California Roll

I tend to categorize American sushi restaurants into two buckets: traditional places where you can get a wide selection of fresh nigiri sushi, and the non-traditional places that have pages upon pages of inventive makisushi. If I had to choose between the two, I’d take the one with the stoic Japanese dude forming little pillows of rice with a thin slice of aquatic bliss on top, but that’s not to say I don’t enjoy the raucous places with frat boys slinging sake bombs, phonebook sized menus, and of course the California Roll.

As the name implies, California Rolls were invented in the late 1960′s by a creative sushi chef in Los Angeles. Lamenting the lack of sushi grade fish in the US he decided to turn to ingredients that were readily available for his new creation. 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. Rolling the rice on the outside and the nori on the inside, was an innovation designed to appease customers who balked at the notion of eating seaweed at a time when sushi was amongst the most exotic of foods.

California Roll Ingredients

You’re probably not too surprised by the fact that California Rolls weren’t created in Japan, but did you know that rolls in general aren’t especially popular in Japan. Known as makisushi (rolled sushi), most sushi restaurants in Japan only serve a handful of simple rolls, such as kappa maki (cucumber), tekka maki (tuna), or takuan maki(yellow pickle). For many, they’re considered an inexpensive filler reserved for the end of a meal when you start to worry about the escalating bill.

I love the fact that we have a much broader selection of rolls in the US. Sadly, many places seem to think that California Rolls are made with mushy cloyingly sweet rice and cheap imitation crab smothered in mayonnaise. Having grown up in the Golden State, I’ve had more than my fair share of these abominations, but when they’re done justice, with fresh crab and ripe creamy avocado rolled in a glistening layer of well seasoned rice, California Rolls can be a real testament to the deliciousness of inauthenticity.

To make this, you’ll need to make a batch of sushi rice first.

Equipment you'll need:

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    California Roll
  • This California roll includes real crabmeat, creamy avocado and crunchy cucumber rolled inside-out on a bed of sushi rice.
Prep Time
20 minutes


  • 1 batch sushi rice
  • 1 avocado sliced into strips
  • 260 grams crabmeat
  • 1 cucumber - hot house seeds removed with a spoon and julienned
  • 1 pack unseasoned nori
  • sesame seeds - toasted


  1. Prepare a batch of sushi rice.
  2. Because a California Roll gets rolled inside out, you need to cover your makisu (bamboo mat) with plastic wrap to keep the rice from sticking to the mat. You'll also want to prepare a small bowl of water to dip your fingers in to keep the rice from sticking to them.
  3. Carefully fold your nori in half, if the nori is fresh, it should split in half along the fold to give you two 3.75 inch x 8 inch pieces. If your nori is stale and refusing to split, you can toast it by gently waving it over an open flame, or simply use a pair of scissors.
  4. Lay one sheet of nori towards the bottom of the mat. Lightly wet your fingers in the bowl of water and top with a small amount of rice.
  5. Making sure your fingers are moist to prevent the rice from sticking, use your fingertips to gently spread the rice out to the edges of the nori in a thin even layer. Don't use too much pressure, or you'll end up with mushy rice.
  6. Sprinkle the rice with sesame seeds, then flip the rice and nori over so that the rice is on the bottom and the nori is facing up.
  7. Along the bottom edge of the nori, put a few strips of cucumber down, followed by a few strips of avocado. Finish, by spreading some crabmeat across the roll. Be careful not to add too much filling or your roll won't seal properly.
  8. To roll, tuck your thumbs under the bamboo mat and use them to lift the mat and rice over the filling, while using the rest of your fingers to hold the filling in place.
  9. Use the mat to continue rolling the rice over the filling until the rice hits the nori.
  10. At this point you'll probably need to start pealing the mat back away as you continue to roll, otherwise you'll end up rolling the mat into the rice.
  11. Once, the rice has been completely rolled into a cylinder. Give the matt a firm hug with your fingers to compress the rice a little so it doesn't fall apart when you cut it.
  12. If you're not going to eat the roll right away, wrap it in plastic wrap until you are ready to eat your California Roll. Putting the rolls in the refrigerator will make the rice hard and is not recommended, but if it's going to be more than an hour before you're going to eat the roll, you should put it in the fridge to keep the crab from spoiling.
  13. To slice the rolls, use a long sharp knife, and place the back edge of the blade at the very center of the roll. Pull the knife towards you, letting the weight of the knife cut through the roll. If put pressure on the knife, it will squish the roll and the filling will come out. Repeat cutting each half into thirds to make 6 pieces of sushi.
  14. Serve your California roll with soy sauce and wasabi.
  • Baby Sumo

    That looks good, especially since u used real crabmeat. Unfortunately in KL, lots of california rolls are made from crabstick :(

    • Sohel chowdhury

      i like your way and its very simple to learn

      • Sohel chowdhury

        Can i have spicy mayo sauce recipe


  • Queen of Cuisine

    Looks great, but I sadly have to agree with Baby Sumo- this is the first CR I have even seen with real crabmeat. Now, that would be worth tasting!

