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the very hungry caterpillar (sushi roll burger)

Recipe: caterpillar sushi roll burger

The two week pine tree orgy is over and the pine pollen no longer rains down on you when the wind blows around here. That stuff does a number on my respiratory system such that all workouts have been indoors. I dare say I think it’s safe to venture out into the hills again. Our yard grows wild, literally. We have no lawn, just weeds and native grasses. But those “weeds” have begun sprouting the colors of summer. I love it.


indian paintbrush and yarrow

arnica and baby aspens



Everyone is doing their thing in summer, because it’s summer! Even the bugs. On a hike in Crested Butte a few weeks ago, we paused to observe some caterpillars in a nest. As we continued around the lake, the caterpillars still on my mind, my thoughts turned to caterpillar rolls in sushi bars. Of course, right? I’ve played around with the burgerfication of various favorite dishes, especially sushi rolls. And I even made a caterpillar sushi roll burger over a year ago, I just didn’t like it. So I shelved the photos and recipe – until I saw those caterpillars. What I realized was that the bun I used ruined the entire dish for me (us). It was the first (and last) time I ever tried Rudi’s. The bread was dry, crumbly, bland, and basically disintegrated after the first bite. I was so disappointed.

beef patties, buns, eel (unagi), nori (seaweed), lettuce, avocado, tomato, unagi sauce



I’m looking for a certain texture and flavor in my burger buns. I like the bread to be slightly sweet, soft and tender, structurally competent, buttery if possible, and fluffy. Walking through our mountain town grocery store, I spotted some barbecue buns (intended for pulled pork). They fit the bill.

cut the unagi

prep the fixings



The two key ingredients in a caterpillar roll are the eel (unagi – freshwater or anago – salt water) and avocado… and the unagi sauce. Okay, three ingredients. I added nori (seaweed) and then the standard burger, tomatoes, and lettuce. You could add tobiko (flying fish roe) or masago (capelin roe), gari (Japanese pickled ginger), tamago (Japanese omelette), and other goodies you may fancy. It’s your burger. If you’re wondering where you can find unagi and its corresponding sauce, go to an Asian grocery store. The eel is usually in the frozen section (sometimes in the refrigerated section if you’re at a large store that carries more fresh items). The sauce could be anywhere, so good luck with that. Actually, try asking someone before you give up.

grilled beef patties

layer the tomatoes, then the lettuce

set the patty on top



As with all of these sushi burgers, they stack high. This is why the structural integrity of the bun is so important – because you’re going to squash this sucker so that it fits just enough into your pie hole to take a bite. If the bun fails, your meal will wind up in your lap.

set a few slices of avocado and then a piece of unagi

sprinkle nori strips and drizzle unagi sauce



The second time around, with the bbq buns, the burgers were infinitely better. Everything was the same except for the bread. It really makes all the difference. How do the caterpillar sushi roll burgers compare to the others? I like them a lot, but I think the California roll burger is still hands down the champion of my taste buds. Just for kicks, I made some sliders too, which were equally awesome but freakishly tall for such a tiny burger. As long as it fits in your mouth, you’re good to go!

we enjoyed the caterpillar sushi roll burger with a ginger-carrot dressing salad

little caterpillar sushi roll sliders



Caterpillar Sushi Roll Burger
[print recipe]
inspired by 26 Beach

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 tsp fish sauce (don’t omit this!)
salt and pepper to taste
4 burger buns
2 tomatoes, sliced
4-8 leaves of lettuce, washed
1 avocado, sliced
1 filet of unagi (Japanese barbecued freshwater eel)
nori (roasted seaweed) strips (I like the seasoned kind)
unagi sauce

Mix the ground beef, fish sauce, salt and pepper in a bowl. Form the ground beef into four regular patties or as many slider patties as you can make, taking care not to pack them too tightly. Grill the patties on high heat to desired doneness, flipping once. Remove the burgers when ready and layer on the bottom bun: lettuce, tomato, burger, avocado, unagi, nori strips, and unagi (eel) sauce. Top the burger with the bun. Makes 4 large burgers and up to 10 sliders.


more goodness from the use real butter archives

california roll burger

spicy tuna roll burger mushu pork burger korean bbq-style burgers

16 nibbles at “the very hungry caterpillar (sushi roll burger)”

  1. Marisa @ Uproot from Oregon says:

    These are gorgeous and look delicious! I definitely love your burgerification series- but I agree that the california roll burger will always be my favorite. Now I’m craving it!

