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Japanese Dragon Roll – A Sushi With No Parallel!

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

Who doesn’t like sushi? Let me present you something even better— dragon roll sushi.

This one roll offers you so much in a single bite. No other Chinese recipe can compare. There were a couple of times when I heard my Chinese colleagues talking and almost bragging about this loaded shrimp tempura roll.

And having heard about it many times, I eventually asked one of them to share the taste of it with the rest of us. And the minute I took that first bite, I was on the ‘bragging about this sushi roll’ side of the story. Never in my life had I experienced such a unique mix of ingredients.

And as lucky as I found myself able to taste the goodness of a dragon roll, I became even more fortunate by getting a super easy recipe for the spicy dragon roll. Since I had already tried making sushi at home a couple of times before, it was quick and easy for me to prepare a dragon roll in no time.

However, those who haven’t tried the wrapping of the rice layer and stuffing of the nori seaweed before should consider watching some tutorials on handling techniques before getting started with the actual recipe.

It is all about nice packing of the roll and a perfect layering to make the rolls more presentable and appealing. A nicely packed and squeezed roll is also easy to slice for serving.

Another reason of why I am sharing this recipe with you all is that this sushi, in particular, does not need raw sashimi scale fish for the stuffing which is typically not loved by small children or pregnant ladies.

Rather it is stuffed with the popular shrimp tempura!

This is the part of this sushi which gives you the crunchy dragon roll.

The great tempura is a dish in itself and if you are not familiar with the recipe then don’t worry! Part of my article will discuss everything about shrimp tempura so that you don’t miss out on anything in the classic dragon roll recipe.

There are several ways of making this roll. I will try to give you the best taste with the easiest techniques.  In my opinion, it is always better to add more stuffing to the sushi, since you are putting so much effort into making it.

What is A Dragon Roll?

Well, it certainly does not have a dragon head on top! That would have made it far more interesting, wouldn’t it? Its tangy taste, however, makes it super-hot like a dragon. Maybe that’s why the roll is named after it? Nope! The varying colors extending across the sushi makes it look like a dragon neck with scales. That’s probably where it got the name ‘dragon.’

Anyhow, the roll is known as the ‘inside out sushi roll’ because instead of having rice stuffed or layered inside the nori wraps like most of the sushi rolls, the rice is layered outside the nori wraps.

The changing of the position of the layers does not affect the taste, but it sure makes room for the super delicious shrimp tempura on the inside. The tempura is packed with lengthwise-sliced cucumber. And what’s more exciting is that you can also add some grilled unagi inside.

The nice avocado slice covering over the top of the sushi gives a refreshing green color to this roll. Therefore, it also goes by the name green dragon roll.

People change the recipe as per their taste preferences, often with tempura with crab meat or chili or sriracha sauce for seasoning, but there is no replacement of the avocado topping in this recipe. It is also the single most nutritional ingredient of the dragon roll. Then comes the cucumber in the stuffing, which gives the sushi a juicy green color on the inside.

What You Need Before Preparing Your Dragon Roll

With the aim of listing down all the dragon roll ingredients, I will also be sharing how to prepare these items. I hardly recommend market bought sauces or stuffing. It is always best to add homemade freshly cooked ingredients. But if there are time constraints, you can surely opt for the store-bought ingredients.

Most of them are available in Asian or Japanese stores so those are the places where you should be heading. Running from store to store is not an easy task. Make sure you get unagi sauce and some good shrimp tempura for sure. Do not spend a ton of time searching for all the readymade items.

It turns out to be far more economical and healthier. One bottle of unagi sauce made in a single session can be used for 3 to 4 weeks. Same goes for tempura; if you preserve the coated shrimp, they can be used even after 2 to 3 weeks.

Shrimp Tempura

Frozen shrimp tempura is readily available in all big American grocery stores. They are a good alternative to the homemade ones, as the shrimps are already coated with a crunchy mixture and you only need to bake them for 20 minutes or more until they are al dente.

To make the tempura first mix 1 cup all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 pinch salt, 1 cup water,1 egg yolk, 2 egg whites, lightly beaten in a large bowl and then toss in 1-pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined. Once the shrimp are coated well. set them aside. Meanwhile, add 2 cups vegetable oil to a deep-frying pan.

After heating the oil well, gently and carefully place the shrimp in the oil and deep fry them until they turn golden brown in color. Then immediately transfer them to a plate lined with paper towel. Let the towel absorb all the oil.

Your shrimp tempura is now ready to stuff into the dragon roll. Make sure to take small size shrimp without tails to make tempura for sushi as it needs to tightly fit into the roll.

Avocado

The dragon roll is incomplete without avocado slices. The recipe is all about finding the right avocado for the roll. Nicely ripe avocado slices can complement the taste and texture of the roll. I happened to have a special store which provides the best avocado in town.

