Making this California Roll Recipe – カリフォルニアロール – is a food project the whole family will love. The perfect introduction for those new to sushi rolls – yet full of iconic sushi flavor for maki veterans! And this Spicy California Roll is a fiery twist on the original!
California Roll + Spicy California Roll – カリフォルニアロール
Of all sushi rolls, California rolls are easily my favorite guilty pleasure. I love the combination of perfectly vinegared sushi rice, toasted seaweed, creamy avocado, crispy cucumber and imitation crab meat – all rolled up and lightly dipped in soy sauce.
You better believe, no matter how ‘authentic’ the rest of my sushi order might be when I’m at a restaurant with friends, there’s going to be at least one California roll or California hand roll on that wooden, lacquered plate. Oh yes!
Or, if I’m feeling like getting a little zest in my life, I’ll order a spicy California roll. The simple addition of sriracha and creamy Japanese mayo can really send the whole thing into overdrive from a flavor perspective.
And while certain sushi recipes require a ton of finesse and training (maybe better left to the pros) – these easy to make sushi rolls (maki) can be made in your own home kitchen with an absolute minimum of fuss.
Plus, since there’s no actual raw fish in a California roll, this is a great gateway dish to introduce someone to sushi who may be on the fence about trying it for the first time.
This homemade sushi roll recipe is accessible enough for those new to the sushi game, yet loaded with the familiar Japanese flavors and textures that will please a total sushi pro!
What’s in a California roll?
Now, most of us are pretty familiar with the general ingredients found in most iterations of California rolls. As I mentioned above, there’s the ubiquitous imitation crab (more on that in a sec), avocado and cucumber. This combo acts as the crunchy, velvety and savory filling.
The whole thing gets wrapped in roasted seaweed (nori) and vinegared Japanese rice – and dusted with sesame seeds.
The spicy California roll gets the addition of a creamy, fiery sriracha mayo. You can either incorporate it with the other ingredients inside your California roll – or you can drizzle it on top after cutting.
Most of the ingredients you’ll need to make your California maki at home are probably pretty easy to find at your local grocery store. Rolling tools can be found at most Asian groceries. However, you can find some pretty good deals online these days! It might not be a bad idea to run a price check online before heading to the store to compare and contrast.
A Few California Roll Ingredients & Tools:
Once you’re armed with the right tools, let’s get rolling!
How to make a California roll
While, there are a couple hard and fast rules about making sushi rolls (see the #1 rule below about using Japanese rice), they don’t have to look perfect to taste delicious!
Seriously, my first efforts at making cut sushi rolls at home were pretty disastrous from an aesthetic perspective.
But they were pure magic when I dipped them in a bit of shoyu and dug in.
And, as I made more and more sushi rolls, my rolling technique improved. If I could impart one piece of wisdom to you, it would be: slow and steady wins the race.
How to Roll Sushi (Maki)
- Wrap your bamboo mat with plastic wrap and lay a sheet of roasted nori (seaweed) in the center, shiny side down.
- Then place one cup of your vinegared sushi rice in the center of the nori sheet, moisten your fingers with water (so the rice doesn’t stick) and spread the rice to the edges of the seaweed.
- Next, sprinkle about a half-teaspoon of sesame seeds on your rice – then lift the whole thing up and place back on the bamboo mat so the rice side is facing down this time.
- Add a small amount of crab, avocado and cucumber to the near end of the nori, so the ingredients run from end to end across the seaweed sheet.
- Now, grab the bottom edges of the mat with your thumbs – and hold on to the toppings with your fingers. Simply roll everything into a semi-tight cylinder. Lift the edges of the bamboo mat with your fingers so it doesn’t get rolled into your sushi roll (the mat should look like the letter C from the side as you roll forward). Keep rolling forward using a little pressure and let go when the roll has formed.
Sure, describing that is nice and all. However, if you’re a visual person like me, words may not do the actual process justice. For a step-by-step look at the ins-and-outs of how to make a sushi roll at home, have a look at this video Ben and I made for Tiger Corporation.
How to Make a California Roll:
But before we can even attempt our first California roll, we need to talk about the most important element: rice.
How to make sushi rice
As with any piece of nigiri (sushi) or maki (roll), it all comes down to the rice. Sure, it’s important to use fresh fish and accompanying ingredients as well. But any sushi master will tell you that having perfect rice is the absolute first priority.
It’s imperative that you use Japanese rice when making sushi at home. This rice is called uruchimai (粳米) in Japanese.
An oversimplification of a nuanced subject is that Japanese rice is short grain rice. Once cooked, these short translucent grains have a slightly sticky texture.
Now, if you have a rice cooker making perfect, glossy Japanese rice is pretty much as easy as following a few foolproof steps. However, if you’re wondering how to cook rice on the stovetop, it really isn’t much more difficult!
For detailed instructions, have a look at my post and video on how to make Japanese rice in a rice cooker AND on the stovetop here.
But, when transforming Japanese rice into proper sushi rice, there’s another step:
To make sushi rice, you will need to introduce a mixture of vinegar, sugar and salt to the cooked rice as it cools. This creates the trademark salty, sweet and slightly sour flavor sushi rice has.
To make the rice for this California roll recipe, mix 3 cups cooked Japanese rice with a tablespoon of sugar, ¾ teaspoon salt and 40ml of rice vinegar. Mix thoroughly, but slowly enough not to break the grains. Broken, overmixed rice will become gluey and gummy. Trust me, no one likes a pasty California roll, ha!
