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Caterpillar Roll Recipe

Catepillar Roll Recipe with Step-by-Step Instructions
Caterpillar roll square thumbnail pic with a ramekin of soy sauce and chopsticks in the background

If you’re looking for a delicious roll that looks beautiful on a sushi platter, the caterpillar roll is for you! Its eel filling and avocado topping make this roll as delicious as it is beautiful. While it may look complicated to prepare, it’s not too difficult with a little practice.

Caterpillar roll sushi vertical shot arranged on a white sushi platter with chopsticks and unagi sauce in the background.

What are Caterpillar Rolls?

Caterpillar roll sushi horizontal pic on a white sushi plate with chopsticks and a ramekin of unagi sauce in the background.

A caterpillar roll looks very similar to a dragon roll in that it’s draped with avocado slices. However, while the dragon roll contains shrimp tempura, the caterpillar roll contains unagi, or freshwater Japanese eel. In fact, the caterpillar roll is essentially an unagi (eel) roll with a sliced avocado draped over the top to give it a fun “caterpillar like” appearance. This extra bit of avocado gives the roll a more rich taste as well.

I typically like to serve the caterpillar roll with a ramekin of unagi sauce.

Are Live Eel Used When Preparing Caterpillar Rolls?

If you visit a Japanese or Asian grocery store, you may see several tanks of various live eel. While starting with live eel and preparing your unagi from scratch is delicious, I almost always start with a frozen barbecued eel when preparing caterpillar rolls and other dishes that contain eel. Most sushi restaurants and homes in Japan also start with a frozen eel when preparing sushi that contains eel.

How to Control the Thickness of Your Sushi Rolls

You can control how thick your sushi rolls are by how much of the nori sheet you use.  I prefer to use an entire nori sheet for caterpillar rolls because the avocado that we drape over the top of the roll fits better over a larger roll.

If you like thinner rolls you can use 2/3 or 1/2 of the nori sheet. However, this would be more difficult to roll and the avocado that is draped over the top of the roll may not fit as well.

How to you Make Caterpillar Rolls

As far as sushi goes, the caterpillar roll is a little more challenging than some. However, don’t let this scare you off. Below we walk you through how to make this fun and delicious roll step-by-step.

1. Thaw the eel fillet by putting it in the fridge the night before you plan to use it.

Cook Sushi Rice

1. Rinse 1 2/3 cups of sushi rice by placing it in a colander and running water through it until the water is clear.

Rinse the sushi rice in water prior to cooking

2. After the rice is rinsed, add it to a sauce pan with 1 2/3 cups of water (I would check the instructions on the sushi rice package to see exactly how much water to add as it can vary depending on the brand).

Add sushi rice to a sauce pot with the amount of water as recommended on sushi rice package

3. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cover and let the rice simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the rice is soft.

Bring sushi rice to a boil and let simmer for approximately 20 minutes or until fully cooked.

4. Remove the rice and place into a bowl or dish and let cool. I would line the dish with parchment paper prior to adding the rice to avoid sticking.

Add sushi rice to a bowl or casserole dish lined with parchment paper. This prevents the rice from sticking to the bowl or dish.

5. Mix 1/4 cup of sushi vinegar into your rice. Stir until it has absorbed into the rice. Once cooled and fully absorbed, your rice is ready to roll!

Mix sushi vinegar into the sushi rice using a chopping motion until the vinegar until fully absorbed into sushi rice.

Prepare the Eel (Unagi) Sauce

1. Combine soy sauce, sugar, and mirin into a sauce pan and heat on medium heat. Mix together as the pan heats up until the mixture is combined.

Combine ingredients in a pot for unagi sauce

2. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer.

3. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Simmer unagi sauce

4. Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool. You will notice it thickening as it cools.

Prepare the Eel

1. Remove the thawed eel fillet from the package and place on a plate.

Remove thawed eel from the package and place on a plate.

2. Wipe the existing sauce from the eel with a paper towel or cloth. Many chefs don’t do this but I don’t love the sauce that comes on the eel. I instead prefer to add my own unagi sauce inside the sushi roll with the fillings and served with the finished caterpillar roll as a dipping sauce.

Wipe existing sauce off of the barbecue eel.  Many don't do this step but I prefer to use my homemade unagi sauce.

3. Once the sauce is removed, slice the eel in half down the center creating two long fillets.

Slice the eel down the center of the fillet.

