California Rolls are a type of maki sushi (巻き寿司 - rolled sushi) made by rolling ingredients, such as imitation crab sticks and avocado, in nori and seasoned rice. Although rolled sushi originates in Japan, California Rolls are not from Japan.
There's some debate over who invented the California Roll. Several chefs in the United States from Los Angeles, California claim to be the inventor, including Ichiro Mashita, and Ken Seusa. More recently, Hidekazu Tojo who ran a restaurant in Vancouver, Canada, has laid claim to the dish. While it's unclear who invented it, it does appear to have been created in the early 1970s.
Most versions of California Roll include crab and avocado. Although I prefer using real crab meat, if you don't have access to fresh seafood, imitation crab meat (a.k.a. surimi) will do in a pinch. I also like to add cucumbers. Any thin-skinned, seedless variety such as Japanese, Lebanese, and Persian will work. You can also use other varieties, like English cucumber, if you peel them first and remove the seeds. Some people also like to spread some tobiko (flying fish roe) on the rice, which garnishes the exterior of the roll with a vibrant orange hue due to the food coloring that's often added to it. Instead of tobiko, I like using toasted sesame seeds, which gives the roll more flavor than tobiko.
The phrase "sushi rice" can be a bit confusing because uncooked Japanese short-grain rice is often labeled as "sushi rice." For the purposes of making sushi, the phrase "sushi rice" refers to cooked Japanese short-grain rice that has been mixed with seasoned rice vinegar. Check out my tutorial on how to make sushi rice.
In Japan, most maki sushi (巻き寿司 - rolled sushi) is made with rice and filling rolled up in a sheet of nori. Uramaki (裏巻き) literally means "inside-out roll" and it's a style of rolling the sushi with the rice on the outside with the nori on the inside. California roll is an example of uramaki. Although there are some types of this inside-out style of sushi in Japan, it is not common, and it's thought to have become popular outside of Japan as a way of hiding the nori from people who may be turned off by the thought of eating seaweed.
You're probably not too surprised by the fact that California Roll wasn'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.
Nori sheets should be jet black with a slightly green hue. Brown or reddish-black nori is either old or made with the wrong type of seaweed. The seaweed sheet should also be the same thickness throughout, with no holes or thick areas; otherwise, it can be tough. Finally, the nori should be crisp enough to break in half by folding it.
Generally speaking, the more oblong an avocado, the smaller the seed is. The more egg-shaped ones tend to have a larger seed. You also want to look for avocado with relatively smooth satiny looking skin that's relatively even in color without any wrinkles. Avocados start out green, but they darken as they get ripe, so a dark color is one good indicator that it is ready to eat. The problem with relying on the color of the skin alone is that overripe avocados are also dark. The most reliable method I've found for telling when an avocado is just right is to remove the stem and look at the color of the navel. If the stem is difficult to remove and the exposed area is green, this means the avocado is not ripe. If the stem is not present, or the navel is brown, the avocado is most likely overripe. If the stem is easy to remove and the navel is a yellowish color, it should be perfect!
More Ways to Enjoy
Sushi takes time and practice to master. If for any reason you can't manage to make rolls, you can always enjoy the flavors of sushi in a California Bowl. You may also like to try Chirashi Sushi, a family-style version of a sushi bowl.
Other Sushi Recipes
- Spicy Tuna Roll
- Caterpillar Roll
- Tempura Shrimp Sushi
- Pickled Sushi Ginger
- Temaki Sushi
- Cucumber Roll
- 1 batch prepared sushi rice
- 1 avocado (sliced into 16 wedges)
- 200 grams crab meat (or immitation crab)
- 1 small cucumber (julienned)
- 6 half sheets nori (3.75 inch x 8 inch)
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
- Prepare a batch of sushi rice.
- Wrap your makisu (bamboo sushi mat) with plastic wrap to keep the rice from sticking to it. You'll also want to prepare a small bowl of tezu by mixing a tablespoon of rice vinegar into a cup of water.
- Lay a half sheet of6 half sheets nori towards the bottom edge of the mat. Lightly wet your fingers in the tezu and grab a small handful of rice. Spread the rice from one side of the nori to the other to form a speed bump on the nori.
- Make sure your fingers stay moist with the tezu and then use your fingertips to gently press the rice out to the edges of the nori in a thin even layer. Be careful not to smash the grains of rice.
- Sprinkle the rice with some of the 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, then flip the rice and nori over so the nori faces up.
- Place a few strips of 1 small cucumber down along the bottom edge of the nori (edge closest to you). Follow the cucumber with a few slices of 1 avocado, then spread some 200 grams crab meat across the roll. Don't add too much filling, or your roll won't seal shut.
- To roll the sushi, tuck your thumbs under the bottom edge of the sushi mat. Use your remaining fingers to hold the filling in place, then roll the mat up and over the filling.
- Use the mat to continue rolling the rice over the filling until the rice hits the nori on the other side. You'll need to peel the mat away as you continue to roll so it doesn't get rolled into your sushi.
- Once the two sides of the roll have made content, give the mat a firm press from the top and sides using your fingers to compress the rice so it doesn't fall apart when you cut it.
- To slice your California roll, use your fingers to support the sides of the sushi and use a wet, sharp knife to cut it in half by pulling back on the knife and pushing forward. I don't recommend using one long stroke (like when you cut fish) because it will cause the roll to stretch. Line the halves up and then slice them into 3 to 4 pieces using the same technique.
- Serve your California Roll sushi with soy sauce and wasabi.