10 Steps to Making Philadelphia Sushi Rolls

Many people love sushi, and for good reason. No matter what kinds of foods you like, there is likely a variety that you will enjoy in sushi; it can make a great snack or meal. This is why it makes perfect sense that so many people would want to learn to make their own sushi, particularly a popular type, such as Philadelphia sushi rolls.

To make Philadelphia sushi rolls, you will need to smoke salmon and cook sushi rice to start. Then, prepare the cream cheese, salmon, and cucumber as the fillings. Get your sushi mat ready, and then lay out your nori, rice, and fillings. Roll the sushi, and put on your chosen finishing touches.

If you’re interested in learning how to make your own Philadelphia sushi rolls, read on. What you will learn here could end up being a very enjoyable process, both in the preparation and the eating of the sushi!

What Is a Philadelphia Sushi Roll?

A Philadelphia sushi roll is a type of makizushi, or rolled sushi. Makizushi is different from other types of sushi in that you can put all sorts of different ingredients in the same sushi roll. The Philadelphia sushi roll has cream cheese, salmon, and cucumber rolled within seasoned rice and a nori seaweed sheet.

A Philadelphia sushi roll is considered to be uramaki sushi, meaning that the rice is on the outside, and the nori is on the inside, directly surrounding the filling materials. With other types of makizushi, the rice is on the inside, and the seaweed sheet is on the outside.

Many people will also call the Philadelphia sushi roll the Japanese bagel roll because the combination of cream cheese and smoked salmon is a popular one for a bagel as well. Not surprisingly, the name of the Philadelphia sushi roll comes from a cream cheese brand with the same name. This popular sushi roll found its inception in North America in the 1980s.

Clearly, this is not the typical traditional Japanese sushi, as Philadelphia cream cheese is not a traditional sushi ingredient. However, the Philadelphia sushi roll’s existence presents evidence that hybrids of traditions from two culinary cultures can be interesting and delicious.

The flavor combination is so delectable that the Philadelphia sushi roll has become one of the most popular sushi rolls in Western countries.

If you want to make great Philadelphia sushi rolls at home, you can do so. However, there is a series of steps that you should follow in order to do so.

Gather the Ingredients

In order to make proper Philadelphia sushi rolls, you will need certain ingredients. Some of these will require further preparation before you can actually start rolling the sushi. Here are the basic ingredients you will need:

  • 3 to 4 ounces (85 to 113 g) of salmon, either lightly smoked or sashimi-grade
  • 1/2 cup of sushi rice
  • 2 tablespoons of seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 nori seaweed sheet
  • 2 ounces (57 g) of cream cheese, or your preferred amount
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame seeds
  • The dipping sauce of your choice (soy sauce and Sriracha chili sauce are two popular options)
  • One sliced cucumber
  • Chives or scallions (optional)
  • The seasoning of your choice (one popular pick is everything bagel seasoning) (optional)

To prepare the sushi, you will also need a bamboo sushi mat and plastic wrap. These tools are particularly important if you are a beginner and don’t know how to roll sushi at all.

Smoke the Salmon

In this particular sushi recipe, the salmon will be smoked. You can prepare it via hot smoking or cold smoking.

Hot smoked salmon is made by placing it at a temperature of over 120° F (49° C) for up to 12 hours. Once you have done this, the salmon should be thoroughly cooked, with a firm and flaky texture that will be a delicious part of your Philadelphia sushi roll.

Cold smoked salmon is made by cooking it at temperatures that are below 80° F (27° C) for a minimum of six hours. In some cases, you will cold smoke it for up to 48 hours. You should be aware that the cold-smoked salmon won’t be cooked at the end of this process, just cured. This might be preferable for you if you like salmon that is softer and silkier in texture.

Hot smoked salmon is considered safe to eat, just like any other cooked meat, since it is completely cooked.

However, you should be a little bit more careful with cold-smoked salmon. It is preserved via brining in a salty mixture, but it is not completely cooked. If you don’t process it correctly, it could actually be unsafe to eat. This is why if you choose the cold smoking method, you need to make sure you are able to do it correctly.