4. Place half of the sushi at a 45 degree angle and cut into slices an inch or so wide and around 3 inches long. When cutting, tilt your knife at a 45 degree angle and straighten the knife when you hit the skin.

Slice the eel at a 45 degree angle into pieces that are one inch wide and three inches long.

5. Add the eel strips to a greased baking sheet with the skin side up and broil on high heat for six minutes. Place on the top rack so it’s around 9 inches from the heat.

Place eel slices skin side up on a greased baking sheet and broil for 6 minutes on high heat.

6. After broiling, quickly remove the eel from the baking sheet and place on a plate to be used in the sushi later.

Remove broiled eel from baking sheet.

Assemble the Caterpillar Rolls

1. Prepare your bamboo sushi mat: Cover your bamboo sushi mat with plastic wrap. This will help keep the rice from sticking to it.

2. Press rice onto nori sheets: Next, place the nori sheet onto the plastic wrap with the shiny side facing down. Then press around 1 cup of rice onto the nori sheet in an even layer. Tip: Wet your hands in a bowl of water mixed with a splash of rice vinegar prior to handling the sushi rice. This will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands.

Press rice onto the nori sheet for the caterpillar roll.

3. Cut the cucumber: Slice the cucumbers into strips that are as long as your nori sheet and about 1/8 inch thick.

4. Cut the avocado: Slice one avocado in half the long way. Remove the seed and cut each half into 6 slices. Each whole avocado should yield around 12 slices. I often cut the slices right out of the avocado half and add directly to the roll to ensure freshness. You can also drizzle a little lemon juice over your cut avocado to prevent it from browning in your roll.

5. Add the avocado and cucumber: Add the avocado slices and cucumber sticks horizontally along the nori sheet. In general, I add 2-4 avocado slices and 1-2 cucumber sticks depending on the size of each ingredient and how everything fits.

Add the avocado and cucumber to the caterpillar roll.

6. Add the eel: Add a single row of eel slices to the unagi roll. I usually add around four or five piece but how many depends on the size of each piece.

Add the eel to the caterpillar roll.

7. Drizzle the filling with unagi (eel) sauce: Drizzle a line of the unagi (eel) sauce over the eel pieces in the filling.

8. Roll the sushi: Use the bamboo sushi mat to fold your roll until it is completely enclosed. Once the rice is making contact with the nori sheet, pull back the sushi mat so it doesn’t get caught in the roll. Still using the sushi mat as your guide, finish rolling until the roll is completely wrapped. Then wrap the sushi mat around the roll and gently tighten the roll together. Keep in mind that rolling sushi is an art that may take some practice so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t look perfect your first time. It will get easier the more you do it. Tip: Check out the video for a demonstration on how to roll sushi.

Roll the caterpillar roll.

9. Cut the remaining avocados and place on top of the roll: The remaining two avocados need to be sliced thinly to be added to the top of each roll. To do this, cut in half the long way and remove the skin and seed. Then cut each half into thin slices going the short way of the avocado. Cut the slices as thin as you can or around 1-2 millimeters thick. Once cut, use your hand to gently push the avocados to the side so they fold over on top of each other. Then place all the slices of one half of the avocado onto the top of your roll. I would also drizzle lemon juice over the avocado after cutting to prevent it from browning on your sushi roll.

Slice the avocado to be placed over the top of the caterpillar roll.

10. Use the bamboo sushi mat to press the avocado slices onto the roll: Since the avocado slices have a tendency to come apart, I would suggest covering the roll in plastic wrap first. Then wrap the sushi mat around the roll and firmly press the mat onto the roll, forming the avocado slices to the top of the roll. Leave the plastic wrap on the roll for cutting.

Cover the sliced avocado that is draped over the top of the caterpillar roll with plastic wrap.  This makes the roll easier to cut and helps the avocado slices to stay on the roll.

11. Cut the roll: Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 8 pieces through the plastic wrap. I do this by first cutting the roll in half. Then cutting each half in half. Then cutting each fourth in half. This should give you 8 pieces that are equal size. Once done cutting, remove the plastic from each of the pieces. Tip: Be sure to clean and wet the edge of your knife before cutting each roll. This will prevent the roll from sticking to your knife.

Cut the avocado roll through the plastic.  The plastic wrapping can then be removed after cutting the roll.

