Authentic California Roll Recipe

Ever been intimidated by the idea of making sushi at home? You’re not alone!

But I promise you can do it, even if it’s a weekday, dinner will be on the table in 20 minutes. This California roll recipe is California-style, which means it’s filled with crab salad instead of tuna salad.

California sushi rolls

The result is a lighter, fresher filling that pairs perfectly with rice and seaweed. Try it out tonight–with plenty of wasabi and pickled ginger!

Origin of California Sushi Rolls

You’ve probably seen the California roll on plenty of sushi menus, but did you know it was created to be more accessible for Westerners?

The California roll isn’t exactly traditional Japanese cuisine, but it is one tasty way to enjoy sushi. This no-cook version uses crab meat and avocado instead of raw fish, making it much easier to make at home without fancy equipment or ingredients.

In the years since its inception, it has become one of the most popular items on Japanese menus across America and beyond.

California rolls are popular sushi rolls with a long history; they were created in the 1960s. The California roll came about when a Japanese Canadian chef, Hidekazu Tojo, struggled to make sushi to suit the tastes of his Canadian customers.

Western sushi lovers, who were less familiar with the delicacies of Japanese cuisine, tended to remove the seaweed wrap from inside the roll.

Americans thought nori seaweed was inedible, so the chef “wrapped” their cooked fish and vegetables in rice instead. He decided to use avocado and cucumber in the interior, as well as crab meat and mayonnaise.

Visitors in Toronto first fell in love with these rolls; many of them were from Los Angeles, specifically California. They were so impressed by the roll that Tojo decided to name it the California Roll.

Ingredients to make sushi

Today, the California roll is an often-imitated tradition that has become a favorite in many restaurants worldwide. The combination of crab, avocado, and cucumber inside the seaweed wrap, along with sushi rice on the outside and toasted sesame seeds garnish, give this food item a mouth-watering and fresh taste.

Kanikama vs. Crab – Make the Right Choice

Kanikama, aka Kani, is a popular staple of sushi rolls and appetizers. It is called imitation crab meat made from white fish (Alaskan pollock), egg whites, corn starch, and crab flavoring.

Kanikama is typically found in California rolls and other rolls served at sushi restaurants with avocado, mackerel (saba), and cucumber.

Although some might consider it low-class, Kani provides an excellent substitute for real crab meat in many dishes and recipes.

I’m one of those people who would rather eat real crab meat than imitation crab meat. However, I like to use these when I don’t have time or can’t find fresh crab. You can get your Kani at Catalina Offshore Products or a local Japanese supermarket.

Kani makes up for the few months of crab season that are over. It is a great way to add texture and crunchiness to your California roll!

My favorite way to use Kani is mixing it with Kewpie and adding it to the inside of my roll. However, you can also wrap a piece around the outside if you want something more substantial.

Sushi Rolling Tips 

Handmade, fresh sushi rolls are better than any pre-packaged and pressed sushi you’ll find in restaurants or supermarkets. But what is the secret to this punch of deliciousness? The sushi rice.

Chef rolling sushi

Sushi rice is an essential part of the dish, and mastering the perfect recipe can mean the difference between delicious and forgettable rolls.

The perfect sushi rice recipe depends on the right balance of ingredients. Seasoned rice vinegar, sugar, and salt form the backbone of this dish, helping to bring out each other’s flavors and make an eating experience memorable.

Prepare the rice for sushi rolls by spreading Japanese rice evenly onto a piece of nori. Dip your hands into a small water bowl to keep them from sticking, and press the rice down, so it is tightly packed. If you like, sprinkle sesame seeds on the surface of the rice, or add some tobiko (seasoned fish roe) for more saltiness.

Rolling the California rolls is a bit of an adventure, so you’ll need a sharp knife and lots of patience.

When at sushi restaurants, I have seen that they use cling wrap over the California roll before slicing the sushi to serve. Cling wrap helps tighten up the rice and cucumber inside, which gives a much neater cut afterward.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. How to serve California rolls?

I love California rolls with ginger and wasabi! My favorite is all-natural pink ginger to add a little pop on the side. Some restaurants have started adding colorants and dyes to their ginger, which can interfere with the natural flavor or irritate your digestive system.

So, stick with naturally colored ginger in your sushi rolls whenever possible.

  1. Is California roll a sushi roll or a hand roll?

Did you know there are several types of sushi rolls? California rolls, spicy tuna rolls, and salmon rolls are all popular, but there are other types of sushi you should try too. These also include sushi rolls and hand rolls.

Sushi rolls and hand rolls are two very different types of sushi. The main difference between the two is that roll sushi “Maki” consists of cylinder-shaped pieces sliced into several individual servings, while a hand roll “Temaki” is a cone-shaped serving.

Sushi rolls are usually made with the ingredients wrapped up in seaweed and then cut into bite-sized pieces. However, hand rolls use rice and other ingredients as a base and are rolled up but not cut into pieces.

