California Rolls were invented in the late sixties by an creative sushi chef in Los Angeles who was lamenting the lack of sushi grade fish at the time. The avocado approximates the rich creaminess of toro (tuna belly) while the use of crab is a nod to the abundance of Dungeness Crab along the left coast. The trademark rice on the outside style of a California Roll has to do with the fact that some people balked at the idea of eating seaweed. Rolling the nori on the inside, it keeps it out of sight and out of mind.
You're probably not too surprised that California Rolls aren't very authentic, but did you know that rolls in general aren't especially popular in Japan. Refered to as makisushi there, rolls only come in a few flavors (cucumber, tuna, scallion and toro, etc.) and almost always have the rice on the inside.
What's your favourite type of sushi?
Personally, I split sushi restaurants into two buckets, the authentic places where you can get a wide selection of fresh nigiri sushi, and the less authentic places that have pages upon pages of creative makisushi. While I tend to prefer sushi joints with the requisite stoic Japanese man hand forming little pillows of rice with a slice of today's catch on top, I'm no sushi snob and I enjoy the fun places with sake bombs and a thick book of rolls reminiscent of a russian novel.
Having grown up in California, I've had more than my share of California Rolls and have avoided them like swine flu when I moved eastward. Lately though, I found myself craving flavours from home, which is how I ended up making these. Thinking this would be a great chance to share some of my tips and tricks about making sushi rice and rolling sushi rolls, I've gone into a bit more detail that usual below.
Update: Reader Carolyn sent in this cool link that goes over some basic sushi eating etiquette. The biggest one I think many people miss is the dipping of nirgiri fish-side down into the soy sauce.
1 piece dashi kombu
3 1/3 C Japanese short grained rice.
for vinegar mixture.
1/3 C rice vinegar.
5 Tbs sugar.
2 Tbs + 1 tsp kosher salt (halve if you use regular salt)
1 package of good quality unseasoned sheet nori.
1 avocado cut into strips and sprinkled with lemon juice.
1/4 lbs. lump crab meat.
tobiko (flying fish roe) or toasted sesame seeds.
a fan + helper OR an electric fan.
hangiri (very wide flat bowl)
shamoji (rice paddle)
makisu (bamboo sushi mat)
Put the kombu in a bowl and cover with the water. Let this sit for a couple hours or overnight in the fridge.
Put the rice in a strainer and wash until the water running off is mostly clear. Remove the kombu from the water and discard the kombu or save for making dashi.
If you have a rice cooker, add the kombu water and rice into the rice cooker and set on the long cook cycle.
Otherwise, put the rice and kombu water in a heavy bottomed pot (like a Le Creuset), cover with a tight fitting lid, then allow it to soak for 30 minutes. When it's done soaking, turn the heat on to medium high and bring to a boil (be careful as it will have a tendency to spill over). Once it reaches a boil, turn the heat down to maintain a gentle simmer (it should not be boiling). Continue to cook for another 15 minutes then turn off the heat (do not open the lid, we need the steam trapped inside to finish cooking the rice). Let the rice steam for an additional 15 minutes and your rice will be done.
To make the vinegar mixture, just dissolve the salt and sugar in the vinegar. If it's having trouble dissolving, pop it in the microwave for a bit, then allow it to cool down.
Dump the rice into a wide flat bottomed vessel. Ideally you'll have a wooden Hangiri tub, but I just use a flat plastic bowl that I picked up in Chinatown for $5. You should also have a Shamoji or other wide flat paddle with rounded edges (a large silicon spatula works in a pinch). Drizzle 2/3 of the vinegar mixture over the rice then use a horizontal cutting motion to "toss" the rice. The idea is to gently separate the grains of rice while avoiding any motions that might mash the rice. While you're tossing, have someone fan the rice (or setup an electric fan). This cools the rice down, while setting the sheen on each grain of rice like a shellac.
After the first addition of vinegar is incorporated, taste the rice. It should be well seasoned and have a glossy sheen but it should still be sticky and not "wet" or mushy. Add more vinegar mixture if needed and continue tossing and fanning until the rice is seasoned to your satisfaction and has come down to room temperature. Each grain of rice should be whole and very shiny at this point. If you've made it this far, congratulations, the hard part is done, now go and have a glass of sake.
Before you get started rolling, cover your makisu with plastic wrap. This is one piece of equipment I haven't found a good substitute for, but there are a lot of places that sell them online, and they're not too expensive.
Start by folding each sheet of nori in half and making a crease. If you have good nori, it should break in half at the crease. If it doesn't break, your nori might be a bit stale, but no worries, you can make it crisp again by "toasting" it. To do this, just wave it over a burner being careful not to singe it. You'll know it's done toasting when it's crisp.
To make the California Roll, have all your ingredients in front of you. Get a bowl of water to dip your hands in. You'll need to keep your hands wet, otherwise the rice will start sticking to them. Lay out half a sheet of nori in front of you and cover with a thin layer of rice. Make sure you get the sushi rice all the way to the edges on all four sides, but be careful not to mash the rice together.
Spread a couple of spoonfuls of tobiko onto the rice. If you're not using tobiko, sprinkle the toasted sesame seeds on the rice.
Carefully flip your California Roll over so the rice is facing down and the nori is facing up.
Lay down the avocado strips and crab along the long edge closest to you.
Start rolling from the edge closest to you, using the bamboo mat to press the roll together as you go. Once you have it rolled all the way, wrap the mat around it and give it a squeeze to give it a nice round shape. Wrap it in plastic wrap and repeat with the remaining rice. You could also try using other fillings.
If you want to make your rolls with the nori on the outside, start with a whole sheet of nori (not the ones cut in half) and put the rice on the half closest to you. Put your filling on the rice along the edge closest to you and roll.
To cut the rolls, make sure you use a very sharp knife. You should be able to slice through the roll without applying any pressure, using one stroke. If your knife isn't sharp enough, use a sawing motion, but whatever you do, don't press on the knife (it will flatten the roll). Serve with soy sauce and wasabi.