12. Garnish with Sesame Seeds (optional): I like to sprinkle sesame seeds over the roll before serving. You can also drizzle unagi sauce over the roll as well.

13. Serve and enjoy: In addition to unagi (eel) sauce, you can also serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger.

Caterpillar Roll Recipe

Caterpillar roll square thumbnail pic with a ramekin of soy sauce and chopsticks in the background

Catepillar Roll Recipe

Catepillar Roll Recipe with Step-by-Step Instructions
5 from 2 votes
Print Pin
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Japanese
Keyword: Catepillar roll, Catepillar roll sushi
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4 Rolls
Calories: 691kcal

Equipment

  • 1 Bamboo Sushi Mat
  • 1 Pot for cooking sushi rice
  • 1 Pot for frying tempura batter
  • 1 Sharp knife and cutting board

Ingredients

Sushi Rice

  • 1 1/3 cups Sushi Rice dried, will cook to 4 cups
  • 1/4 cup Sushi Vinegar

Eel (Unagi) Sauce

  • 1/2 Cup Soy Sauce
  • 1/2 Cup Mirin
  • 1/2 Cup Sugar

Roll and Filling

  • 4 oz. Eel Fillet
  • 4 Nori Sheets
  • 3 Ripe Avocados
  • 1 English Cucumber Sliced into 1/8 sticks

Instructions

  • Thaw the eel fillet by putting it in the fridge the night before you plan to use it.

Cook Sushi Rice

  • Rinse 1 2/3 cups of sushi rice by placing it in a colander and running water through it until the water is clear.
  • After the rice is rinsed, add it to a sauce pan with 1 2/3 cups of water (I would check the instructions on the sushi rice package to see exactly how much water to add as it can vary depending on the brand).
  • Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to low. Cover and let the rice simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the rice is soft.
  • Remove the rice and place into a bowl or dish and let cool. I would line the dish with parchment paper prior to adding the rice to avoid sticking.
  • Mix 1/4 cup of sushi vinegar into your rice. Stir until it has absorbed into the rice. Once cooled and fully absorbed, your rice is ready to roll!

Prepare the Eel (Unagi) Sauce

  • Combine soy sauce, sugar, and mirin into a sauce pan and heat on medium heat. Mix together as the pan heats up until the mixture is combined.
  • Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to simmer.
  • Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  • Turn off the heat and let the sauce cool. You will notice it thickening as it cools.

Prepare the Eel

  • Remove the thawed eel fillet from the package and place it on a plate.
  • Wipe the existing sauce from the eel with a paper towel or cloth. Many chefs don't do this but I don't love the sauce that comes on the eel. I instead prefer to add my own unagi sauce both inside the sushi roll with the fillings and as a dipping sauce served with the finished roll.
  • Once the sauce is removed, slice the eel in half down the center creating two long fillets.
  • Place half of the sushi at a 45 degree angle and cut into slices an inch or so wide and around 3 inches long. When cutting, tilt your knife at a 45 degree angle and straighten the knife when you hit the skin.
  • Add the eel strips to a greased baking sheet with the skin side up and broil on high heat for six minutes. Place on top rack so it's around 9 inches from the heat.
  • After broiling, quickly remove the eel from the baking sheet and place on a plate to be used in the sushi later.

