California Sushi Rolls {a How To}

California Roll

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on sushi or California Rolls. In fact, I probably fall in the category of unexpert. But I am an expert at eating them and happen to think they are some of the most delicious little morsels on the planet.

Since my friend, Melanie (who lives in Japan – essentially the sushi capital of the world, although I don’t know if this Americanized California Roll is widely ordered there), introduced me to the idea, I have made them countless times and thought I’d share my step-by-step process with you.

I keep my California Rolls extremely simple: avocado, cucumber and imitation crab rolled up in seasoned sushi rice and nori (roasted seaweed). You can get as crazy as you want (pickled ginger, anyone?) but I prefer the basics.

California Roll

It took me some time to decide to try making these – I was skeptical I would like them since I had never even tasted one. I mean, seaweed? Really? But I’m hooked. And shockingly, so are my kids. They gobble these up like there is no tomorrow. Must be a genetic thing.

Even if you are a skeptic about making and/or eating these little beauties, I feel the need to pressure you into trying these.

Everybody’s doing it and I just know you’ll love them. Plus they are healthy and delicious, so it makes me an even better friend for sharing the how-to with you.

P.S. Did you know sushi does not mean raw fish (of which I’m not so much a fan)? Instead, it refers to the process or method of making a Japanese dish of seasoned rice topped with seafood and veggies. Sashimi is the term that officially officializes raw fish. And there’s your fact for the day (which you probably already knew).

California Roll

California Sushi Rolls {a How To}

Yield: 4-5 California rolls
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 18 minutes
Total Time: 48 minutes
California Sushi Rolls {a How To}



  • 4 cups cooked and prepared sushi rice (recipe follows)
  • 2 avocados, cut into long, thin slices
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into long, thin slices
  • Imitation crab meat, cut into long, slender slices


  • Bamboo mat (for rolling)
  • Plastic wrap (for covering the mat)
  • 4-5 sheets nori (large squares of roasted seaweed - should be dark, dark green, nearly black, in color)

Sushi Rice:

  • 2 cups sushi, short or medium grain rice (do not use long grain rice)
  • 2 cups water, plus extra for rinsing rice
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt


  1. Place the rice into a mixing bowl and cover with cool water. Swirl the rice in the water, pour off and repeat 2 to 3 times or until the water is clear.
  2. Place the rice and 2 cups of water into a medium saucepan and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, uncovered. Once it begins to boil, reduce the heat to the lowest setting and cover. Cook for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.
  3. Combine the rice vinegar, sugar and salt in a small bowl and heat in the microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds. Transfer the rice into a large wooden or glass mixing bowl and add the vinegar mixture. Fold thoroughly to combine and coat each grain of rice with the mixture. Allow to cool to room temperature before using to make sushi or sashimi.
  4. In order to cool the rice quickly, it can be spread out on a large rimmed baking sheet and can be alternately folded and fanned (a file folder works great for fanning!) until it is cooled to room temperature. As my friend Melanie likes to repeat while doing this process: "fan and fold, fan and fold." It is therapeutic. When the rice is completely cooled, lay a damp towel over it to prevent it from drying out.


If you are worried about the avocado turning brown because the rolls won't be served immediately, toss the slices with some lemon juice before assembling in the roll. Also, I have found the nori (roasted seaweed) at nearly every major grocery store, Walmart or obviously Asian market I have walked through. You can also find the bamboo mats at most of those places as well.

See below for assembling pictures and instructions.

Recommended Products

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, I earn from qualifying purchases.

Follow @melskitchencafe on Instagram and show me the recipes you are making from my blog using the hashtag #melskitchencafe. I love seeing all the goodness you are whipping up in your kitchens!

To assemble the California Rolls:

*I’ll start by showing you how to make a California Roll with the rice on the outside – and then at the end, I’ll show a quick reverse if you like the seaweed on the outside. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy, as my five-year old would say.

Take your mat and place a piece of plastic wrap over the top, leaving about 2 inches on each side to tuck under and tape on the back.
Bamboo Mat

Like so. This will prevent rice from getting stuck in all of those tiny little openings. And trust me, you will never make these again if that happens and you have to clean it out.

Now flip your bamboo mat back over and take a piece of that deliciously dark nori and place it on the top of the bamboo mat.

Grab a handful of the cooled sushi rice (um, maybe about 1/2 cup or so) and plop it on the center of the nori.

Using dampish-wet hands, spread the sticky rice to the edges of the mat, leaving a slight margin on the side closest to you, to help with sealing.

Gently grab the nori and flip it over so the rice is on the bottom.

Here’s a peek at the rice.

Now we get to start layering all the yummy goodness that gets rolled up inside the roll. First, the crab. Place it in somewhat of a line near the side closest to you (can’t tell if you would refer to that as the top or bottom so I will try not to be confusing), leaving about a 1-inch margin to help with the rolling.

Now the cucumber. Right on top of the crab.

And finally the avocado. My personal favorite. I think I may have overdone it on the ingredients in these pictures, a bit, so make note of that. I’ve heard and read that you should exercise caution at not overloading the roll – the more filled it is, the harder it will be to roll up.

Now comes the fun part. It may require some deep breathing, but I promise, with practice, it will be easy as pie. Begin by gently lifting up the edge of the mat closest to you and folding it over the roll, like so. Gently use your fingers to press the crab, avocado and cucumbers back towards the mat so they stay compressed and don’t become loose.

Continue folding the mat over, pressing tightly the entire time until you have tightly rolled it to the point that the bamboo mat can’t keep rolling or it will fold over on itself (and you don’t want to roll up the bamboo mat in the roll, obviously). See what I mean in the picture below?

Gently unfold the mat, leaving the roll tightly tucked, and grab the bamboo mat straight up to reposition it to start rolling again.

This time, you’ll again bring the bamboo mat over the roll, rolling it further while pressing the bamboo mat tightly into the roll with your fingers.

As you do this, the bamboo mat will have some overhang in front of your fingers, but that’s the sign that your California Roll is rolling up nice and tight.

Continue this process of rolling, lifting up the bamboo mat and repositioning and rolling again, until you have reached the end of the mat and the sushi is tightly and completely rolled. At this point, wrap the bamboo mat around the roll and give it a final hug with your fingers so it is firm and evenly rolled (not too hard, though, or you’ll crush it to death). Now give a big shout of hallelujah and try not to stuff the entire roll in your face. The roll can be rolled in plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to serve.

If you want to serve them right away, transfer the roll to a cutting board and cut in half.

Then fourths.

Then eighths – you get the picture. And have I mentioned…try not to stuff your face full of the California Rolls – I still need to show you how to roll it up with the nori on the outside.

This time, after you have pressed the rice to the edges of the nori, DON’T flip it over. Instead, all the ingredients will be layered on top of the rice and rolled up.

Roll as explained above until the roll is tight and finished.

Slice and serve! Oh yeah, and try not to shove every single last piece in your mouth.