California Roll Sushi Bowl
Although California rolls aren’t traditionally Japanese, this form factor of putting seafood and vegetables on a bed of sushi rice is called Chirashizushi in Japanese, and it’s a popular way of making sushi at home. I’ve turned the classic California Roll into a fun sushi bowl that’s easier to make than rolled sushi and more rewarding to eat thanks to the better ratio of rice to filling ingredients.
Table of contents
Why This Recipe Works?
- When you make a sushi roll, you have a limited amount of space inside the roll to add fillings. Because this is assembled in a bowl, there’s no need for a sushi mat or other special equipment, and it also allows you to top the bowl with a lot more filling relative to the rice.
- Textural elements like crisp cucumbers and crunchy tobiko, as well as flavor accents like citrus zest and daikon sprouts, add more depth to this dish than the basic avocado/crab combination.
- Rolled sushi will give you the exact same ratio of ingredients in each bite, which can get old pretty quickly. By serving it in a bowl like this, you can change the ratio of ingredients in each bite, making for a more interesting eating experience.
Ingredients for California Roll Sushi Bowl
- Sushi rice – It wouldn’t be sushi without vinegared sushi rice, so head over to my sushi rice recipe for the scoop on how to make it. Normally in a sushi roll, using white short-grain Japanese rice is essential to get the roll to hold together, but for a bowl, you could get away with using brown rice or even long-grain rice since it doesn’t need to stick together.
- Nori – Normally, in a roll, the nori is used to give it structure and flavor. Since this doesn’t need the structural support, the nori is added purely for flavor. I like to cut it into thin strips, making it easier to eat with the rice and toppings. When selecting nori, be sure to look for one that’s almost black in color with a slight greenish tint. Nori that’s green, brown, or reddish in color is either low in quality or old.
- Sesame seeds – Toasted sesame seeds are often sprinkled on the outside of a California roll for texture and flavor. For my California Sushi Bowl, I like to sprinkle some onto the rice.
- Crab – Crab is the signature ingredient in a California Roll, and it’s just as important in this sushi bowl. I like using either king crab or snow crab legs because they’re easier to peel and have a nice vibrant color, but other types of crab such as blue crab or Dungeness will be just as delicious. If you live in an area where crab is hard to come by or expensive, imitation crab will work in a pinch.
- Avocado – The other essential filling in a California roll, avocados add a wonderful creamy richness to this bowl. When choosing avocados, pick one that’s longer rather than round. The longer ones will allow you to get more slices out of them, making for a bigger avocado rose. Also, longer avocados tend to have a smaller pit, which means you get more value for your money.
- Cucumber – Crab, avocado, and rice are all soft ingredients, so I like adding crisp cucumber to contribute a different texture. I’ve used Japanese cucumber, but other varieties with thin skin and few seeds such as Lebanese or English will work. You can also use other crisp vegetables such as jicama or celery.
- Tobiko – Tobiko is flying fish roe, and it’s often used on the outside of California rolls to give it color and texture. The little spheres of roe pop in your mouth as you bite into them, which gives this a fun texture. If fish roe isn’t your thing, you can leave it out.
- Leaves – California rolls don’t usually include any leafy greens, but I like adding some shiso and daikon sprouts to my California bowl as both a garnish and flavor component. Green shiso is an herb in the mint and basil family and adds a nice fresh fragrance, while daikon sprouts lend a crisp texture and peppery flavor.
- Citrus – To add some bright freshness to this sushi bowl, I like to finish it off with a little citrus zest. I’ve used yuzu because it’s what I had on hand, but I really love using Meyer Lemon for this. If you can’t find either of those, you can use regular lemon or lime as well.
- Sauce – A California roll would normally be dipped in soy sauce and wasabi, but since the rice in a bowl isn’t compacted like it is in a roll, it’s hard to dip. That’s why I like to make a sauce using soy sauce and wasabi that’s been cut with a little rice vinegar to give it a mild tag and to dilute the salinity of the soy sauce a bit, so you don’t end up with areas that are too salty.
How to Make California Roll Sushi Bowl
Once you have the sushi rice made, it’s just a matter of preparing the toppings and assembling the bowl.
I usually use the time the rice is cooking to prepare all of the ingredients and sauce, and you can start by whisking together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and wasabi to make the dressing to serve with this sushi bowl.
To assemble the California Bowl, split the rice between two large bowls. Pro tip: the wider the bowl, the more room you’ll have for toppings.
Top the bowls with a sprinkle of nori strips and sesame seeds.
For the avocado, you can just cut them into slices or cubes and arrange them on top of the bowl, or if you feel like getting fancy, you can make an avocado rose. To do this, you want to first cut it in half and remove the pit. Then you can peel the halves by hand.
Next, you want to trim about 1/4-inch off the avocado’s stem side and slice the remaining part into slices that are about 1/16-inch thick.
Splay the slices of avocado out, so they form a line. Then you can start rolling from the bottom of the avocado and work your way to the top. Once you have a nice tight roll, just transfer this to your bowl and once you’ve found a spot for it, spread the “petals” outwards from the center to make the rose bloom.
Finally, you can arrange the leaves, cucumber, and crab around the avocado and garnish with tobiko and citrus zest.
Part of the fun in making sushi bowls is that you can arrange the toppings in many different ways, so have fun here and tap into your creativity.
Other Sushi Recipes
A sushi bowl is basically a deconstructed sushi roll with sushi rice served in a bowl, topped with all of the ingredients that would normally go inside the roll, such as nori, avocado, crab, and cucumber arranged on top of the rice. This style of sushi is known as chirashizushi in Japan, but it can also fit within the category of Japanese rice bowl dishes known as donburi.
The great thing about this form factor is that you can put just about anything you want on top of the sushi rice, so you’re not limited to things that will fit within a roll. I’ve made sushi bowls topped with everything from steak to spicy tuna to poke. In terms of veggies, you can add pretty much anything that you might add to a salad. The key is to include a variety of tastes, textures, and colors.
Although it’s not technically a California roll without the crab, you can substitute your favorite plant-based protein for the crab and omit the tobiko to make this plant-based. I like to substitute my vegan poke in place of the crab when I’m making this plant-based.
For sushi bowl
- 1 batch prepared sushi rice
- 2 teaspoon sesame seeds
- ½ sheet nori (cut into thin strips)
- 1 avocado
- 1 cucumber (julienned)
- 180 grams crab meat (I used king crab legs)
- 2 tablespoons tobiko (optional)
- Green shiso (optional)
- Daikon sprouts (optional)
- Citrus zest (optional)
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- ½ teaspoon wasabi
- The first thing you'll need to do is cook and season a batch of my sushi rice.
- While you’re waiting for the rice to cook, make the sauce by whisking together the soy sauce, rice vinegar, and wasabi until there are no lumps of wasabi left. Prep all the other ingredients except for the avocado.
- When the rice is done, split it between two large serving bowls and then top it with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and nori.
- To make the avocado rose, cut the avocado in half and remove the pit. Peel the avocado by hand and trim off about 1/4-inch of the top of the avocado where the stem was.
- Slice the avocado into thin slices (about 1/16-inch thick) and then splay the slices out into a thin line.
- Roll the slices of avocado starting from the bottom of the avocado and spiraling it together towards the top.
- Transfer the rolled avocado on top of the rice and use your fingers to press the slices of avocado outwards from the center to make the avocado rose bloom. Repeat with the other half of the avocado.
- Arrange the cucumber and crab around the bowl and decorate with the leaves.
- Garnish with tobiko and citrus zest.