Ask the Critics: What Makes My Spicy Tuna Roll Spicy?


Holly G. Asks: How do you make the spicy mayonnaise that comes in spicy tuna rolls? Is it just mayo and Sriracha? Can you find out what’s in it?

Dear Holly: While spicy tuna rolls aren’t classic sushi offerings, there’s no question that they’re tasty — and surprisingly diverse, as I’ve come to learn. Here in the office there was much debate (was it Tabasco sauce? Sriracha? A combo of the two?) and no consensus was reached. So I got in touch with a few sushi chefs around the city to learn how they make their spicy tuna rolls.

At Lure Fishbar, chef Josh Capon actually uses two types of mayo to make his spicy sauce, including Hellmann’s and the Japanese Kewpie variety. To that he adds sambal chile paste, olive oil, and ponzu before rolling up the sushi.

At Sushi Samba, meanwhile, the spicy sauce is made by combining mayo with sesame oil and tobanjan, a Japanese chile and bean paste. And if you order their signature Neo Tokyo roll, they also add the Peruvian chile pepper aji panca.

Looking at more mass-market sushi, Genji Sushi, which operates inside of Whole Foods, revealed that their spicy sauce is made from mayonnaise, hot pepper paste (made from aged red peppers fermented with wheat), malt powder, powdered red pepper, dried green onion, vinegar, sugar, canola oil, salted sake, cayenne pepper, sesame oil, paprika, and red chile pepper.

But in some cases, there’s actually no mayonnaise at all in spicy tuna rolls. The version at Matsuri, for example, combines chopped tuna with minced scallion, Sriracha, kochi-jyan (a spicy Korean miso), tomato paste, soy sauce, lemon juice, and sesame oil.

So there you go — if you’re looking to make your own at home, I’d recommend mixing Kewpie mayo with a little Sriracha and then seasoning to taste with some sort of acid, be it citrus or vinegar, and maybe a drop of sesame oil. But clearly there is no single correct way to make spicy tuna!