Learn how to make your all-time favorite Dragon Rolls at home! In this recipe, we will talk about the key ingredients and tips and tricks to make this popular sushi.
Next to California Rolls, Dragon Roll is another popular sushi roll served at American-style sushi restaurants and buffet joints. It’s not traditional sushi you can find in Japan, but I can see why this imaginative sushi is such a favorite.
The combo of creamy avocado and crunchy shrimp tempura make the perfect match to the tenderly moist vinegared rice. It’s so delicious that I can devour the entire roll on my own. Luckily, making dragon roll at home is easier than it looks.
What is Dragon Roll
The dragon roll is an inside-out sushi, which is filled with nori sheet wrapping around the ingredients on the inside and the sushi rice is on the outside. Here, shrimp tempura and cucumber are tucked inside the nori, and thinly sliced avocado is layered on top of the roll, and when it’s sliced, the artistically arranged sushi resembles the scales of a dragon. The sushi roll is typically topped with tobiko fish roes and drizzled with spicy mayonnaise and unagi sauce, which makes it even more enticing.
You can also find another version of the dragon roll that features grilled eel (unagi) instead of shrimp tempura.
Key Ingredients and Tips to Make Perfect Dragon Roll
1. Shrimp Tempura
Since shrimp tempura is getting mainstream, many American grocery stores (Trader Joe’s, Costco, etc) carry frozen shrimp tempura at the seafood section. The frozen shrimp tempura tends to be extra crunchy, so it’s perfect for making dragon roll at home. You just need to pop them in an oven (or toaster oven) for 20 minutes or so, while you do most of the prep work.
Of course, you can make them from scratch, and here’s my Shrimp Tempura recipe. You’ll need 2 shrimp tempuras for each roll you plan to make.
It’s funny to say this, but I find the most challenging part of making dragon roll at home is to find the perfectly ripe avocado.
To choose the perfect avocado for immediate use, look for the ones with darker-colored skin. Then gently squeeze the fruit in the palm of your hand. If the avocado yields to firm gentle pressure, it’s ready to eat.
If the avocado does not yield to gentle pressure, it is considered still “firm” and will ripen in a couple of days. If the avocado feels mushy or very soft to the touch it may be very ripe to overripe.
I use Japanese cucumbers which are long and slender. They have few seeds so it’s perfect for sushi rolls. If you can’t find Japanese cucumbers, then use Persian cucumbers are quite similar so they are a great substitute.
If you use English cucumbers, then cut in half lengthwise and remove the seeds with a spoon as they yield too much water inside the rolls. I do not recommend using typical American cucumbers as they have waxy thick skin and too many seeds inside.
4. Sushi Rice
The word “sushi rice” is sometimes used to refer to Japanese short-grain rice outside of Japan, but in Japanese cooking, Sushi Rice (酢飯) means steamed rice that has been seasoned with sushi vinegar and only used for all types of sushi recipes.
Perfectly prepared sushi rice is very important in sushi making. Here are a few things to take note:
- You’ll need Japanese short-grain rice (I use Koshihikari), cook it well, and season with sushi vinegar. Read my step-by-step tutorial on how to cook sushi rice.
- Please DO NOT mash the sushi rice when you place it on the nori sheet. You should be able to see individual rice kernel, not mushy rice in the roll.
- Do not overfill the roll with rice. It’s important to balance to ratio of rice and the fillings. My quick tip is to use a ½-cup measuring cup to fill the rice before you assemble your rolls. That should be enough for half a sheet of nori. With a consistent amount of sushi rice for each roll, all of your sushi rolls will be of even size!
5. Nori (Seaweed)
I use only half a sheet of nori for my recipe and it is sufficient to roll. If you found the nori a little too short, cut down the filling slightly. Keep practicing and you should be able to find the perfect ratio for rolling.
6. Spicy Mayo
All you need is two ingredients for this amazing sauce! It’s creamy, sweet, tangy with the right amount of heat. Please use Japanese mayonnaise for the best flavor. You can buy it from Amazon. The Japanese mayo is essential to make Japanese Potato Salad, Sesame Dressing, Mentaiko Pasta, Okonomiyaki, Casesar Salad, and more!