So, what is imitation crab anyway?
Crab sticks (kanikama and kani-kamaboko in Japanese) are the crab meat substitute we’ve come to associate with California rolls.
Made of surimi (擂り身) – a paste of pureed whitefish – it basically uses starch and cooked fish meat to imitate shellfish.
Can you use real crab meat in your California rolls? You bet!
However, this processed seafood product (kanikama) is the industry standard, and what most diners expect to see, when it comes to the crab in a California roll.
So, let’s hear it for surimi!
A slightly deeper look at a few Sushi types
If you’ve ever wondered how to make sushi at home, there are more than a few classifications to familiarize yourself with.
Most sushi starts with raw fish (called sashimi – 刺身 in Japanese).
Sashimi can be served on it’s own – or incorporated with ingredients like rice and seaweed to take on the most commonly seen forms of sushi.
The two most common types of sushi seen in the West are:
- Sushi – which is sashimi served atop oblong mounds of vinegared rice (called nigiri or nigiri sushi / nigirizushi – 握り寿司 – in Japanese)
- Cut sushi rolls (called maki or makizushi – 巻き – in Japanese)
Now, within the world of maki – or cut rolls – there are further distinctions. For example, there’s futomaki (太巻き), tekkamaki (鉄火巻) and uramaki (裏巻き).
This California roll and spicy California roll recipe are uramaki… which loosely translates into inside-out roll. That means the seaweed is on the inside next to the avocado, fake crab and cucumber – while the rice is on the outside.
For a deep dive on the subject of sushi terminology and the myriad distinctions that exist within each classification, have a look at my post called: Nigiri vs Musubi vs Maki vs Sushi vs Sashimi: What’s the Difference?
There’s a lot that can be learned – but try not to get too caught up in the minutiae (unless you find it interesting of course!).
Most of us are here to cook! And making this California roll and spicy California roll recipe in your kitchen should be first-and-foremost fun, easy and absolutely delicious!
Caroline dreams of sushi
I love making California rolls at home!
Even though not a traditional Japanese sushi roll, these perfect parcels are loaded with all the flavors I’m looking for when eating sushi. Who cares that Cali rolls aren’t Japanese when they taste as good as they do!
But not only do they taste amazing, making California rolls is a fun food project that the whole family can enjoy. Seriously, kids LOVE rolling up California rolls. It’s an activity that can get them involved and completely engaged in the kitchen.
And these raw-fish-free makizushi are the perfect introduction for those timid to try sushi for the first time.
Ultimate bonus: I feel like a total sushi master when I’m rolling 🙂
What about you? Have you ever made sushi rolls at home? I’d love to hear about your maki trials and victories in the comments!
Other simple, delicious Japanese rice recipes:
- Japanese Fried Rice – チァ-ハン
- All About Onigiri – おにぎり- (How to Make + 4 Easy Recipes)
- Vegetarian Chirashi Sushi (Chirashizushi)
- Mushroom and Zucchini Uramaki (Inside Out Roll)
- Poor Man’s Spicy Tuna Roll
Did you like this California Roll Recipe? Are there changes you made that you would like to share? Share your tips and recommendations in the comments section below!Print
California Roll + Spicy California Roll
Two delicious California rolls recipe.
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 25 minutes
- Yield: 3 rolls 1x
- Category: Rice
- Method: Hand Rolling
- Cuisine: Japanese
For the sushi rice:
- 3 cups cooked short grain Japanese rice – room temperature
- 2 1/2 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Ingredients for rolls:
- 1/4 English cucumber, peeled, seeded and sliced into sticks
- 1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced into 1/4-inch thick sticks
- 1/4 pound imitation crab, sliced into stick
- 3–4 Nori sheets
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
For the spicy mayo:
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
- Pinch ichimi (optional)
- Put the cooked rice in a large bowl and add the rice vinegar, sugar and salt. Using a paddle or a spoon, toss well to coat the rice with the mixture, evenly. Set aside.
- Wrap a bamboo mat with plastic wrap and place it on a flat surface or over a cutting board. Fill a small bowl with water and a little rice vinegar and place it next to the bamboo mat.
- Lay a sheet of nori, shiny side facing down on the bamboo mat and place 1 cup of rice in the center of the sheet.
- Wet your fingers with vinegar water and spread the rice evenly across the nori sheet.
- Sprinkle sesame seeds evenly across the rice (about 1 teaspoon).
- Turn the nori sheet over so the rice is facing down and carefully slide the sheet close to the edge of the bottom of the bamboo mat.
- Place the cucumber, imitation crab, and avocado at the bottom of the nori sheet.
- For spicy California rolls, start by spreading spicy mayo across the bottom of the nori sheet (about 1 teaspoon or a little more if you want more flavor) and top with cucumber, imitation crab, and avocado.
- Grab the bottom edges of the mat with your thumbs while holding on to the toppings with your other fingers. Roll it into a tight cylinder, tucking the fillings in firmly and slightly lift the edge of the bamboo mat.
- Roll it forward while using a little pressure but not so much that the filling spills out. Let go of the mat when you get to the other end.
- Cut the roll in half and each half into thirds.
- Serve with soy sauce and wasabi on the side.
Keywords: recipe, Japanese food, sushi, maki roll, inside out rolls, healthy