Look for avocados with darker skin color and gently squeeze the fruit in your hand. If it is firm and sustains the pressure, then the avocado is ready to use. You can bring them home.

Let’s get to the use of the avocado. Do not mash the flesh to the top of the roll.  Slices have to be used instead. First cut the fruit in half and after removing the pit from the inside peel off the skin gently. Now slice each half into thin slices.

The size of the avocado slice is larger than the breadth of the sushi roll, so you need to cut them shorter into suitable sizes. Do not leave the avocado after slicing, as the flesh will lose its pretty green color. Drizzle lemon juice over the avocado and mix gently. Then set the avocado aside until the roll is ready.  Place the slices over the sushi and press them into the rice.

Cucumber

For the dragon roll, long and slender Japanese cucumbers suit it best. These cucumbers have very few seeds, so you don’t even need to remove them and can use the slices as is. If you can’t find Japanese cucumber, then Persian cucumber is another good alternative.

Seedless cucumbers are used for sushi rolls because they do not release excess water into the roll. So, if you are using any seed variety then make sure to remove the seedy part from inside and then add the slices to the roll.

Sushi Rice

Not every rice is good for a sushi roll. Japanese short grain rice is the true sushi rice. In Japan, this rice is first steamed and then mixed with sushi vinegar for seasoning. After the steaming, the rice comes out softer than other varieties of rice and thus can be easily packed into the dragon sushi roll.

I, on the other hand, use a different recipe to make the perfect sushi rice. Take about 2 cups uncooked glutinous white rice (sushi rice) and 3 cups water, 1/2 cup rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1/4 cup white sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Now cook the rice in the water over medium heat until the water is completely absorbed.

Meanwhile, stir cook the remaining ingredients for 2 to 3 minutes in a saucepan. Pour this sauce over the rice and mix them well. The sushi rice is now ready to use.

For dragon, or any sushi roll, make sure not to mash the rice before putting it over the nori sheet. Have you ever seen it mashed in there? No! The rice kernels can be seen distinctly separate from one another. Adding too much rice to the roll is another mistake most people make. The rice should be just enough to evenly cover the nori sheet in a thick and intact layer.

Nori (Seaweed)

Speaking of the dragon sushi roll, how can we not talk about seaweed sheets. It is after all these sheets that are used for the wrapping. The inside out sushi roll has the nori sheet inside and the rice layer on the outside. Select the size of the sheet as per the sushi role size.

Cut off 2/3 of the sheet to make a perfect dragon roll. For the first try, take a ½ sheet of the nori seaweed and make a roll, and then change the size accordingly.

Spicy Mayo

This two-ingredients sauce is one amazing combination and adds a spicy tinge to dragon sushi rolls. Having this mayo ready in your refrigerator is great since it can not only be used for sushi rolls, but you can also add them to potato salads, Caesar salad or pasta, etc. These days, seasoned mayonnaise is readily available in different flavors.

The one used for the dragon roll is different, however. It is smart to make it at home. For that, you need some Japanese mayonnaise and Sriracha sauce. For every tablespoon of mayo, you should add 1 teaspoon of sriracha sauce.

Put them together either in a bowl or a mixer and mix them well until the sauce is completely incorporated into the mayo.  This will give you a light orangish mayo paste. Remember it must neither be too tangy nor too mild. You can change the proportions if desired though.

Unagi Sauce

There is not much of use of unagi sauce in the dragon roll, but you still need a tablespoon or so of it. The sauce is drizzled over the dragon roll, and it infuses a unique taste into it. Unagi is a Japanese word for eel.

This sauce is available in many Japanese grocery stores. If you still can’t find it then try this simple recipe and make your own unagi sauce from scratch. It only requires a few basic ingredients which are used in just about every other Japanese meal.

Take about ¼ cup soy sauce, ¼ cup mirin, 2½ Tbsp sugar, and 1½ Tbsp sake. For more sauce, double the proportions but keep the ratios the same or else it won’t make a perfect unagi sauce. First, start by mixing mirin with sake in a saucepan. Let them boil together until the alcohol evaporates. Then add the sugar in, and stir cook the mixture until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Boil the sauce again after adding soy sauce. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes on medium-low heat. Immediately remove the sauce from the heat and allow it cool. Now transfer the sauce to an airtight container and let it refrigerate for 2 weeks. Preserve this sauce in a cool and dry place. This sauce can be used for days if stored properly.

To make the dragon roll taste fishier and more like unagi, sometimes instead of the sauce the eel itself is stuffed in the roll. When tempura and cucumber are placed in the nori sheets, a small amount of unagi is added, and then the roll is packed.

