California Rolls are a type of maki sushi (巻き寿司 – rolled sushi) made by rolling ingredients such as crab 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, which several chefs in Los Angeles California claiming 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 late 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 (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 if you peel them first and remove the seeds. Some people also like to spread some tobiko (flying fish roe) on the rice, which gives the exterior of the roll 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 short-grain rice that has been seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. 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. Although there are examples of this 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 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.
Nori 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 nori 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!
- 1 batch
- 1 avocado (sliced into 16 wedges)
- 200 grams crab meat (or immitation crab)
- 1 small cucumber (julienned)
- 3 sheets unseasoned nori
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Prepare a batch of sushi rice.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use the mat to continue rolling the rice over the filling until the rice hits the nori.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Serve your California roll with soy sauce and wasabi.