  2. Eva @ Eva Bakes says:

    I love unagi, and it brings back some good memories. I never thought about putting it on a burger before. Must try this!

  3. Kathya says:

    Wow, a combination I would have never thought about. Unagi!! ♥

  4. Vicky says:

    My husband loves unagi… This looks amazing!!!!

  5. Abbe@This is How I Cook says:

    Totally agree with you on the Rudi’s thing. As usual this looks like a great combo but my definite fave was the California Roll burger. Love your flowers!

  6. ro says:

    TOTALLY with you on the Rudi’s breads. Their buns are seriously disgusting, which is such a disappointment. =/

    I’m making your peanut butter pumpkin dog treats for my burqueno pooch this weekend…I love your blog, particularly the frequent shoutouts to ABQ/green chile! Greetings from down south, and thanks for the recipes and gorgeous photography. =)

  7. Kim - Liv Life says:

    I just saw your photo on Foodgawker and wanted to say that it’s a stunning, awesome photo!! I’m not really a burger girl, but your photo made me want one. Beautiful!!!

  8. Sheila says:

    How were you able to perfect round slices of avocado?

  9. Maho says:

    Sheila, I was curious too, and found a tutorial in her last year’s post.
    Brilliant! Can’t wait to try it in my next sandwhich.
    http://userealbutter.com/2012/03/22/how-to-slice-avocado/

  10. Sheila says:

    Maho – Thank you!!!

  11. Victoria says:

    You described the bun situation perfectly. Armed with your description I’m on the search for the perfect bun. On another note, how do you cut your avocado? It’s not only gorgeous, but practical for placing on a burger.

  12. Hilary says:

    Looks delicious! Super creative idea, I would have never thought of that!
    I love the spider roll! One of my favourites :)

  13. linda says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for your blog!!! I recently moved just above Boulder (but not as high as Ned). As a SoCal native, I’m having to re-learn how to bake & cook. It’s been an altitude & attitude adjustment! Your blog has inspired me to persevere…& to keep playing around w/my camera too.
    Where have you managed to locally source unagi? I’ve looked all over for it at Pacific Mercantile, POM and the Asian Seafood Market. I’ve resorted to having my mom mail it to me from CA.

  14. Kisa says:

    Is anyone else pointing at their head and saying “ahhh, salmon skin roll” right about now?

    Just me?

  15. Victoria says:

    For the perfect burger bun check out Smitten Kitchen’s Light Brioche Burger Bun – it’s super easy and absolute perfection. Warning you’ll never want to eat store bought again!

  16. jenyu says:

    Marisa – dang, now I’m craving it too!

    Eva – It’s pretty good :)

    Kathya – mmmm, unagi…

    Vicky – thanks!

    Abbe – Whew! I’m glad it’s not just me being picky. I thought their buns were awful. California roll burger is a total winner, hands down.

    ro – thank you!

    Kim – thanks!

    Sheila – looks like Maho found it before I could answer!

    Maho – thanks!

    Victoria – Maho listed the link, but here it is again: http://userealbutter.com/2012/03/22/how-to-slice-avocado/

    Hilary – oh yeah, totally in love with spider rolls. Sourcing soft-shell crab is another matter entirely.

    linda – you can find unagi at the Asian Seafood Market in Boulder on 28th, just south of Valmont, or try the Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield. Look in the frozen sections.

    Kisa – ;)

    Victoria – ah, thanks. We can always count on Deb for the awesome!

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