If you’re a sushi fan, you’ll be glad to hear that this California roll recipe is easy to make and tastes delicious. Perfect for lunch or parties, you’ll be happily skipping the takeout.
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If you’re a regular here, you might have seen when I shared my pickled ginger recipe that the kids have become pretty big sushi fans recently. I’m not sure whether to be pleased or worried for their future bank accounts!
But it did lead me to making this tasty favorite at home with my eldest son recently. It’s a fun thing to make with kids too with plenty they can do. Plus, even if each roll isn’t perfect, it’s delicious.
California rolls are a great option for even the sushi-skeptics since it doesn’t contain any raw fish, and has other tasty vegetable additions as well. The rice here has a wonderful light but flavorful seasoning that brings everything together.
Where are California rolls from?
Despite what you might think, California rolls are not actually Japanese in origin. While traditional sushi does include some rolled rice and seaweed items, they tend to be the smaller maki rolls with seaweed on the outside. In most cases, they include just one filling like cucumber or tuna.
These rolls are a bit different since they have the rice on the outside and a number of fillings. Despite the name, there is a bit of debate over whether they were first created in Los Angeles, California or Vancouver, Canada.
The Vancouver claim is from Hidekazu Tojo, a Japanese chef who moved and opened a restaurant there in the early 1970s. The name is apparently because these inside out rolls were popular with customers from LA. He also created other inside-out rolls as a fusion of Japanese cuisine and North American ingredients.
The LA claim dates back to the 1960s by chef Ichiro Mashita at a restaurant in the city’s Little Tokyo. Again, it was partly based on available ingredients and appealing to local palates. He’s not in fact the only LA chef to make the claim, just to complicate things further.
Whatever the origin, they are now a firm favorite around the world. It’s a classic example of fusion cuisine, now on most menus in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan.
With the simple, tasty ingredients and combination of delicate flavors with a little crunch, it’s easy to see why this dish is so popular. And it’s easy to make with just a few things to keep in mind.
Tips for preparing sushi rice
- Use rice labelled as “sushi rice” or if you can’t find it, another short grain rice. Longer grain rices like basmati won’t give the same texture – the grains don’t stick in the same way – so don’t really work as a substitute.
- Make sure you rinse the rice well before cooking. This reduces the level of starch to give a better texture.
- Warm the seasoning ingredients to ensure the salt and sugar dissolve and so distribute well.
- Prepare the rice first, adding the seasoning while it’s still warm, and let it cool while you prepare the fillings.
Notes on some of the ingredients
You can use fresh crab, canned crab, crab sticks or imitation crab as you have available, all will work. I’d recommend adding a little Japanese mayo, particularly for canned crab, but you could skip if you like.
It’s best to use Persian/Lebanese cucumbers, or a small English cucumber for this. Persian cucumbers in particular have less seeds and thinner skins which works best here. If you can’t find either, I’d suggest peeling some of the skin and removing some seeds so they don’t dominate flavor-wise and make the rolls too wet.
You should be able to find nori sheets in the Asian section of larger supermarkets, or else Asian supermarkets will certainly have them. You can also buy packets online. Make sure you go for the larger nori sheets – this isn’t the same as the smaller snacking seaweed.
Tips for making the rolls
- Cut the cucumber and avocado and prepare the crab before you start making the rolls, it helps it all flow more smoothly. Squeeze a little lemon on the avocado to help prevent browning.
- Cover the mat with plastic (cling wrap/film) to stop the rice sticking.
- Spread the rice evenly over the seaweed, right to the edges. This helps them hold together as you roll.
- Top the rice with sesame seeds or tobiko before carefully flipping the rice and seaweed over. You’ll find the seaweed has softened which makes it more flexible, but still take care.
- Place the fillings along one long edge of the seaweed, side by side. Then, roll from this side and make sure you lift the edge of the mat up after the first part of rolling so you don’t roll it into the sushi itself.
