a matter of stirring this all together until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Be sure to keep the Spicy Tuna filling covered and refrigerated until you are ready to use it.
How to Cut Nori Sheets For Sushi
A full nori sheet is approximately 8-inches x 7-inches (20cm x 18cm). Most rolls require the sheets to be cut in half, so they are 4-inches wide. You can do this with a sharp knife or scissors.
For Gunkan, the half sheets need to have 1-inch trimmed off one end, and then the remaining rectangle should be cut into 3 long strips. See the diagram above for more details.
How to Make Tezu
Tezu(手酢) literally means “hand vinegar” and is used to keep your hands wet while making sushi, so the rice doesn’t stick to them. It’s made by mixing a few tablespoons of rice vinegar or sushi vinegar into a small bowl of water. The vinegar prevents the taste of the rice from getting watered down.
How to Make Uramaki Sushi
Uramaki rolls have the rice on the outside, so it’s important to use a sushi mat that’s been wrapped in plastic to keep the rice from sticking to the mat.
Place a sheet of nori at the edge of the mat, then wet your hands with Tezu and grab a handful of rice. Use your fingers on both hands to place a row of rice along the nori’s top edge from one side to the other.
Making sure to keep your hands wet at all times, use the tips of your fingers to spread the row of rice from the top edge of the nori all the way to the bottom edge. Think of this as picking and placing the rice rather than smearing it as you want to spread it without smashing the individual grains. You also want to make sure you get the rice all the way to the edges of the nori in a thin, even layer (you should almost be able to see the nori through the rice).
Sprinkle the black sesame seeds evenly over the surface of the rice, and then use the nori to flip the rice over so the nori is facing up.
Add a strip of cucumber across the center of the nori, and then spread some Spicy Tuna on top of the cucumber. Uramaki gives you a little more runway to add extra filling than Hosomaki, but it’s still important not to overload it, or your roll won’t seal shut. My recommendation is to start with less filling and slowly increase the amount as a small roll is easier to roll.
To roll the Spicy Tuna Uramaki, lift the bottom edge of the mat up and over the filling and make sure the rice makes contact with the nori on the other side. Then you want to lift the edge of the mat away from the rice and push the back of the mat to roll the roll onto its seam. Cover the roll with the mat, and then press on all sides to give the roll its final shape. You want to apply enough pressure to get the rice to adhere, but you don’t want to overdo it, or the filling will squeeze out of the sides of the roll.
How to make Hosomaki Sushi
Hosomaki is made in a similar way to Uramaki, but there are a few key differences.
Since the nori will be on the outside, you need to make sure you place the nori at the bottom edge of the sushi mat with the shiny side facing down.
When you’re placing the rice on the nori, use a little bit less rice than for Uramaki, and leave a 1/3-inch border of nori at the top. This allows you to seal the roll shut without having rice showing through the seam.
Once the row of rice is in place, spread it down to the bottom edge of the nori sheet, but be sure to leave the margin of nori at the top.
Spread the Spicy Tuna in a thin row just below the center of the rice. Because you have less surface area to work with in this roll, it’s important to limit the amount of filling you add, or the roll will not seal shut.
To roll the Spicy Tuna Hosomaki, roll the bottom edge of the mat up and over the filling and make sure the nori’s edge makes contact with the edge of the rice. Use the mat to roll the roll onto its seam, and then use your fingers to press the roll’s top and sides into its final shape.
How to make Spicy Tuna Gunkan
Gunkan is made with a minimal amount of rice at the bottom of a ring of nori, so the first thing you want to do is wet your hands with Tezu and grab a small ball of rice (about 2 tablespoons). Then you can use your fingers to shape it into a rectangle about the size and thickness of two dominos.
Wrap the strips of nori cut for Gunkan around the rice. Then wet the top of your finger and press the rice from on top, which will round out the rice’s shape and fill out the nori.
Use a spoon to scoop the spicy tuna filling into the Gunkan, and then garnish the top with some scallion greens or chives.
How to cut a sushi rolls
Ideally, you want a long sharp knife to cut rolls without smashing or tearing them apart. You also want to prepare a wet paper towel to keep your knife wet, so the rice does not stick to it as you cut the rolls.
This technique works for both Hosomaki and Uramaki.
First, cut the Spicy Tuna Roll in half.
Then line up the two halves. Wet the knife after each cut and slice the halves into thirds.
Flip the cut Spicy Tuna Rolls so upwards. Be sure to have the end pieces facing upwards, or they will not stand up properly.
Other Sushi Recipes
Despite being one of the most popular sushi rolls outside of Japan, it was most likely invented in LA by Jean Nakayama of Maneki restaurant in the 1980s. It was probably an evolution of negitoro, a traditional Japanese sushi roll filling made by scraping tuna meat away from the stringy parts of tuna belly. Negitoro is not seasoned or spicy, though, which is the main way in which it differs.
There are many variations on Spicy Tuna Rolls; however, most of them involve mincing up cuts of raw tuna that can’t be sliced and mixing it with a chili paste, like sriracha sauce, along with seasonings such as sesame oil, soy sauce, salt, scallions, and sometimes mayonnaise. This filling is then rolled inside a sheet of nori that’s covered with seasoned sushi rice.
