Making sushi may sound intimidating but it’s not as difficult as you might think. You can even make raw sushi with freshwater species, but you need to deep-freeze the fish for a minimum of 7 days (-4 degrees F for 7 days according to the FDA) to kill any potential parasites. For this sushi recipe, we’re using cooked fish in the form of catfish tempura, which is basically fried catfish breaded in panko. 

While you might think it’s hard to find ingredients for sushi, you can find what you need for this recipe at most large grocery stores. I found everything I needed at Walmart. They also had a bamboo sushi rolling mat for $4. And if you don’t have catfish, you can use any freshwater (or even saltwater) species here. 

Sushi hand roll next to a sushi roll on a cutting board.
A hand roll (left) is easier to make than a sushi roll. Jack Hennessy

In the end, if you follow these steps, you’ll end up with tasty, sticky rice, perfectly-fried tempura, and some vegetables—all stuffed into nori seaweed sheets. Presentation and firmness of your sushi rolls may vary, but you’ll get better with practice. And if you want to take sushi-making in baby steps, consider just making the tempura and drizzle and serving over sushi rice. Or, try making a hand roll, which still uses all ingredients but lets you roll them up in a handheld cone.


serves 4

  • 1 pound catfish, fillets cut lengthwise into strips
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup pickle juice
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 1/3 cup of your favorite spice mix
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1/4 cup Frank’s RedHot
  • 2 cups panko bread crumbs
  • Peanut oil
  • Cooking oil spray
  • 2 cups sushi rice
  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1/3 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • One cucumber
  • Two avocados
  • 10 sushi nori seaweed sheets
  • Black and white sesame seeds
  • Sliced scallions
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 large cloves of fresh garlic
  • 1/4 cup sushi ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Sambal chili paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt


Cut the catfish fillets lengthwise (against the grain) into 1/4-inch-thick, 8-inch-long strips (or however long your nori sheets are). The goal here is to have uniform width so you don’t have any gaps in the sushi roll after you cut it. Marinate catfish strips overnight in 1 cup of buttermilk and 1/2 cup of pickle juice. 

While your fillets are marinating, make the drizzle by adding the garlic, sushi ginger, and Sambal chili paste to a food processor. Blend thoroughly and add to a mixing bowl with mayonnaise and kosher salt. Mix thoroughly by hand then add to a squeeze bottle and place in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve. 

Make the Rice

Using a sieve, rinse 2 cups of sushi rice under cold water for a couple of minutes. Add the sushi rice to a medium saucepan with 2 cups of cold water and cover. Bring to a boil then immediately drop to low heat. Keep covered for 20 minutes or until all water is absorbed. In a separate pan, simmer the rice vinegar with sugar and salt until the sugar and salt dissolve. Turn off the heat. After the sushi rice has absorbed all of the water, add both the sushi rice and the mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt to a large mixing bowl. Mix thoroughly and leave out until you’re ready to roll sushi.

Fry the Fish

Set up three stations to fry catfish tempura: One dish containing 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup cornstarch, and 1/3 cup of your favorite spice mix; a bowl with 1 cup buttermilk, 1 egg, beaten, and 1/4 cup Frank’s RedHot; and another dish with 2 cups of panko breadcrumbs. Heat a saucepan, dutch oven, or deep fryer filled with peanut oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Once the peanut oil is hot enough, pull the strips from the marinade and dredge in the first dish in your station. Shake off any excess, then drop in the bowl of buttermilk and eggs. Pull out and toss the fillets in panko bread crumbs. Shake off any excess and add to the hot oil. Do not crowd the pot or fryer. Pull the strips once golden brown and add to a grate to dry.

Sushi ingredients waiting to be rolled into sushi.
Start by spreading sushi rice on the nori. It’s up to you which side you want to roll on. Jack Hennessy

Roll the Sushi

Seed and peel cucumbers, and cut them into thin strips. Pit and cut avocados and cut into thin strips as well. Next, lay out a sheet of nori, and add a 1/4 inch of sushi rice across the sheet. (It helps to have a bowl of cold water nearby to rinse off your fingertips as they get sticky while adding the rice.) 

You can either flip the rice and nori sheet over and add vegetables and fish to the nori side—so the rice will appear on the outside of the roll—or add the ingredients directly to the rice so the outside of the roll will be nori. Whichever way you choose, add catfish tempura, cucumber, and avocado strips to the nori and rice. 

Read Next: The Beginner’s Guide to Smoking Fish

Roll tightly by hand, then place on a bamboo mat and squeeze tightly a few times to shape the sushi roll. (If you’d like to see this in action, check out this video with Iron Chef Morimoto.) Cut your finished roll in half with a very sharp knife that’s been lightly wet with water or cooking oil spray to avoid sticking. Then cut each half into quarters, and each quarter in half until you have 8 to 10 pieces. Garnish with drizzle, sliced scallions, or black and white sesame seeds.