A California Roll is simply constructed of crab (or krab,) thin slices of cucumber, creamy avocado, and sushi rice, wrapped in a sheet of dried seaweed (called Nori). I think it's the addition of avocado that makes it the most popular of sushi rolls.
Sushi is notoriously expensive, but don't worry I've got your back, and have a couple of workarounds for you in my latest chea$kate recipe. Number one, I use fake crab (krab,) listed as surimi in sushi restaurants. Secondly, cucumber is cheap, and while avocado is sometimes expensive, you'll only use one avocado to make 4 large California Rolls.
The California Roll first made it's appearance in Los Angeles in the 1970's. Avocado was introduced into a roll as a substitution for more expensive tuna. And, too keep it cheap, fake krab was soon added. If you want to break the bank with real steamed crab (or, if you are lucky enough to have a fisherman friend,) by all means use it.
A lot of people freak when offered raw fish, so a California Roll with cooked crab is a perfect way to introduce anyone to sushi.
I use krab all the time, like in my delicious Mexican Black Bean and Krab Ceviche recipe - just click here to see it. And with this recipe you can make 3 to 4 large California Rolls (and when sliced, that's about 32 pieces!)
My local 99c only Store almost always stocks half pound frozen packages of krab for 99.99 cents. You can get krab from your favorite fresh seafood section in larger markets. For real crab, I've used it from a can - just add a little mayo if it is too crumbly or mealy, to moisten and flavor. Use real crab to impress a date and for special occasions. In the meantime get some sushi rolling skills using cheap krab.
Fake crab is sold frozen in seafood section of a deli case. The quality can vary when defrosted: from tender and moist, to dry and stringy. An easy fix for dry krab is to drizzle the defrosted krab with water then microwave it for about 30 seconds. It's surprising how well the krab reconstitutes and becomes tender and moist again.
So give it a shot; what have you got to lose but a few bucks - it's heck of a lot cheaper than dining at a sushi joint. Plus, you'll trip-out your friends once you get a little practice. This is my cheap$kate go-to sushi recipe. It's colorful with a creamy and crunchy texture and the price is right. If you are new to the sushi experience, here is a cool video about how to eat sushi.
Everyone likes a California Roll, but if you haven't tried one, now is the time to do it yourself -- especially when you see how easy and cheap it is to do, by checking out my Sushi Video and illustrated directions below.
California Roll - VIDEO
Play it here, video runs 2 minutes, 20 seconds.
My YouTube video link for viewing or embedding, just click here.
Ingredients (about 4 rolls - about 32 slices)
4 sheets dried seaweed
6 to 8 ounces krab - fake crab. Okay to use fresh crab or from a can.
1 large avocado - slice the flesh.
1/2 cucumber - scoop out seed with a spoon and slice. Okay to peel or leave on some skin.
2 cups of cooked rice - about half a cup per sushi roll. See my Japanese Sushi Rice recipe by clicking here.
Small bowl of water - for moistening your fingers and knife blade to handle sticky rice.
Soy sauce for dipping - dissolve in a pinch of wasabi or horseradish for spicy heat.
If you are using fake krab allow it to get to room temperature. If the krab has been sitting in the freezer it can dry out and become stringy. I've found rinsing krab in water then zapping it in the microwave for about 30 seconds tenderizes it.You don't want to cook it, just warm it up. As you know, microwaving is uneven and you get hot spots, so check krab every 15 seconds and take out pieces as they soften. Keep microwaving pieces in 10 second increments, if they are still cold and tough to the touch.
Shred or roughly chop krab. You can also leave krab in larger pieces -- as long as they fit on seaweed and rice.
Prepare veggies. Slice cucumber in half lengthwise and spoon out seeds. Slice cucumber halves into thin strips. You can leave on skin or remove some of it.
For avocado, slice in half and remove seed. I like to make slices into avocado with the skin on; then take a spoon and scoop out each sliced half. Fan out avocado slices. I use about a 1/4 of avocado per roll (depending on avocado size.) For cucumber I use enough to cover a about a third of the roll. After you've made a few rolls you'll figure out how much krab-to-veggie balance suits you.
Finally get out 4 sheets of dried seaweed and a couple cups of cooked sushi rice. (You may need only a cup of cooked rice, depending how thick or thin you make the California Rolls.)
