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A month or so ago, my in-laws took both kids for two nights and let my husband and I have some much-needed time alone!! Oh, that was sooooo nice! We got to sleep in, go to whatever restaurants we wanted, come and go as we pleased, listen to the music we wanted to listen to in the car, watch the movies and shows WE wanted to watch. I got to take a bath for as long as I wanted… not just until I heard someone fussing or yelling! You get the idea. If you’re a parent, you know it’s all these little things we take for granted before parenthood that we miss the most, right?
We hadn’t been to one of our favorite Japanese restaurants in over a year so we were anxious to get there. I usually get one of their bento box meals that includes tempura veggies, salmon, chicken and a couple pieces from a California Roll. Now, before any of you go, “Sushi!? Ewwww!! Who wants to eat raw fish!?” Let me just tell you – The term sushi does NOT always refer to raw fish! In fact, it is the type of rice used – sushi rice – that lends the name. Sushi rice is a white sticky rice that makes it easier to keep the rolls formed.
This time, my husband ordered us a Cali Crunch Roll to share. I love the California Rolls but these were amazing. It was just a Cali Roll (sushi rice, avocado, crab meat, and cucumber wrapped in nori) but had this amazing crunchy topping. I kept picking little pieces of the topping from the plate and tasting them separately so I could try to determine what it was but finally had to ask. The waiter said it was just tempura batter but it also had a bit of sweetness to it. You should know, I immediately started to think of how I could replicate this at home! I was seriously hooked on these. I must’ve stopped in to pick one on up on the go at least 3 or 4 times over that next week. Of course, that gets expensive. So, I was totally determined to make my own and make them just as yummy.
I had made sushi at home before. That time I had used veggies, ham and cheese – a sort of “Americanized sushi roll”, if you will. And, it was really, really good. So, I was really anxious to try a Cali Crunch Roll at home. I bought a package of nori (dried seaweed), sushi rice, a box of tempura, cucumbers, canned crab meat (we found the store-brand chunk crab meat was better than the more shredded name brand stuff), and avocados. I had no problem making the roll. It was the tempura I had to take a few goes at.
At first I had the oil too hot. Then not hot enough. Then I had to get the flavoring just right. I had almost given up on it when I decided to try “one last time”. When I took a bite in to the fried tempura batter, it was crunchy all the way through and had just the right flavor! YES!!! Oh, I was so excited!
Now, we can have these gorgeous, delicious, utterly addicting Cali Crunch Rolls at home anytime I want!! And, so can you! Here’s the recipe:
California Crunch Rolls (California Rolls with a Crunchy Tempura Topping)
- 2 cups sushi rice
- 2.5 cups water (or the amount called for if you are using a rice cooker) + 3/4 cup ice cold water (for tempura topping)
- 3 tbsp rice vinegar
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar + 1tsp (or more, depending on sweetness desired, for tempura crunch)
- 1.5 tsp salt
- Tempura powder
- Vegetable oil, for frying tempura
- Cucumber, peeled and cut in to thin strips
- Avocado, peeled and cut in to thin strips
- 1 can of chunk crab meat
- Soy sauce
- Wasabi, optional
Place your rice in a bowl and then cover with water (any amount). Swish the rice around and rub the rice between your palms. The water will turn a milky white. Drain through a fine-mesh sieve. Repeat this rinsing and cleaning procedure until the water is no longer cloudy. After draining for the last time, let the rice sit and dry for about 30 minutes.
Put your rice in your cooking pot or rice cooker. Add the proper amount of water. Let soak for 30-60 minutes before cooking. If you’re using a rice cooker, follow the directions that came with your rice cooker. If you are using the stovetop, bring the water with rice to a boil over medium heat. Then fit the pot with a tight fitting lid. Cook on high for 1 minute longer before reducing heat to medium and cooking for another 5 minutes (or until you can see the surface of the rice). At this point, you’ll reduce the heat to low for about 10 minutes or until the water is completely absorbed (do not open the lid to peak – you’ll let all that useful steam escape). Turn up to high heat for a few seconds to rid the pot of any excess moisture right before turning off the heat.
Drape a clean, dry towel over your pot for another 10-15 minutes to fully absorb the moisture and let the rice rest. This helps the rice fluff up and is an important step I learned from Just Hungry.
Meanwhile, mix the rice vinegar, granulated sugar and salt in a small bowl. Once you’ve let your rice rest for 10-15 under the towel, mix in your vinegar mixture, reserving 1-2 tsp for your tempura topping.
For the tempura topping, follow the directions on the box to create a tempura batter. The box I used called for 1.5 cups ice cold water to be mixed with 2 cups Tempura powder. I halved this using just 3/4 cups ice cold water and 1 cup tempura powder and then mixed in the reserved rice vinegar mixture plus an additional tsp or so of sugar.
Heat an inch or two of vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Slowly pour the tempura batter in small batches. I didn’t use a thermometer (sorry!) but, you’ll know you’ve reached the right temp when your batter scatters like shown in the video below. (sorry for the shakiness and talking in the background – my daughter wanted another roll! hehe)
Once your tempura bits turn a golden brown, scoop them out with a slotted spoon that will allow the oil to drain through.
Now, it’s time to assemble our rolls!
You can heat your oven to 300 degrees and put your nori in the oven for a minute or two – or just turn on a low flame on your gas stove and slowly wave the sheet of nori over the flame a quick second. Not too long! You want it to still be pliable enough to roll.
Place a sheet of nori shiny side down on a damp towel. You don’t need one of those bamboo rolling mats to make sushi but you can certainly use on here if you wish. Put a thin layer of your seasoned rice on the nori, spreading it to the edges. (It is helpful to have a small bowl or cup of cold water near by to keep your fingers and spoon for the rice damp so the rice doesn’t stick as easily to your fingers or the spoon.) Near the center make a row of cucumber, avocado and crab meat. Begin tightly rolling the nori from one end. Use the towel to pull up, roll and gently squeeze the roll as you go. Once you have your roll formed, lightly wet the edge of the nori with cold water and then press to seal. Slice in to small rounds and top with the crunchy tempura batter. Serve with a side of soy sauce and wasabi, if using.
If you happen to have any leftover sushi rice and/or nori, you could make cute little rice balls with them! We still have some of these in the freezer. The key is to wrap them with saran wrap while they’re still warm (to retain the moisture) and then you can let them thaw in a lunchbox so they’ll be ready by lunchtime!
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