But not everyone is comfortable about eating the eel, so it is kept completely optional. First, give it a try. If you don’t find the taste suitable then don’t go for it the next time. Unagi can be both baked or steamed. After its fillets are cooked, dice it and add the pieces to the dragon sushi roll.

The Super healthy Tempura Roll!

The culinary significance of the dragon roll can never be overestimated. It is loved and enjoyed on every street in Japan, and now it has become even more popular around the world. But besides good taste and appealing presentation, this roll is a gem of the healthy food world. Imagine how many nutrients every bite of it can provide.

It has everything nutritious tightly packed in a single source. From seaweed to seafood, rice, avocado, cucumber, and unagi, everything is in there to make it the healthiest sushi ever.

Despite having so many nutrients, this sushi is low caloric and suits a healthy diet. A single serving of dragon roll gives you 71 calories. There are only 2 percent carbohydrates in it and only 5 percent fat.

Protein is abundantly found in the tempura roll. If there is anything which further enhances its nutritional value, it is the avocado. A single fruit contains a balanced mix of every nutrient, vitamin, and mineral your body needs. And the rest of the goodness comes from the cooked unagi and baked shrimp tempura.

The Healthy and Delicious Dragon Roll Recipe

Here comes the most exciting part of the article! Where I share the actual recipe with all the ingredients! There are certain ingredients which are used raw, and others which have to be prepared before. So, I recommend planning the preparation as per the availability of those ingredients.

Like if you are planning to make tempura, unagi sauce, and spicy mayo all at home then start one hour before to ready all the stuff for the roll. I usually keep everything prepared in the kitchen and then roll them together about half an hour before the serving.

Fresh ingredients like avocado or cucumber should be sliced at the last moment as they will otherwise lose their fine texture and taste.

Other than the cooking ingredients, let me tell you what tools you might need to make the sushi. The bamboo mat is a must! It makes the wrapping of the roll much easier plus its surface allows easy handling of the rice layer on the outside.

Other than that, use a plastic sheet to wrap the sushi roll. And use a nozzled bottle to drizzle the unagi sauce at the end. It will give a sharp and clean look to the plate.

Ingredients:

  • 2 avocados
  • 1 Persian/Japanese cucumber
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 2 sheets nori (seaweed) (cut in half crosswise)
  • 2 cups sushi rice (each roll needs 1/2 cup sushi rice)
  • 8 pieces shrimp tempura
  • 2 Tbsp Tobiko (frying fish roe)
  • unagi (eel) (optional)

Toppings:

  • Spicy Mayo
  • Unagi Sauce
  • black sesame seeds (roasted/toasted)
  • Vinegar water for dipping hands (Tzu)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tsp rice vinegar

Slice the cucumber into quarters then remove the seeds. Further cut the quarters in half lengthwise. Put the cucumber aside.

Now comes the avocado! Slice lengthwise then twist away both the halves. Separate the two halves and stick a knife into the pit and remove it by twisting. Peel the skin of the avocado and slice further lengthwise.

Press the avocado slices in a bowl using your finger or with a spoon to turn them into sushi roll or nori seaweed length appropriate pieces. Toss the avocado with lemon juice. It will keep the color of the avocado fresh if you are not serving the roll immediately.

Cover the bamboo mat with plastic wrap and spread half of the nori sheet over the mat, by keeping the shiny side of it down. Then dip your hands in the vinegar water and spread that ½ cup sushi rice over the nori sheet.

Now turn the sheet over gently, and place the shrimp tempura, tobiko and cucumber strips at the bottom end of the sheet. If you are using unagi, then place it inside at this stage.

Start rolling the nori sheet tightly from the bottom end while rolling the bamboo mat. Roll the bamboo mat over. Tightly squeeze the roll and top it with the avocado.

Wrap the roll in the plastic wrap and put the bamboo mat over it. Squeeze it again to press the avocado slices over the sushi. Be very careful and gentle while handling the avocado slices.

Use a sharp knife to slice the roll into 8 pieces. Continually clean the knife with a paper towel after cutting each slice. Squeeze the roll tightly to avoid messing with the shape while cutting it. Gently remove the plastic wrap from the sushi slices and place them on a serving plate.

Top the sushi with tobiko, spicy mayo and black sesame seeds. Drizzle some unagi sauce on the plate to serve the sushi with. Your ebi tempura roll is ready to serve en masse.

Devour!

Conclusion

Inside out sushi roll with rich stuffing and a juicy avocado topping, what a treat to instantly make your day! The dragon roll, besides its cultural and culinary significance, immediately makes anyone fall for it due to the epic combination of sushi rice, nori, tobiko, unagi, and shrimp tempura.

To spice things up, seasoned mayo is the perfect drizzle-over topping. I bet you’ve never tried this super-rich sushi roll in all your life! There is a reason it is known as the dragon roll, and now you know why!

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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