California rolls are not really sushi, according to Japanese sushi chefs, but we Americans do love them! Apparently California rolls were invented in the 1970s in Southern California by a Japanese American Sushi chef who wanted to tempt Americans who were not enticed by real sushi, raw fish. I love both but have not attempted real sushi making at home. California rolls, on the other hand, are really easy and so satisfying!
As with most Asian dishes, having the right ingredients, prepared in advance, makes this dish more manageable. While crab, cucumber and avocado are traditional in California rolls, you can be more creative if you like. Right now I'm trying to cook from what I have and not buy any special ingredients so I decided to use the canned crabmeat from Trader Joe's that I had in the pantry, some shredded carrots for color, and slices of the refrigerator pickles I just made. While the last item seems really out of place, it mimics the pickled cucumber or daikon radish that is often featured in all veggie rolls sold in stores; it worked wonderfully.
Many how to's on making sushi will insist on using a sushi mat; I've never used one so don't let that slow you down. I'm sure it produces a tighter, prettier looking roll, but I've been happy enough with what I produce (and it always looks impressive!) I just place the nori sheet on a dish cloth or cloth napkin and use that as the starting point. If you've ever rolled a sheet cake for a jelly roll, it's a very similar experience (if not, you'll learn by doing!)
Crab, Pickled Cucumber and Carrot California Roll
1 cup sushi rice
2 cups water
1 tablespoon rice wine
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 sheets of Toasted Nori (seaweed)
1 8 oz can cooked crab meat
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 slices refrigerator pickles, skin removed, sliced thinly
soy sauce for dipping
Place rice in water in pot and bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cover and cook until done, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and scrap into bowl. Add rice wine and rice wine vinegar and mix in well. Spread rice around bowl sides to allow it to cool rapidly and set aside. While rice is cooling, prepare fillings. Mix crab meat with mayonnaise, cayenne and salt and set aside. Grate carrot on large holes and sprinkle with cider vinegar or lemon juice to keep from browning; set aside. Cut pickle into strips.
Place nori sheet on cloth, folding cloth so that each edge fits the edge of the nori sheet. Spread 1/3 of rice on nori, using your fingers, dipped in water, to spread rice on sheet. Spread rice to side edges as evenly as possible and leave 1/2 inch border at top and bottom. Keeping a bowl of water for dipping your fingers into keeps the rice from sticking to them too much. About 1/2 inch from the bottom edge of rice, make a line across the rice and spread the crab mixture across. Place the pickles just above the crab, fit snugly against it and then sprinkle on the carrots. (If you have wasabi you can also spread a thin line along the rice above the vegetables or use it during the dipping action when the roll is completed.) Here's what a roll will look like.
Using the edge of the cloth nearest you, begin to roll the sheet, moving slowly and turning evenly. Just before finishing the roll process, dampen the top nori border with water and then finish the roll. With the seam side down, press into the roll a moment and then flip it, seam side up. Moisten the top of the seam with water until it "melts" into the nori sheet. Set roll aside, seam side down and finish other sheets of nori.
When all of the rolls are done, place roll seam side down on a cutting board and using a serrated knife, carefully cut into slices, periodically rinsing the knife as rice sticks to it. The cut rolls will keep for about 3 days refrigerated. Enjoy with soy sauce, either thinned with a little water or not, pickled ginger and wasabi.
By the way, the ginger in the photo above is not pink because it is a natural version, without the pretty pink dye!