Crispy rice cakes topped with a dollop of spicy ahi tuna make a delicious, show stopping bite sized appetizer or snack. Perfect for impressing your guests at a dinner party!
Get ready to impress your family, friends and yourself with this fun appetizer. Little Japanese sushi rice squares pan fried to golden brown crispy perfection and then topped with creamy avocado, fresh tuna mixed with spicy mayo, a sprinkling of sesame seeds and a thin round of spicy pepper – these little perfect appetizer bites are a party of flavors and textures in your mouth!
This stunning snack looks so fancy, but it’s a lot easier to make than it looks. You may have seen versions of this appetizer on trendy restaurant menus like Nobu or going viral on Instagram on TikTok. These bad boys go for $20 a pop on the menu at Nobu!
The best part about making these at home – you don’t have to limit yourself to just a tiny piece – you can have them all if you want.
The ingredients for this recipe are pretty common and should be easy to find in most grocery stores.
- Sushi-grade ahi tuna – super fresh, sushi-grade tuna is a must! Some higher end grocery stores will have this at the fish counter. You can also easily find it at many Asian markets. If you’re unsure, ask the fish monger about the quality!
- Japanese short grain rice – or sushi rice.
- Kewpie mayo – smoother and richer than regular mayo with a much more eggy, umami flavor, this Japanese mayo is a must have ingredient!
- Sriracha – brings the heat that we all love in spicy tuna.
- Seasoned rice vinegar – there is a difference between seasoned and unseasoned rice vinegar. Seasoned has a touch of sugar to make it slightly sweet. If you only have unseasoned on hand, add a pinch of sugar to the vinegar for the sushi rice.
- Sesame Oil – adds a rich nutty flavor. A little bit goes a long way.
- Soy Sauce – adds umami flavor to the tuna mixture. For gluten free use Tamari or liquid aminos.
- Avocado – the creaminess of avocado on top of the crispy rice cake. Don’t skip it!
- Sesame seeds – garnish with sesame seeds to make them extra beautiful and another layer of flavor and texture.
- Serrano or jalapeño pepper – a thinly sliced pepper adds another spicy kick and lets your guests know they will get some heat. If you want a less spicy version, you can garnish with a few thin slices of green onion.
- Neutral oil – for frying. My go-to neutral oil is avocado oil. You can also use canola or vegetable oil. I do not recommend using olive oil.
Make the crispy rice
Make the rice ahead of time as it will need to chill in the fridge for a few hours before frying. I always use a rice cooker to make my life easy so I don’t have to babysit a pot on the stove.
In a medium bowl, use a rice paddle or spatula to gently mix together cooked sushi rice, rice vinegar and sesame oil. Try to avoid breaking up the rice grains as much as possible. Firmly press rice into an 8×8 square pan, lined with cling wrap, in an even layer. Cover tightly and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours. You can also do this the night before to save time. Chilling the rice is a super important step, do not skip it! The rice needs to chill and solidify so that it will stay together while frying.
When the rice is chilled, use the plastic wrap to gently lift it out of the baking dish and onto a cutting board. Use a sharp knife to cut the rice block into squares. You can also cut them into rectangular shapes or use a small cookie cutter to make rounds if you want. Sticky rice can be difficult to cut cleanly so wetting your knife in between cuts helps keep them clean.
Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add a few tablespoons of neutral oil. Make sure the oil is very hot before you pan fry the rice cakes, otherwise they may come out greasy. Use a fish spatula to carefully lower the rice cakes into the hot oil. I use a fork to gently guide the rice cakes into the pan off the spatula to minimize splatter. Pan fry the rice cakes for about 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown and crispy. Transfer them to a cooling rack to drain the excess oil. When pan frying, make sure you leave ample space between them or they will stick together.
Make the spicy tuna mixture
While the rice chilling, make the spicy mayo. Mix together Kewpie mayo, sriracha, sesame oil and soy sauce. Using a sharp knife, chop tuna into small cubes. You want the tuna to be cut into pretty small pieces so that it can be easily spooned onto the rice squares. Add tuna to spicy mayo and mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate until it’s time to assemble.
Once all of your rice cakes are fried and cooled, it’s time to assemble! Add some thinly sliced or mashed avocado on top of the crispy rice cake. Then spoon about a tablespoon of the spicy tuna mixture on top. Garnish with a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a thin slice of jalapeño or Serrano pepper and serve. Way easier than it looks!
Tips for recipe success
- Get the freshest sushi grade fish you can find. Always ask your fishmonger if you are unsure. Fresh sushi grade ahi tuna can be found at places like Whole Foods or other specialty markets.
- Do not use regular white rice. Sushi rice is stickier and that makes it easy to shape and fry. Any regular long grain rice would completely fall apart and we don’t want that.
- Use Kewpie mayo. You can use regular mayo but it won’t quite have that same spicy tuna sushi flavor that we all know and love. Just do it right and get some. It makes all the difference and it comes in a cute squeeze bottle!
- Do not skip chilling the rice! Also make sure to firmly pack the rice into the baking dish. This will help it stick together while pan frying.
- To save time, make the sushi rice and pack it into a baking dish ahead of time. You can also mix up the spicy mayo and chop the tuna ahead of time to make the assembly go faster before you want to serve.
- I doubt you will have any leftovers but if for some reason you do, store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a day. These little sushi bites are meant to be enjoyed fresh!
More Asian inspired dishes to try
- Japanese Eggplant and Oyster Mushroom Stir Fry
- Sheet Pan Teriyaki Salmon with Baby Bok Choy
- Tuna Poke Bowls
- Bang Bang Cauliflower
- Thai Crunch Salad
- Crispy, Sticky, Ginger Garlic Chicken Wings
Crispy Rice with Spicy Tuna
Crispy Rice Squares
Garnish for serving
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds
- ½ avocado
- 1 serrano or jalapeño pepper
Crispy Rice Squares
- Gently mix together cooked sushi rice, rice vinegar and sesame oil with a rice paddle or spatula. Firmly press the seasoned rice into a plastic wrap lined 8×8 baking dish in an even layer. Cover tightly and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Use the plastic wrap to lift the chilled rice out of the baking dish and onto a cutting board. Cut the rice slap into 16 even squares.
- Heat a large frying pan over medium heat and add neutral oil. When the oil is shimmering, carefully lower a few rice squares into the hot oil, using a fish spatula. Pan fry for 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown and crispy. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and drain excess oil. Work in batches and leave space between each square to prevent sticking.
- Chop tuna into small ⅛ inch cubes.
- In a medium bowl, mix together kewpie mayo, sriracha, soy sauce, sesame oil and rice vinegar. Add chopped tuna to mayo mixture and toss the thoroughly combine.
- Top each rice square with thinly sliced or mashed avocado. Top with about a tablespoon of spicy tuna mixture. Garnish with sesame seeds and a slice of Serrano pepper. Serve immediately.