For those of you out there who don’t enjoy spam, be it for dietary reasons or simply because you have trouble getting behind a can-shaped loaf of pork product, I have a real treat for you. In this recipe I replace the meat in a traditional spam musubi with crisp, fried tofu slices for a delicious vegan take on a classic Hawaiian snack.
I know that tofu has a lot of haters out there (more or fewer than spam do you think?), and I get it. When poorly prepared, tofu is awful. It is often wet, mushy, and flavorless. But, if you think that you don’t like tofu, this recipe might just be what changes your mind. The trick is to drain as much excess water as possible from the tofu and then dredge it in plenty of cornstarch before frying. The cornstarch creates the crunchiest, most delectable tofu, which is delicious by itself, but even better when tossed in a simple soy glaze. Set it on a ball of sushi rice and wrap it in nori and you’ve got something extra special.
1 lb. firm tofu
Nori (3-4 sheets)
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tsp rice vinegar
½ tsp sesame oil
⅛ tsp garlic powder
2 cups short or medium grain Japanese rice
2 cups water
½ cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
First you will make the sushi rice. Some folks make spam musubi with balls of normal, medium grain rice, but the delicate flavor of sushi rice is worth the extra effort.
On the stove, combine 2 cups of rice and 2 cups of water in a pot over medium-high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover as little as possible. If necessary, you may lift the lid briefly to peek or to let off a little bit of excess heat, but try to keep it covered the entire time, relying on sound to tell you how it is doing.
After the rice has simmered for 10 minutes, remove it from heat and allow it to steam for another 10 minutes. Do not uncover it during this time, the steaming is very important.
After 10 minutes have passed, your rice should be perfectly al dente. At this point, mix together the ½ cup rice vinegar, 1 tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Transfer the rice to a large bowl where you will have space to stir it. Pour the vinegar, sugar, and salt mixture over the hot rice and stir it well to combine. Allow to cool before handling.
Remove the tofu and place it on a wire rack over a bowl (or something similar) to allow it to drain. You can also gently squeeze it and pat with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Then slice it into 8 even pieces.
Bring a heavy skillet to high heat and add around ½” neutral, high-heat oil.
Dredge the tofu slices in a thick layer of cornstarch and add to the hot oil. Fry them, flipping once, until golden and crisp on both sides. Remove to a plate with a paper towel to soak up excess oil.
Once the tofu is fried, pour off the excess oil and use the same skillet to make your glaze. Add all of the glaze ingredients and heat over medium until the sugar is dissolved. Add the tofu back to the pan and coat nicely. Remove from heat.
To assemble the musubi, begin by laying down a 2-3” wide strip of nori and placing a slice of tofu in the center, perpendicular to the nori.
Wet your hands and pick up ¼-½ cup of the cooked sushi rice. Use your fingers to shape the ball of rice into a rectangle of similar size to the tofu.
Place the rice ball on top of the tofu and wrap the nori around it. Wet your fingers again and seal the nori to itself with a bit of water. Flip the musubi over and voila, there it is.
These make an excellent snack or appetizer, and two plus a salad makes a nice light dinner.