It depends on which roll(s) you decide to make, but I was about to make three Hosomaki, three Uramaki, and six Gunkan. It should be enough to feed four people.
In the US, the terms “sushi-grade” or “sashimi grade” are not regulated. This means that processors and retailers are free to label whatever fish they want sushi or sashimi-grade. That being said, stores aren’t in the business of getting you sick, so it’s unlikely that they would label something they didn’t feel safe as sushi-grade, but you should be very sure you trust the store you buy it from to know what they are doing. This includes obvious things like freshness and proper refrigeration. It should also be handled separately from all the other seafood they sell using different gloves, different knives, and different cutting boards to avoid cross-contamination. The fish also needs to have been handled this way from the point it was filleted, so for large fish like tuna, the processing plant that broke down the fish will have had to have handled it as meant for eating raw. At the end of the day, eating anything (including fruits and vegetables) raw carries some amount of risk, so it’s important to know the risks, as well as how to best mitigate them.
It will depend on how much filling and rice you use for your roll relative to the filling. Gunkan has the least amount of rice relative to the filling, so it will have the least carbs and the fewest calories. Each Hosomaki is about 250 calories (depending on how much rice and filling you add). Each Uramaki is about 300 calories. Each Gunkan is about 40 calories.
For Uramaki and Hosomaki, it’s best to have a sushi mat or makisu. Handrolls and Gunkan do not require a mat. If you want to make Uramaki or Hosomaki without a mat, you can use parchment paper or plastic wrap, but it will be difficult to make the roll an even thickness from end to end.
Once you have the rice placement down, hand rolls are the easiest to make and don’t require a sushi mat. I have a tutorial on how to make hand rolls, so make the Spicy Tuna filling in this recipe and head over there to learn how to roll them.
Technically it won’t be “tuna,” but I use the same method of poaching carrots I use to make my vegan “tuna” poke recipe. Then you can mince the carrots up and use them in place of the tuna in this recipe.
For Spicy Tuna
- 360 grams tuna
- 2 tablespoons sriracha
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 1 scallion
- 2 tablespoons tobiko (use sesame as an alternative)
- 1 batch prepared sushi rice
- 1 cucumber (seeded and cut into 1/4-inch wide strips)
- Black sesame seeds
- 4 sheets nori
- Chop the scallions, reserving some of the greens for garnish.
- Slice the tuna into thin strips and then turn the strips 90 degrees and chop it up. If you want your spicy tuna chunky, you can stop here, or you can continue to chop the tuna up with your knife until the pieces are smaller. I usually add the scallion stems in here and chop them up together with the tuna.
- Transfer the chopped tuna to a bowl, and add the sriracha, soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and tobiko, and stir everything together until mixed. Cover and keep the mixture refrigerated until you’re ready to use it.
- Make some Tezu by adding a few tablespoons of rice vinegar to a small bowl of water.
- For the Gunkan, you want to cut the nori according to the diagram in the headnotes above.
- Wet your hands with the tezu and grab about 2 tablespoons of rice. Gently press it into a rectangle with your fingers, but don’t smash the individual grains of rice.
- Wrap each rectangle of rice with the strips of nori you cut for the gunkan.
- Press the center of the rice to make the rice fill out the nori wrapper.
- Spoon some spicy tuna into each cup of nori. Garnish with scallion greens.
- For Hosomaki, the full sheets of nori should be cut in half according to the diagram above.
- Place the nori at the bottom edge of a sushi mat with the shiny side down.
- Wet your hands in the Tezu and grab a small handful of rice. Place the rice in a line along the nori’s top edge working from one side to the other. Be sure to leave a thin margin of nori at the top.
- Wet your hands again if needed and spread the rice to the bottom edge of the nori sheet using a picking and pressing motion. Don't smash or smear the rice.
- Spread a thin line of spicy tuna in the lower half of the rice from one side to the other.
- To roll the spicy tuna hosomaki, use the mat to flip the bottom edge up and over the filling and make sure this edge meets the rice’s top edge.
- Pull the edge of the mat away from the nori and push the back of the mat forward, so the seam rolls to the bottom.
- Use your fingers to press 3 sides of the roll against the cutting board to give the roll its shape.
- See the headnotes or watch the video for instruction on cutting a roll.
- For Uramaki, the size of the nori and process is similar, but you need to use a sushi mat that is lined with plastic wrap, or the rice will stick to the mat.
- Place a sheet of nori at the bottom edge of the mat and spread a handful of rice along the nori's top edge. There is no need to leave a border for uramaki, so you will need to use a little more rice than for hosomaki.
- Spread the rice down to the nori’s bottom edge in a thin uniform layer, being careful not to smash the rice.
- Sprinkle some black sesame seeds onto the rice.
- Flip the rice over so the nori sheet is facing up, and lay a cucumber strip in the bottom half of the nori.
- Spread a line of spicy tuna from one side to the other.
- Flip the bottom edge of the mat up and over the filling until the rice makes contact with the nori on the other side.
- Pull the edge of the mat away from the rice and press the back of the mat to roll the seam to the bottom.
- Press the top, sides, and bottom of the roll using the mat to give the roll its shape, but do not squeeze it too hard.
- Check the headnotes for instructions on cutting the spicy tuna roll.