Assemble the Caterpillar Rolls

  • Prepare your bamboo sushi mat: Cover your bamboo sushi mat with plastic wrap. This will help keep the rice from sticking to it.
  • Press rice onto nori sheets: Next, place the nori sheet onto the plastic wrap with the shiny side facing down. Then press around 1 cup of rice onto the nori sheet in an even layer. Tip: Wet your hands in a bowl of water mixed with a splash of rice vinegar prior to handling the sushi rice. This will prevent the rice from sticking to your hands.
  • Cut the cucumber: Slice the cucumbers into strips that are as long as your nori sheet and about 1/8 inch thick.
  • Cut the avocado: Slice one avocado in half the long way. Remove the seed and cut each half into 6 slices. Each whole avocado should yield around 12 slices.
    I often cut the slices right out of the avocado half and add directly to the roll to ensure freshness. You can also drizzle a little lemon juice over your cut avocado to prevent it from browning in your roll.
  • Add the avocado and cucumber: Add the avocado slices and cucumber sticks horizontally along the nori sheet. In general, I add 2-4 avocado slices and 1-2 cucumber sticks depending on the size of each ingredient and how everything fits.
  • Add the eel: Add a single row of eel slices to the unagi roll. I usually add around three or four pieces but how many depends on the size of each piece.
  • Drizzle the filling with unagi (eel) sauce: Drizzle a line of the unagi (eel) sauce over the eel pieces in the filling.
  • Roll the sushi: Use the bamboo sushi mat to fold your roll until it is completely enclosed. Once the rice is making contact with the nori sheet, pull back the sushi mat so it doesn't get caught in the roll. Still using the sushi mat as your guide, finish rolling until the roll is completely wrapped. Then wrap the sushi mat around the roll and gently tighten the roll together.
    Keep in mind that rolling sushi is an art that may take some practice so don’t get frustrated if it doesn’t look perfect your first time. It will get easier the more you do it.
    Tip: Check out the video for a demonstration on how to roll sushi.
  • Cut the remaining avocados and place on top of the roll: The remaining 2 avocados need to be sliced thinly to be added to the top of each roll. To do this, cut in half the long way and remove the skin and seed. Then cut each half into thin slices going the short way of the avocado. Cut the slices as thin as you can or around 1-2 millimeters thick. Once cut, use your hand to gently push the avocados to the side so they fold over on top of each other. Then place all the slices of one half of the avocado on top of your roll. I would also drizzle lemon juice over the avocado after cutting to prevent it from browning on your sushi roll.
  • Use the bamboo sushi mat to press the avocado slices onto the roll: Since the avocado slices have a tendency to come apart, I would suggest covering the roll in plastic wrap first. Then wrap the sushi mat around the roll and firmly press the mat onto the roll, forming the avocado slices to the top of the roll. Leave the plastic wrap on the roll for cutting.
  • Cut the roll: Using a sharp knife, cut the roll into 8 pieces through the plastic wrap. I do this by first cutting the roll in half. Then cutting each half in half. Then cutting each fourth in half. This should give you 8 pieces that are equal size. Once done cutting, remove the plastic from each of the pieces. Tip: Be sure to clean and wet the edge of your knife before cutting each roll. This will prevent the roll from sticking to your knife.
  • Garnish with Sesame Seeds (optional): I like to sprinkle sesame seeds over the roll before serving. You can also drizzle unagi sauce over the roll as well.
  • Serve and enjoy: In addition to unagi (eel) sauce, you can also serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger.

Video

Notes

You can control how thick your sushi rolls are by how much of the nori sheet you use.  I prefer to use an entire nori sheet for caterpillar rolls because the avocado that we drape over the top of the roll fits better over a larger roll.
If you like thinner rolls you can use 2/3 or 1/2 of the nori sheet. However, this would be more difficult to roll and the avocado that is draped over the top of the roll may not fit as well.

Nutrition

Serving: 1Roll | Calories: 691kcal | Carbohydrates: 95g | Protein: 23g | Fat: 27g | Saturated Fat: 4.3g | Cholesterol: 90mg | Sodium: 1889mg | Potassium: 746mg | Fiber: 8.4g | Sugar: 22g | Calcium: 102mg | Iron: 2.2mg

Frequently Asked Questions

Are caterpillar rolls traditional Japanese sushi?

No, caterpillar rolls were invented in the US and are more popular in the West.

Are caterpillar rolls gluten-free?

Caterpillar rolls most likely will not be gluten-free as they contain eel, which has a soy sauce based marinade. In addition, unless you make your own unagi sauce (which I strongly recommend doing), it will also contain gluten unless specifically designated as gluten-free.

Are caterpillar rolls healthy?

Yes. Avocados, eel, and cucumber are all very healthy for you as they are packed with vitamins, fiber, and omega-3’s. I would just go easy on the unagi sauce as it’s more caloric with fewer nutritional benefits.

Final Thoughts on Caterpillar Rolls

Both fun and delicious, caterpillar rolls are a centerpiece roll for any sushi platter. Once you make them a few times, you will find that they look far more difficult to prepare than they actually are. I hope you enjoy preparing (and of course eating) this recipe! Happy cooking!

For more fun sushi recipes, check out the below articles:

Spider Roll Recipe

Salmon Nigiri Recipe

The 25 Best Cooked Sushi

Also, subscribe to our YouTube Channel for some great videos!

5 from 2 votes (1 rating without comment)

Robert Schaffart

Friday 14th of June 2024

This looks beautiful and tastes amazing!

Comments are closed.