  • Oui, Chef

    Marc – This is a great step by step guide to making rolls, thanks so much!

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  • Dhammika Wijesundera

    Most California rolls I have eaten have some kind of a creamy sauce in them. Is it Japanese mayonnaise?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      I’ve seen them made with mayonnaise before.

      • cindym

        Hello I was wondering with the sushi rice if regular vinegar is ok to us or non at all. Does it have to have the sushi powder or the sushi vinegar it calls for

        • Marc Matsumoto

          Hi Cindy, I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking. If your asking for permission, then yes, you’re free to make it however you want. If you’re asking if it will taste the same, then no, it won’t.

    • casey

      some have cream cheese in them

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  • SheSaid

    Thank you so much on the sushi recipes.. my husband and I have wanted to learn for some time now and your instructions are the best I have ever seen. We love your site..

  • thata

    i love to make sushi’s,i put inside of it slice carrots,cocumber,ripe mango and sweet slice pickles… :D

  • cindyj

    I just made this tonight, but I have made this exact version before & it was good with my friends who won’t eat raw tuna or anything raw in sushi!! I love it & thye did too!!! It takes alot of time to adapt to eating any kind of sushi especially raw tuna!!! I know because the first time I tried it I hated the raw tuna over rice! It was cut so thick it made me sick trying to eat it, but now I LOVE ALL KINDS OF SUSHI! Especially spicy tuna Rolls!!!!!

  • ashley

    I Just could’t quite get the rolling technique right. But i’ll try again soon.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Ashley, tell me where you had trouble and I might be able to help you fix it for next time.

  • Brandonreed56789

    Thank you for making great food easy to learn how to make.

  • Brandonreed56789

    I’ll be useing this page tonight. My wife and I have been wanting to try making our own rolls for years. wish us luck.

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  • bob

    what kind of crab meat? opilio, dungeness, blue crab? what tastes best?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Personally I’m a fan of dungeness for California rolls for a number of reasons. Dungeness strikes a good balance between flavor, texture, and yield, and it’s also arguably the most authentic, since this dish was invented in Los Angeles, and California has an abundance of dungeness crab. That said, there are tastier crabs out there, so I’d recommend using whatever crab you enjoy and can get locally.

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  • Elena

    Do you have to buy an actual crab or can you buy crab meat (fairly cheaply) from the store? I’m a college student.. haha! Thanks for the great recipes.

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Elena, lump crabmeat will work fine. Just make sure you pick out any remaining bits of shell and cartilage before you use it.

  • jack


  • jack

    im from china

  • Anne Chovey

    Hey, Marc….very nice tutorial. Photos are very helpful. I know what I’m about to say will be considered blasphemy by many but here goes…I’ve had great success and plenty of compliments when using artificial crabmeat in rolls and nigiri zushi. It’s inexpensive, easy to handle and has great color. What do you think?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Anne, I think you should use whatever you enjoy the most. That is, after all, one of the main reasons for cooking at home. If you’re looking for my personal opinion, I’d never pick imitation crab over the real thing. It’s a processed food that’s loaded with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives and MSG and doesn’t taste like real crab at all.

  • Kathleen

    what is sushi rice, and where would you get it or do you have to make it?

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Hi Kathleen, click the link in the ingredients list to go to the sushi rice recipe.

  • carston

    Just FYI, Soy Sauce (which you listed to serve the rolls with) has gluten in it, so you may want to note that in your recipe since it’s listed as a Gluten-Free dish. There is GF soy sauce or Bragg’s “Liquid Aminos” which tastes just like soy sauce but is healthier and much lower in sodium.

  • bobby

    hoping to help others in the art of fine cooking. thought we would start with this!

    • Marc Matsumoto

      Good luck, let us know how it goes!

  • bobby

    Did I mention I’m from Scotland and a fan of yours Marc!

  • Charity

    Great recipe. This was my first attempt for any sushi like food. Next time, I probably won’t make the rice quite so sweet, but this was super easy. Thanks!


I'm Marc, and I want to teach you some basic techniques and give you the confidence and inspiration so that you can cook without recipes too!