SPAMMED – the Food Kind!
If you grew up in Hawaii and you claim Spam has never touched your lips, you are: 1) a hermit 2) a protected child of food snobs or 3) telling a lie.
As everyone knows, Hawaii boasts the highest per capita consumption of Spam in the U.S. Spam meals and snacks are sold at local drive-ins, McDonald’s and even the 7-Eleven.
So tonight, when I attend the annual ancestral potluck of the San Francisco Chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, an august gathering of food influencers, guess what I’m taking to represent my heritage? Spam musubi!
“Musubi” is the Japanese word for rice balls, the ultimate portable food. Instead of sandwiches, our picnics in Hawaii consisted of dishes like hibachi-grilled teriyaki beef, along with rice, lightly salted, formed into balls and wrapped in nori (toasted seaweed sheets). Rice “balls” is a misnomer because they’re really triangular in shape; my mom used to say that ball-shaped rice was just for funerals.
So, if you take the concept of musubi, a hand-held, portable form of rice; merge it with the ubiquity of SPAM; and throw in some culinary creativity; you end up with the ultimate Hawaiian fusion snack: Spam musubi. As a true son of Hawaii, even President Obama has been seen enjoying this guilty pleasure during his Island vacations.
Spam’s History in Hawaii
Spam was introduced into Hawaii during World War II. According to Arnold Hiura, in his book Kau Kau, Cuisine and Culture of the Hawaiian Islands; (c.2009), Watermark Publishing, LLC., it became an instant hit because fresh protein was hard to come by due to food shortages, war rationing and fishing restrictions imposed under martial law. He further explains that the salty canned meat was welcomed by the plantation workers for their lunches because it kept better in the hot Hawaiian sun. Spam also was economical – it could be cut up and cooked with vegetables to stretch the meat to serve many.
It takes a lot of chutzpah to take Spam musubi to the gathering of food professionals tonight, when everyone will no doubt be bringing family heirloom recipes. But one thing I do know: my colleagues have a healthy respect for each other’s food cultures, so I don’t expect anyone will be denigrating or disrespecting my contribution. I don’t think you will, either.
So do eat like a Hawaiian local by trying this recipe. You may be pleasantly surprised.
Note: To make Spam musubi, you need an inexpensive plastic or Plexiglas press; in the shape of a slice of Spam.
To get the recipe and shopping list on your smartphone (iPhone, BlackBerry, Android device) or PC, click here.
1 can low-sodium Spam, sliced lengthwise in 8 slices
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
4 sheets nori (toasted seaweed sheets), cut in half lengthwise with kitchen shears
2-1/2 cups raw, short-grain rice, cooked and still hot
- In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, fry Spam slices on one side until they just begin to brown. While the Spam is cooking, in a small bowl, combine sugar and soy sauce.
- Turn Spam slices and sprinkle with the soy sauce mixture. Using tongs or cooking chopsticks, keep turning the Spam slices so they are coated on both sides with the soy sauce mixture as they cook. Cook until most of the liquid is gone and the Spam slices are slightly caramelized; remove immediately to a plate. Watch carefully because the sugar will burn.
- On work surface, lay down one of the half sheets of nori horizontally. Put the base of the musubi press crosswise, in the center of the nori. Lay down a slice of Spam into the press and fill loosely with hot rice in an even layer. Put the top of the press on the rice and gently but firmly press down on the rice to compact, while lifting the rest of the press up to free the musubi.
- Wrap each end of the nori to the center to make a nori-encased block of rice and flip the block upside down; the moisture from the hot rice will seal the nori in place.
- Repeat with remaining nori, Spam and rice.
- Using a sharp knife, slice musubi in half on the diagonal and serve.
Makes 8 Spam musubi.
Note: the measurement for the rice is in standard cup measurement; not the smaller, rice cooker cup.
Tip: If musubi needs to sit for a few hours, wrap each whole musubi in waxed paper to keep rice from drying out and slice just before serving.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the rice water when cooking to flavor the rice, if desired.
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