It might be best to avoid cold smoking entirely if you have a compromised immune system or are pregnant.

Because of the amount of time it can take to prepare the salmon, you should do this step first. In some cases, you might even need to start this step a day or two before you are planning to roll the sushi.

Prepare the Rice

Many don’t realize this, but the rice is actually the most important part of the sushi roll. It is what holds everything together, so it doesn’t end up becoming a big mess. You can’t use just any type of rice for this particular project. You will actually need to use a specific type of rice to be able to roll the sushi.

Usually, sushi rice is a premium Japanese short-grain white rice. However, some people will use medium-grain rice for this purpose.

Before you start rolling the ingredients, you are obviously going to cook the rice. However, it’s not as simple as just popping it in the rice cooker and letting it do all the work, as you might normally do. Sushi rice needs to be sticky, and you need to prepare it in a certain way to make this happen.

For example, it’s important to note that you use less water when you prepare sushi rice than you would use when preparing regular rice. Typically, the water to rice ratio will be close to 1 to 1, although you can opt for 1.2 to 1 if you want softer rice for your rolls. 

  1. Start by thoroughly rinsing your sticky rice in some cool water. Use a strainer (usually made of mesh) to do this so that you remove any dirt and other residues from the rice. Keep rinsing it until you see that the water coming out of the strainer is clear, and then shake the strainer to make sure that as much water as possible is gone.
  2. Pour your strained rice into a medium-sized saucepan. 
  3. Then, add in 2/3 of a cup of cold water. Turn the heat to a high level, and bring your rice to boil.
  4. Once the water is boiling, turn the heat to a low setting, and then cover the pan. Let it cook for about 20 minutes with the lid on, and then take it away from the heat, still keeping the lid on. Let the rice continue to steam, away from the heat source, for another 10 minutes.
  5. Now, once the rice is adequately cooked, put it into a bowl that is not metallic. Here, you will first fluff it using a fork until it has the desired sticky texture. 
  6. Then, you will add in the ingredients that will enhance its flavor. This could include just the rice vinegar, although you have the option of adding in salt (½ tablespoon) and sugar (⅜ tablespoon) as well.

The rice vinegar will give you a bit of sour flavoring, and the sugar and salt can add nuances of sweetness and savory flavors that can make your sushi taste completely different. In fact, the mixture of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar is known as sushi vinegar.

It’s up to you which of these flavors you want to use, and you might just have to learn by trial-and-error which combination is right for you. Think about what will go well with smoked salmon, cucumber, cream cheese, and whatever dipping sauce you have chosen.

The most critical part of this step is making sure you have cooked and fluffed the rice properly since this will be crucial to creating a texture that will enable you to roll the ingredients. The flavoring ingredients that you use after that are really just a matter of personal taste.

Once the rice is prepared to your liking, let it cool while preparing all the other ingredients.

Shape the Cream Cheese

Roll your cream cheese and shape it into ropes. The idea is to make the ropes the same length as your nori seaweed sheets, so you will be able to spread them across the seats horizontally and roll the sheets with the cream cheese filling in the center. Once you have rolled it into ropes, set it aside.

It’s actually quite important that the cream cheese be chilled for this step. If it is too warm, it will be very difficult to mold into a shape.

Slice the Salmon and Cucumber

Now, it’s time to prepare further the salmon that you have smoked. What you should do is slice it into strips. Keep in mind that you will be rolling the nori sheet lengthwise, so try to make the strips about the same length as the nori sheet. If this is not possible, at least try to slice them so that you can put them end-to-end to create that length.

Also, cut your cucumber into long, thin pieces. These should also be about the same length as the nori sheet, if possible. Use your own judgment to make sure that the ratio of salmon to cucumber will be to your liking.

If you are adding in chives or scallions, you can toss these into the mix as well during this step. Cut them into very small bits and sprinkle them all over your salmon and cucumber.

