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Walk into any sushi restaurant and you are sure to find the California roll on the menu. When I first heard about California roll, I wondered why it was called so? Was it originated in California? Did the Californians popularize it? True that we also have the Philadelphia rolls, still having a city’s name in the roll raises many questions.
My inquisitiveness led to the discovery of several interesting facts about California rolls, which I like to refer to as the ‘Big Mac’ of rolls. For the sushi beginners, this is the humble gateway to the authentic and far-reaching world of sushi.
In simple words, this is a delicious alternative to the traditional sushi roll and you can find it in any sushi restaurant in North America. Typically, the roll is packed with avocado, cucumber and crab meat or imitation crab, and then rolled ‘inside-out’ to hide the Nori inside the layer of sushi rice.
How To Make California Rolls At Home
I know you are here because you are excited to find out how to make California rolls at home in easy steps. So, I will save other things for later and first take you through the step-by-step instructions on how to prepare this awesome dish for dinner and impress everyone.
To get started you will need these ingredients:
• 6 Nori sheets
• 1 ripe avocado (sliced)
• 6 crab sticks
• 1 cucumber (julienne cut)
• Black sesame seeds
• Soy sauce
• 250 grams of sushi rice
• 2 tbsp Japanese rice vinegar
• 2 tbsp sugar
You can have a look at my recommended Ingredient here
To prepare sushi rice, take short-grained Japanese rice and rinse well in water. Drain and put washed rice (250g) into a pan. Now add 250ml of water and place the pan over a lighted gas stove. Bring it to boil at a high temperature.
Cover the lid properly and let it simmer on low heat for 30 minutes until cooked well. The grains should be firms, not mushy. Remove from stove and let the rice cool for 15 minutes.
Now prepare the seasoning. Take 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar in a small bowl and add 2 tablespoon salt and 1 tsp salt to it. Heat the mixture until the sugar dissolves and let it cool. If you have time let the mixture sit until the sugar dissolves completely.
Transfer the steaming rice into a shallow bowl and add 1/4th of the rice vinegar to it. Mix using a wooden paddle and again pour some seasoning until it is evenly mixed. Let the rice cool for 5minutes.
Take one Nori sheet and place it on an even surface on the kitchen counter. Spread a medium ball of rice (1/6 of the quantity used) to make a layer over the Nori, leaving out half inches on the sides.
Place the bamboo mat for rolling and put a plastic sheet on it so that the rice does not stick on the mat. Now sprinkle some sesame seeds over the plastic sheet.
Now, flip the Nori sheet upside down to have the rice side onto the sprinkled sesame seeds. Another way of doing this is to sprinkle sesame seeds over the rice after Step 3, press it gently to stick the seeds onto the rice and
On the side of Nori, a long the middle section, line up the fillings that include thin slices of avocado, cucumber strips, and crab sticks. If you are vegan, check out the next section that talks about a vegan substitute for crabs.
Now use the bamboo mat to press gently and make a compact roll. The rolling technique for California roll is inside-out. You have the Nori sheet inside and the layer of sushi rice outside. The sesame seeds add a crunchy texture to the outer layer.
Put the roll on a plate (click to see my favorite plates) and trim the uneven sides. Cut out 6-8 slices of the roll and serve with wasabi and soya sauce. Now repeat the same process with the remaining ingredients to make 6 California plate rolls.
Is There A Vegan Recipe For California Rolls?
I know many people may be disappointed to know that a typical California roll has cooked crabmeat as an essential ingredient. If you are a vegetarian, don’t lose heart because you can substitute crabmeat with other things that taste similar.
Some people swear by the veggie rolls that makes a delicious plant-based meal. So, I started looking for vegan variations of the California Rolls. Interestingly, California rolls are also made with Surimi or imitation crab, which is a paste of various meats still tastes like crab meat.
This gives hope to use different plant-based ingredients to enjoy a similar taste and flavor. So, here’s the secret recipe for preparing a tantalizing filling at home using vegan ingredients, and the best part is that it tastes a lot like the real thing!
To make the vegan substitute for crab meat, you will need:
• 1 can of chickpeas
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1/2 cup shredded cabbage
• 1/2 cup shredded carrots
• 1/2 cup cashew pieces soaked for 30 minutes
• A sheet of Nori broken into pieces
• Salt and pepper to taste
Blend the soaked cashews with a half cup of water to get a smooth and rich paste. This will help to add a creamy texture tothe chickpeas mixture.
