This recipe is inspired by the crispy rice and spicy tuna dish at the famed modern Japanese restaurant, Nobu. This dish was created by Chef Nobu Matsuhisa in the 90’s and has been recreated in so many different ways at numerous chefs at restaurants around the globe. Some serve the appetizer simply – by piping the spicy tuna mixture over rectangles of fried crispy rice while others take it to the next level by pairing it with shiitake and truffle (like at Sushi on Jones in the West Village of Manhattan).
I love how savory the crispy rice bites are with the eel sauce and the avocado to make it just a little creamy while the butter lettuce gives it a little extra fresh note and crunch. By creating it at home I don’t have as much of a limit to how many I will eat! It’s a fairly easy recipe and makes for a fun date night recipe.
Short-grain Japanese sushi rice is used to make this recipe. The consistency and flavor are very different than long-grain rice and in this recipe long-grain rice won’t stick together enough to fry the pieces as the base. I season the rice with mirin for extra flavor though this step can be skipped.
When eating raw fish it is so important to buy sushi grade and to make note of how long the store or fishmonger has had it. I buy the sushi-grade ahi tuna from my local seafood market the day of, or day before, making dinner as fresh as possible. Since you don’t need the highest quality of tuna since it will be ground up or finely chopped so if you can find it, pre-ground tuna is a great option. It’s often much less expensive. It can often be found pre-packed and frozen at grocery stores. Simply thaw before using in this recipe.
Kewpie is a type of Japanese mayonnaise that has added seasoning. If you cannot find Kewpie mayo then substitute regular mayonnaise with a ½ teaspoon of mirin. Specialty Japanese ingredients can be found at an Asian market, some gourmet markets or online.
In this recipe I use both the white, more pungent bottom parts of the stalk as well as the more mild green tops. Fun fact: green onion is the same thing as scallions. It just depends on what the area you’re in calls it.
The chili sauce is used to add the spice to the spicy tuna. I either use sambal, a chili garlic sauce that is a bit chunkier with more of a garlic flavor or sriracha.
Adding toasted sesame oil gives the spicy tuna a hint of nutty sesame flavor.
Vegetable oil is a neutral oil meaning it doesn’t have it’s own flavor. As a result it doesn’t overpower the other flavors in this dish. It also has a higher smoking point than olive oil making it ideal for frying.
While not always a typical accompaniment to classic crispy rice with spicy tuna I love the texture it adds. It has delicate, sweet and almost velvety leaves. It’s typically found in whole heads – simply peel the leaves away and use as lettuce cups to hold the crispy rice.
When shopping for avocados, look for ones that are firm but “give” slightly when gently squeezed in your hand. You can also remove the top stem, though I prefer to call it a nub, at the top of the avocado – if you remove it and it is green, it’s most likely ready to eat. If it’s brown then it’s probably overripe.
Thin slices of jalapeño add just a bit more spice to this crispy rice spicy tuna recipe though it can be omitted for those who don’t like spicy foods. I recommend removing the seeds from the jalapeño slices prior to serving – it won’t be as spicy. Serrano can also be used in this recipe.
The dark brown, syrupy sauce isn’t actually made with eel. It’s called that since it’s typically brushed or drizzled over pieces of barbecued eel sushi. Most are made from equal parts soy sauce, mirin and graulated sugar.
All you celiacs out there can easily make this dish gluten free. Rice is naturally gluten free just make sure there is no cross-contamination in the oil when frying. Check the label of the mirin if using because some can be made with wheat. Also substitute the eel sauce for a gluten free Tamari or liquid aminos. I like to add the butter lettuce as a cup around the rice like it’s served at Nobu.
Make sure the rice is packed tightly into patties so it does not fall apart when it is fried. It helps to use a piece of cling wrap to mold it into a ball.
Once the rice is cooked you can shape it by hand or line a quarter sheet pan or 9×9″ cake pan with plastic wrap and evenly spread the rice, pressing it down gently so that it packed down. Let the rice cool completely like this then use a knife to cut it into even rectangles. This method makes it easier to shape into equal parts.
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