- Use a sharp knife when you slice the rolls – it really does make it a lot easier.
I know this may seem like a lot of points, but really, you’ll soon find you get yourself on a roll (sorry for the pun) and it comes together easily.
You may not have a sushi-rolling mat at home but I do recommend getting one to make this easier. And while it might feel like a tool you won’t use all that often, you’ll find you can probably pick one up very cheaply. Then they take up very little space.
Making your own California rolls for lunch, appetizers or whatever other occasion really is both fun to do and easier than you might think. So be sure to give it a try!
Try these other delicious Japanese dishes:
- Japanese mushroom rice (kinoko gohan)
- Chawanwushi (savory egg custard)
- Tuna tataki (seared tuna with a light dressing)
- Plus get more Japanese recipes in the archives.
For sushi rice
- ¾ cup sushi rice 165g
- 1 cup water 240ml
- 1 ½ tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- ½ tsp salt
For rest of rolls
- 2 nori sheets
- 2 oz crab 60g, approx ½ cup, drained quantity – or use imitation crab or approx 4 crab sticks, split in half
- 1 tbsp Japanese mayonnaise
- ½ Persian cucumber
- ½ avocado
- 1 tsp lime juice (approx)
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds or can use tobiko
For the sushi rice
- Place the rice in a pan or bowl with plenty of cold water. If you have time, let it sit for 15-20 minutes, but if not move straight to rinsing. Agitate the rice in the water with your hands, swirling it round a little, so that the water becomes cloudy from the starch coming out of the rice. Drain the water and repeat one or two more times until the water is largely clear.
- Put the rinsed rice in a pot with the water for cooking, cover and place over a medium heat. Once the water comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook approximately 10-12 minutes until all of the water is absorbed and the rice is cooked with a slight bite.
- While the rice is cooking, put the vinegar, sugar and salt in a microwavable dish and warm in the microwave for around 15 seconds so that the sugar and salt dissolves.
- Remove the rice from the heat once cooked and transfer the rice to a bowl to help it cool more quickly. Pour over the vinegar mixture and stir it through the rice so be well distributed. Set the rice aside to cool.
To make the rolls
- Divide the nori sheets in half, along the fold and split. If it doesn't break easily then use scissors. Cover a sushi rolling mat with cling wrap/film (or put inside a freezer bag).
- Put the drained crab in a small bowl and mix in the mayonnaise (if you are using crab sticks, they probably won't mix with the mayo, but split the sticks in half lengthwise and spread a little mayo on the cut side, although the mayo is more optional with them).
- Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, then use one of these halves (see notes if you don't have a Persian cucumber). Cut it into four lengths, remove some of the seeds if there are a lot.
- Cut long slices from the avocado then drizzle over a little lime juice and rub over the slices carefully to help stop browning.
- Put one of the half nori sheets on the covered rolling mat and take roughly half a cup of the rice and press a layer evenly over the pieces of nori, pressing right to the edges. This is typically done (and easiest) by working from one long edge down towards the other, going across the sheet. Sprinkle over some sesame seeds all over then carefully flip it over so the seaweed side faces up.
- Lay a piece of cucumber the length of a long edge, near one side, put a line of crab next to it then a row of avocado slices, trying to make each fairly even all along.
- Lift up the edge of the rolling mat next to the side where you have the fillings and bring it over the top of the roll so the fillings are rolled inside the seaweed. Press the mat slightly as you do so. Lift up the edge of the mat so you don't wrap it into the roll but continue to roll up the mat with the sushi in it so it rolls on top of itself. Once you have reached the edge of the rice, unwrap the mat and you should have a formed roll.
- Transfer the roll to a board and use a sharp knife to cut it in half in the middle. Cut each half into three slices. Repeat with the remaining nori, rice and fillings. Serve as you prefer, but traditionally with some pickled ginger and soy sauce for dipping on the side.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline’s Cooking Amazon store.