7. Unagi Sauce
Just a few spoonfuls of unagi sauce give an extra flavorful boost to the dragon roll. If you can’t find a bottle of unagi (eel) sauce from your local Japanese grocery store, try my Homemade Unagi Sauce recipe. It is totally worth making from scratch, especially if you love making Unadon (Unagi Donburi) or Yaki Onigiri. It’s a good condiment to have in your fridge at all times.
Dragon Roll for Sushi Party
I hope I’ve inspired you to start making sushi rolls at home. Dragon roll does not include any raw sashimi, so it’s safe for pregnant ladies and young children. If you’re looking for sushi to serve a crowd, this is the one to make. We have an ultimate guide on how to host a sushi party that you might want to check out!
Other Sushi Recipes You’ll Love
- California Roll
- Spicy Tuna Roll
- Futomaki (Fat Sushi Roll)
- Hosomaki (Thin Sushi Roll)
- Hand Roll
- Temari Sushi
- Inari Sushi
- Cucumber Wrapped Sushi
- Sushi Ginger (gari)
- 1 Japanese or Persian cucumber (4 oz, 113 g for four rolls)
- 2 avocados (12 oz, 340 g for four rolls)
- ½ lemon (optional)
- 2 sheets nori (dried laver seaweed) (cut in half crosswise)
- 2 cups sushi rice (cooked and seasoned) (each roll needs ½ cup (90 g) sushi rice)
- 8 pieces Shrimp Tempura (homemade or store bought)
- 2 Tbsp tobiko (flying fish roe)
- unagi (eel) (optional)
For the Vinegar Water for Dipping Hands (Tezu)
- ¼ cup water
- 2 tsp rice vinegar (unseasoned)
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters. Remove the seeds and then again cut in half lengthwise into thin strips. You will have 8 strips.
- Cut an avocado in half lengthwise around the pit and twist the two halves until they separate. Use a spoon to remove the pit. Alternatively, you can remove the pit with your knife, but you must take great care not to use too much force or you could cut your hand. First, hold the avocado half in your palm; it's best to hold it with a folded kitchen towel to protect your hand. Next, very gently tap the heel of your knife into the pit with just enough pressure that the knife embeds in the pit. Then, twist the knife and the pit will come out smoothly. Repeat with the remaining avocado.
- Remove the skin and thinly slice the avocado halves crosswise.
- Gently press the avocado slices with your fingers so the individual slices begin to slide and separate. Keep pressing gently and evenly with the side of the knife until the length of the sliced avocado half is about the length of a sushi roll (or a sheet of nori seaweed.) If you don't serve the sushi roll right away, I recommend squeezing lemon over the avocado to prevent discoloration. Repeat with the other avocado halves.
- Line the bamboo mat with plastic wrap and place half of the nori sheet on top, shiny side down. Dip your hands in the tezu (vinegar water) and spread ½ cup sushi rice over the nori sheet.
- Flip over the nori sheet with the rice on it. Place two pieces of the shrimp tempura, two cucumber strips, and some tobiko at the bottom end of the nori sheet closest to you.
- From the bottom end, start rolling the nori sheet over the filling tightly and firmly with the bamboo mat until the bottom edge reaches the nori sheet. Lift the bamboo mat and roll over the remaining nori.
- Place the bamboo mat over the top and tightly squeeze the roll.
- Remove the bamboo mat and plastic wrap from the sushi roll. Using the side of the knife, lift the avocado slices from one half and place them on top of the roll. If you'd like to use unagi, alternate avocado and unagi slices and layer them to cover the top and sides of the roll.
- Replace the plastic wrap over the roll and put the bamboo mat over the top. Tightly squeeze the roll through the bamboo mat until the avocado slices wrap around the roll. Be gentle so you don’t break the avocado slices. Remove the mat.
- Cut the roll through the plastic wrap into 8 pieces with the knife. Clean your knife with a wet towel after each cut. If the roll gets messy while cutting, tightly squeeze the sushi roll again with the bamboo mat. Remove the plastic wrap on top of the sushi and transfer the sushi pieces to a serving plate. Repeat to make the remaining rolls.
- Put some tobiko on each piece of sushi and drizzle spicy mayo and sprinkle black sesame seeds on top. If you'd like, place some unagi sauce on the plate so you can dip the sushi. Enjoy!
Editor’s Note: Original post was published in June 2013. The post is updated with new content and video in April 2016 and republished in June 2020.
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