Prepare the Sushi Mat

Now, it’s time to prepare your bamboo sushi mat. Line it with some plastic wrap on the surface where you are going to be rolling your sushi. The purpose of this is to prevent the rice from sticking to the mat, as this can really be a pain to clean up.

Lay Out the Nori and Rice

Now, put one sheet of nori on top of the plastic-lined sushi mat. Make sure that the rough side of the nori is facing the ceiling.

Spread a thin layer of rice on the nori. Make sure that the thickness is even throughout and leave about ½ inch (1.27 cm) of nori bare on each of the four sides.

Traditionally, this type of sushi roll is made with rice that is on the outer side of the seaweed paper. In order to do this, flip the sheet of seaweed paper, so that the rice happens to be in direct contact with the plastic wrap on the sushi mat. Then, lay down the cream cheese, salmon, and cucumber directly onto the nori. 

Alternatively, if you would prefer the nori on the outside rather than the rice, you can put the filling materials directly atop the rice.

Lay Out the Fillings

Now, it’s time to put the fillings on top of the flipped nori (or on top of the rice if that is your preference). Make sure the nori is turned so that the rectangle is tall in the vertical orientation. Place them on top in a neat horizontal row that is located about one inch above the bottom.

Roll the Sushi

Moisten the edges of the seaweed sheet (not the part that you have covered with rice) with a few drops of water. This will make it less cumbersome when you are trying to seal up the sushi roll at the end.

Once you have done this, you can start rolling. Start by taking hold of the edges of the bamboo sheet and nori at the bottom and tightly rolling them towards the other side. As you are rolling these ingredients, use your fingers to push all of the filling materials towards the center, as this will help keep your sushi roll neat as you are rolling. 

Push the bamboo sheet into a roll so that you create a tube. Once the roll is completely covered with the bamboo mat, squeeze it in order to seal it and make it firm. You can also shape your Philadelphia sushi roll to your liking during this step.

After this, pull the mat out from within the Philadelphia sushi roll. Make sure to do so carefully, or else all of your ingredients could end up falling apart and making a big mess.

Put the Finishing Touches on the Sushi Roll

Using a very sharp knife, slice the Philadelphia sushi roll into bite-sized, disc-shaped pieces. Sprinkle the sesame seeds and whatever other seasonings you have chosen on the outside of your sushi roll. Serve and enjoy with the dipping sauce of your choice!

Choosing the Right Ingredients

In order to make the best Philadelphia sushi rolls possible, you will need to select high-quality ingredients.

Nori Sheets

You may think that the nori sheets are a small part of the final result, but choosing high-quality seaweed wraps does matter. The best nori sheets that you will be able to find will be black with a little bit of a green hue. They shouldn’t have holes throughout the surface, and the thickness should be even.

Freshness is also important for the best sushi possible. A fresh nori sheet will be crisp, and it will break fairly easily when you fold it in half.

Smoked Salmon

Since this will give you the bulk of the protein content and a great deal of the flavor, you must choose high-quality smoked salmon for your Philadelphia sushi rolls. High-quality salmon will have a bright color and a good amount of flavor.

However, it’s important to note that you don’t want the color to be too dense as you are preparing it. If it’s extremely dense, that is a sign that you have not thawed the fish out properly, which can result in a mushy texture in your sushi.

Cream Cheese

The most common cream cheese to use for this recipe is that of the Philadelphia brand, hence the recipe’s name. However, you can really use any cream cheese that you choose. If you want lower-calorie sushi, you can opt to use either nonfat or low-fat cream cheese for your recipe.


Now that you know how to make a Philadelphia sushi roll, you can try it in the comfort of your own kitchen. If you don’t produce good results on the first try, this doesn’t mean you should give up. Sushi can be very difficult to make, especially for someone who has no experience in this area.

However, once you learn how to make a good Philadelphia sushi roll, you’ll be glad that you put in the time to do so. The ability to make this delicious treat anytime you want will show you that the endeavor was worth the effort.


7 Easy Steps to Making Sushi Pizza

9 Easy Tips to Make Zucchini Sushi