Take a food processor and combine chickpeas, cabbage, carrots, lemon juice, Nori pieces, and some salt and pepper. Pulse for a few seconds, add some cashew paste and pulse again. Don’t make it too mushy. You can adjust the taste by adding salt, pepper, and lemon juice as needed.
A tip– You can make this mixture and store it in the refrigerator the day before to save time. However, it tastes best when prepared just before making the rolls.
You can now follow the same steps as provided above for making California rolls. Just remember to substitute the crabmeat with the super delicious and purely vegan chickpeas mixture.
What Are The Common Fillings Used In California Rolls
Although a California Roll is not a traditional sushi roll, it is still widely popular around the world. Unlikenigiri, it does not include raw fish and I am sure you’ll agree that it looks pretty impressive. It’s also convenient to make at home because of the ingredients are easily available at the grocery stores. Below, I have mentioned some of the common fillings you can use with California rolls.
Crab meat/ Imitation crab
Crab meat is perhaps the most important ingredient of a California roll and this is what lends that unique flavor and aroma to the dish. Chefs in the high-end sushi restaurants mostly use fresh or cooked crab meat for the recipe. If you are allergic to crabs, you may try using imitation crab or vegan variation.
Imitation Krab is made of pieces of white Pollock fish and grounded meat of other seafood. It may also contain fillers such as sugar, egg whites, and crab flavoring. So that pink outer covering served to you in sushi restaurants is mostly imitation crab as they are less expensive. On the brighter side, they help preserve the environment by keeping the crab species safe.
Ah, bless those perfectly ripe avocados that add an amazing taste to California rolls. Cut out thin strips of avocados that melt inside your mouth when you take a bite. If you don’t find avocados, you may use ripened but firm mangoes to enhance the taste of the roll.
For California rolls, I would recommend that you choose thin and long cucumbers. If you can find Japanese cucumbers, they are the best as they have little to no seeds. Remove the seeds from the middle and cut the flesh into long thin strips. This method is known as julienne cut.
If you haven’t tasted authentic Japanese mayonnaise, you are seriously missing out the spice of life. To get the get flavors of this rolls bursting into your mouth, you must pair it up with some spicy mayo. You can buy Japanese mayonnaise at any Asian grocery store or buy it online from Amazon.
This is an important ingredient when you are making California rolls at home. If you can spare a few extra minutes, I would suggest that you toast the seeds on a non-greased pan until one or two seeds pop. This gives a nutty aroma to the otherwise plain exterior.
Bell peppers, Carrots and Tomatoes
You may skip the avocado and use bell peppers instead. The sweet and tangy flavor of red and yellow peppers can make your roll taste more delicious. Some other common fillings that you may use as a substitute are young carrots and firm tomatoes cut into thin slices.
5 Tips To Make The Best California Roll Sushi
• Make sure you include at least one small piece of cucumber to add that feeling of freshness to your sushi roll.
• You may shred the crabmeat or use it as a whole. It does not make much difference to your roll so save time by keeping it whole.
• The size does matter in case of California rolls. So, you may let the eater decide what size he would prefer to eat – a mouthful or bite-size?
• Make sure the seasoned sushi rice is not too mushy and also not too hard. It should stick to the Nori and you should beable to feel the grains in your mouth.
• Go easy with the avocado. Take it not as the main ingredient but a sidekick like the sauce. Make sure you use it only sparingly.
5 Common Mistakes To Avoid When Making California Rolls
• Adding too many filling or ingredients inside your roll will confuse your taste buds. Stick to one vegetable with crabstick.
• Drowning your roll in soya sauce or wasabi is a taste-spoiler. Just a little drizzle is enough to get the perfect balance of flavors.
• Buying cheap quality or the lower price imitation crab is a no-no. They cost less anyway so it’s better to pick a trusted brand.
•Using other rice variety instead of Japanese short-grained rice ( click to see my favorite rice brand) will give you a tough time as the grains will not stick properly. Buy it online or from an Asian grocery store.
• Storing leftover California Rolls in the refrigerator is not recommended as the rice will harden and not taste good. So, make only as much as you can consume for dinner.
Stories Surrounding The Origin Of California Rolls
Some say it is not traditional sushi, others look at it as an ambassador for global sushi culture. For many North Americans, California Rolls opened the gateway to enjoy and appreciate sushi. It dissolved cultural barriers and helped people outside Japan discover and relish a new dish.
However, the California Roll as you and I know today has gone through several transitions through these years. Recently the creator of California rolls, chef Hidekazu Tojo received Japan’s highest honors: cultural ambassador title.
Interestingly there are some conflicting views on who invented California rolls, but after researching extensively on it, I think Tojo deserves the honor.