Now time to assemble the California Roll. It's easiest to use a sushi bamboo mat (or a flexible placemat.) The mat is slightly larger than a sheet of seaweed. You could also just place a sheet of plastic Saran wrap, or a large gallon Ziplock bag, on your cutting board or counter. The plastic should be larger than a sheet of seaweed. In my video I just did it by hand. You want to make sure your hand is dry when handing dried seaweed, because it gets sticky when wet.
Lay one sheet of dried seaweed on a clean dry surface, a bamboo mat, or sheet of plastic wrap. Dip your fingers in bowl of water and dampen you hands. Grab a handful of rice and spread it on the seaweed sheet. You can do a small amounts of rice at a time until you get used to handling it.
Gently spread out the rice over the seaweed in an even layer. You may need to moisten fingertips a few times. Don't press to much or the rice will get mushy. The rice layer doesn't need to be too thick, maybe a 1/4 inch or so - you will be adding the veggies and krab, too. (Of course experiment and add as much rice as you like - I use about half a cup per sushi roll.)
Make sure to cover all the seaweed except along the one edge - leave at least 1/2 inch of that end uncovered with rice. (When all the ingredients are added you will roll and dampen that end to seal the California Roll.)
Now add the cucumber sticks and sliced avocado over slightly less than half of the rice and seaweed -- just left of center. Finally add a layer of krab. This is when you can experiment with how much krab and veggies to add. Maybe you like more avocado than fake crab?
Now comes the trickiest part, but it's not too hard to do. You just grab the seaweed and lift the end and fold it over the krab and veggies -- completely to just cover the stuffing. Now with both hands press the roll -- your fingers should press inward like you are making a tighter fist. Just move your fingers up and down the roll to evenly press the roll into a long log-cube shape.
Finally make one more half-roll (if needed,) to the end of the uncovered seaweed edge. Give the roll one more tuck with your fingers pressing inward, like making a fist - go from one end of the roll to the other to tighten and make the roll even looking. Now you will seal the roll. Just drizzle on some water with your fingertips along the uncovered seaweed. Give the California Roll one final roll to seal it closed.
Using a sushi rolling mat instead of your fingers is easier, and makes the roll more even-looking. With a little practice you'll get better at rolling - with or without a sushi mat.
Now you are ready to slice it, then serve. Put the California Roll on a cutting board with the sealed seaweed seam against the board. Get out your sharpest knife and moisten the blade edge. Seaweed is very sticky against the rice, so you must have a damp blade or the seaweed will tear and make uneven edges.
First slice the roll in half. Now you can slice each half-roll in half again, and one more time to get eight pieces of California Roll. The object is to make each piece edible in one bite.
Arrange on a plate. Repeat rolling steps with other 3 sheet of seaweed. (You could do all the rolling at once and slice it all, so everyone gets their roll at the same time.)
Make a dipping sauce with soy sauce. I like to stir in a pinch of wasabi or horseradish for heat.
Of course, this recipe is easy to double. My 99.99 cent, 8 ounce package of krab is enough to easily make half a dozen California Rolls. Just make twice as much sushi rice (it's cheap enough,) and get one more avocado.
Making a sushi roll takes a little practice. Sometimes the sushi roll is thin, or too fat. But it's easy enough to open the roll and add or subtract filling before you seal it. Here's my GIF of rolling with a bamboo sushi mat.
It took me half a dozen rolls to start to get the hang of it. But that's no problem, because I got to eat the tasty lopsided mistakes. Usually a package of seaweed has 30 sheets, so you can get plenty of practice.
And using krab is a cut-rate way to go. You could even use crunchy thin sliced carrot (or any favorite steamed veggie) as a filling to practice on - vegetarian sushi rolls are the cheapest way to get your rolling skills up to speed.
Make sure to have a bowl of water to keep your fingers moistened when handling sticky Sushi Rice. Also have a hand towel nearby. And your hands and fingers should be dry when rolling with dried seaweed.
If you use crab from a can, it can be a too shredded and a bit dried out. But it is fine if you mix it with a tablespoon of mayo. Stir in 1/2 a teaspoon of Sriracha Hot Chili Sauce (or your favorite Mexican hot sauce) for a Spicy Crab Roll.