Unlike California rolls, there are many sushi rolls (such as Spicy Tuna Rolls), and they can be named after vegetables or ingredients that they include.

As for California rolls, they are not like traditional sushi rolls and hand rolls. It is because California rolls are inside-out versions of sushi rolls with nori on the inside. So, they are technically not sushi or hand rolls.

  1. Can you make California rolls with brown rice?

Technically, California rolls are rolls, not maki, but they are still popular. Many people make California rolls with both white and brown rice. The choice of rice is a matter of personal preference and the taste one gets on their tongue.

Preparing California rolls with brown rice is no different than preparing them with regular sushi rice. However, the taste of brown rice can be stronger and more noticeable than that of white rice.

California sushi rolls

California Roll Recipe

These easy California rolls add some variety to your home sushi nights. They're great as an appetizer and can be made in large batches!
5 from 8 votes
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine American, Asian
Servings 2 rolls
Calories 965 kcal


  • Sushi mat
  • Plastic wrap


  • Cooked sushi rice - 2 cups
  • Seaweed or nori sheets gold or silver grade
  • Kanikama crab sticks - 8 sticks
  • Kewpie Japanese mayonnaise
  • Avocado - 1 medium pitted and sliced
  • Persian cucumber - 2 julienned
  • White sesame seeds - 4 tsp


  • Wasabi
  • Gari pickled ginger
  • Soy sauce


  • Cut eight kanikama sticks into small pieces (about three mm thick) and put them in a small bowl. Add a little Kewpie to your mixture for better flavor. You can squeeze the bottle gently until you get the desired amount. Mix it using chopsticks or wooden spoons until all the pieces are broken up. This way, you will evenly distribute them throughout your crab meat paste.
  • Carefully cut the avocado in half and remove its pit. Remove just enough of the peel to expose the flesh of the avocado, then take a spoon and scoop out the halves from the peel. Cut each half into thin slices. Also, thinly slice the cucumber into juliennes.
  • Lay a nori sheet on a cutting board with the rough side facing down. Cut the sheet into four sections using a knife. Next, add ¼ cup of rice to the bottom half sheet. Then use water from your bowl to prevent your hands from sticking to the rice as you spread it evenly across the sheet.
  • You can sprinkle sesame seeds on the rice for added crunch.
  • You will now turn the seaweed and rice sheet over to the other side. Once it is face down, add your kanikama and Kewpie mixture across the middle of the nori. You want to add two or three tablespoons of kanikama at this step, making sure that your roll will end up about one and a half diameter in size.
  • Layer the cucumber and avocado slices horizontally along the Kani mixture. Layering this way will create a clean, attractive look with colorful, contrasting colors.
  • Holding the top of the sushi mat, take the bottom edge of the nori sheet over the filling and slowly move it over the tuna and rice. Place your hand against the sushi mat and pull upwards on the nori with even pressure. Doing this will help guide the nori and ensure it rolls properly. While this motion is happening, keep the roll tight by applying gentle pressure with your hand. Once you have finished rolling the spicy tuna roll, pull away from the mat using a slight lifting motion.
  • To avoid a loose roll, wrap the cling sheet around the sushi to help tighten it. First, use index fingers and thumbs to pinch the sides of the plastic wrap while rolling your sushi roll forward. Using this method will tighten it up by giving it more structure, making it easier to cut. After that, carefully remove the cling wrap and cut with a sharp knife like you normally would.
  • You're ready to cut your roll, which is the most important part because it will determine whether it holds together when you eat it. To cut your sushi roll, you want to use a sharp knife and slice in one long, smooth motion. Don't run the knife back and forth as you might do with bread; this will tear your sushi roll apart as you try to cut it. Also, be careful not to press too hard with your knife as it could damage the rice or nori seaweed sheet.
  • California rolls are ready to serve! Soy sauce, wasabi, and gari are served in a trio of condiments with California rolls.


Calories: 965kcalCarbohydrates: 184gProtein: 22g
Keyword california roll recipe
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Extra Instructions

Be Quick

Steps 4–10 will only take a few minutes in total. I recommend you try to be as quick as possible going through these steps so that the nori stays crisp and crunchy.

Be Gentle

You aim to have a thin layer of rice on the nori sheet, but not too dry or powdery. The best way to do this is to evenly spread the rice gently across sheets of nori, trying your best not to squish or mush it as you do.

Rolling Sushi

Note that rolling can be tricky to get the hang of at first. Although it might take some time to perfect, you will definitely improve with practice.

Therefore, make sure not to spend too much time making rolled sushi since seaweed keeps on absorbing the moisture from fillings and rice. Keep in mind that the more moisture the rice absorbs, the harder it will be to form a tight roll.

Jumbo Size Sushi

Instead of cutting the nori into half for a regular-size roll, you can use the whole sheet for your jumbo roll to create more volume.


When crab season is over, but your cravings are still as strong as ever, this California Roll recipe can cure all your food-related woes. It will be a great go-to when you’re craving sushi or just want to make some delicious rolls at home!

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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