Some people believe Ichiro Mashita, a Los Angeles based sushi chef running a restaurant in Little Tokyo was the inventor of the early version of California rolls. This dates back to the early 1960s when he used nori seaweed as the standard wrap for sushi.
However, the westerners disapproved of it and removed it before eating the slices. Thus, the inside-out rolling style to hide the Nori sheet inside a layer of delicious rice was born. At that time, imitation crab was not available so he used real crab in the recipe. Ingredients like cucumber, mayonnaise, and sesame seeds were not used in the original recipe.
Ken Seusa is another contender of the title who claims that California roll was his original creation. As per food columnist, Andrew F. Smith, Seusa, he was the first to document his claims of innovating the American-version of a traditional sushi roll. However, these claims remained unobserved for more than twenty years.
Finally, we have Chef Hidekazu Tojo and most people including me believe he was the first to start the trend to roll sushi inside out. His original recipe also includes ingredients like cooked crab, avocado, and cucumber that we see even today. Tojo was recently honored by Japan for creating California rolls and this put a seal on who invented California Rolls.
In an interview to The Globe and Mail, Tojorecalled how this version of sushi rolls came into existence. He said that when he came to Vancouver and opened a sushi restaurant, nobody sold fresh fish at that time so he had to buy them directly from the fishermen.
He also added that westerners did not like the taste of Nori seaweed so he tried to hide it by rolling inside out. People started liking this new kind of dish and his restaurant saw many customers from Los Angeles. This is how this sushi got its name – California roll.
Are California Rolls Considered Sushi?
This depends on what type of sushi eateryou are. I know some sushi connoisseurs who are so passionate about traditional Japanese sushi that they don’t approve different variations of it. However, if you are a liberal sushi eater and consider the cultural aspect, you will be more forgiving and enjoy the California rolls.
Had there not been any California rolls, sushi would not have become as popular outside of Japan as it is today. Although the American sushi is rolled inside out and they have more sauces and fillings, the basic ingredients – sushi rice and Nori remain the same. So, it won’t be wrong to call California rolls the American sushi.
What is California Roll Called In Japan?
California rolls are not very popular in Japan as they don’t appreciate the way the traditional dish has been westernized. In Japan, sushi is called by different names such as nigirizushi and makizushi. The California roll is more like the Maki-zushi, however, the chefs may not admit.
While you can find California rolls in Japanese restaurants outside of Japan, you will rarely find it on the menu in a high-class sushi restaurant in Japan.
Do They Have California Rolls In Japan?
I would say both yes and no. While most traditional sushi restaurants may not have it mentioned on the menu, you may ask for a roll that has crabmeat or tuna, avocado, and cucumber. Some non-traditional eateries in Japan may mention California rolls on their menu for their western customers.
What’s the Difference Between Authentic Sushi and California Roll
The authentic sushi is much simpler with fewer ingredients than the American counterparts. The authentic Japanese sushi does not roll. The most popular style is sashimi which is raw fish overseasoned sushi rice. The soft and creamy texture of fresh fish is meant to been joyed with wasabi and soya sauce.
California roll, on the other hand, has cooked crab meat or imitation Krab with veggies like cucumber, avocado, and the likes. Another major difference is the way they are rolled. While authentic sushi is rolled normally to have Nori on the outside, the California rolls are done inside out to have sushi rice on the outside to appeal to westerners who were not fond of the blackish green wrap outside.
Related Article: Difference Between Japanese Sushi And American Sushi
Should you use real crab meat or imitation crab?
Well, both have their own pros and cons. Real crab meat is expensive and may be tough to find in a grocery store near you. Imitation Krab is grounded meat of a variety of fish mixed with sugar, egg and crab flavorings. While imitation crab is high in carbohydrate content, it costs significantly less.
I have tasted both and by experience, I can say that you can hardly tell the difference between the two. If you are health conscious or trying to lose weight, stick with real crab. However, if you don’t mind an extra dash of carbs once in a while, you may pick the imitation to protect the species and save the environment.
Related article: How Long Do California Rolls Last In The Fridge?
The Final Words
I know the sushi conformists may not approve of this but I love California rolls! I thoroughly enjoy the experience of making them at home for dinner. Bless the inventor who thought of introducing this version or else a large part of the world’s population may have remained deprived of this culinary joy.
I hope the recipes, tips, and tricks provided in this article helps you make mouthwatering California rolls at home and impress family and friends. If you have made extra California rolls and need to keep them for the next day, read my article on how long do California rolls can last in the fridge.