Stop dissing Spam!
Is it me, or are most people a bunch of Spam snobs? I admit it’s not filet mignon or a piece of finely seared Ahi Tuna, but come on people! It’s not that bad. In fact, I love it, and a lot of my friends and family do, too. It’s a great friend to the frugal chef, and if I can do anything today, it’s to convince Spam skeptics to change their ways (vegetarians excepted…maybe).
Two of my fondest memories are of Spam. One goes way back to childhood. We grew up very poor at times, especially when my dad was unemployed for two years. Fried Spam with mashed potato was a highlight of my week. I loved slicing it into small, even squares and layering on big, creamy globs of mash.
I never thought I’d find an equal Spam moment, but a few years ago it happened. I went on vacation to Guam, where my wife and her folks are from. And Spam is a big deal there. Christmas morning we went to a great little place called Shirley’s for breakfast and I ordered a big ol’ plate of fried rice, Portuguese sausage, eggs and Spam. It was fantastic. I asked for a plate of extra Spam and was thoroughly content before we’d opened any presents
For those of you who think Spam is mystery meat, let me point out that it’s really no different than your average hot dog or slice of bologna. In fact, it's a little better quality than that. Here are the ingredients, and it’s a small list…
- Chopped pork shoulder meat with ham meat added.
- Salt (for binding, flavor, and firmness)
- Water (to help in mixing)
- Sugar (for flavor)
- Sodium Nitrite (for color and as a preservative)
That’s pretty much it. Now consider that a hot dog is made up of Mechanically Separated Meat (another way of saying all the tiny bits of meat and fat stuck to the bones) and Spam seems like a piece of Prime Rib.
Spam is also nice and cheap, around $2.20 per can at my supermarket (and even cheaper when you buy in bulk). A can of Spam will feed 2-4 people depending on the side dish, and is seriously tasty. Stop raising your eyebrows...it is. It’s way superior to fried bologna in my humble opinion.
Ah, but what else can you do with it? Well, there are dozens of cookbooks out there devoted to Spam, but my favorite two come from the home of the humble meat, Hawaii. You can find them both on Amazon for a silly price.
I’ve included some great Spam recipes below (including the simple and delicious Spam Musubi) but before we get to those, a few Spam facts:
- SPAM is sold in over 99% of U.S. grocery stores.
- Over 60 million people in the U.S. alone eat SPAM.
- Over 141 million cans of SPAM are sold worldwide each year.
- By World War II, Hormel had sold twenty thousand tons of Spam. Then, during the wartime meat rationing, Spam got popular...
- If all the cans of Spam ever eaten were put end-to-end, they would circle the globe at least ten times.
- In the U.S. alone, 3.8 cans of Spam "are consumed every second"(assuming SPAM is eaten 24 hours a day, 365.25 days a year).
- Residents of Hawaii eat an average of four cans of SPAM per person per year, more than in any other place on Earth. Seems like a low number to me.
- By 1959, a billion cans of SPAM had been sold. The two billion mark was hit in 1970, followed by three billion in 1980, four billion in 1986, and five billion in 1993.
- In Korea, SPAM is sold in stylish presentation gift boxes of nine cans each. SPAM stolen from army PXs can be found on the Korean black market. And there are Korean imitations called Lo-Spam, Dak, Plumrose, and Tulip, to ensure that no one need go without.
- Nikita Krushchev once credited SPAM with the survival of the WWII Russian army. ''Without SPAM, we wouldn't have been able to feed our army,'' he said.
- The SPAM luncheon meat trademark is registered in 93 countries.
- SPAM is made in two U.S. locations - Austin, Minnesota, and Fremont, Nebraska - and seven other countries: England, Australia, Denmark, Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.
- In 1989, the U.S. armed forces bought 3.3 million pounds of SPAM.
Now, if 99% of all U.S. grocery stores carry Spam, and yet everyone I talk to won’t touch the stuff, I’m led to three conclusions; first, grocery stores are involved in some major conspiracy with Hormel; second, there’s a lot of Spam being eaten by a tiny minority of people; third, people do eat Spam and just don’t like to admit it.
But hey, who am I to throw aspersions out there? I’ll leave you with some of my favorite Spam recipes, they’re all really simple and take no time. Please, give Spam a chance (as John Lennon almost said).
- 2 cups uncooked short-grain white rice
- 2 cups water
- 6 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup oyster sauce
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1 (12 ounce) container fully cooked Spam
- 5 sheets sushi nori (dry seaweed)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1. Soak uncooked rice for 4 hours; drain and rinse.
2. In a saucepan bring 2 cups water to a boil. Add rice and stir. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir in rice vinegar, and set aside to cool.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar until sugar is completely dissolved. Slice Spam lengthwise into 10 slices, or to desired thickness, and marinate in sauce for 5 minutes.
4. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Cook slices for 2 minutes per side, or until lightly browned. Cut nori sheets in half and lay on a flat work surface. Place a rice press in the center of the sheet, and press rice tightly inside. Top with a slice of Spam and remove press. Wrap nori around rice mold, sealing edges with a small amount of water. (Rice may also be formed by hand in the shape of the meat slices, 1 inch thick.) Musubi may be served warm or chilled.
SPAM Fried Rice
- 2 cups leftover rice
- 1-1/2 cups SPAM, cut into small pieces
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 3 green onions, thinly sliced
- Sesame Oil
1: Heat a small amount of sesame oil into a skillet and brown spam pieces on all sides.
2: Mix in the rice.
3: Mix the egg with the soy sauce and stir into the hot rice and spam.
4: Stir gently until the egg is cooked.
5: Sprinkle green onions on top and serve.
WWII Spam & Egg Sandwich
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
- 1 slice fully cooked Spam
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 slices bread
- 1 slice American cheese
- 1 slice tomato (optional)
1. Melt butter in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion in butter until soft. Mash up the slice of Spam with a fork, and add it to the skillet. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes, until browned. Pour the egg into the skillet so that it covers all of the meat and onion. Cook until firm, then flip to brown the other side.
2. Place the egg and meat onto one slice of the bread and top with cheese and tomato if desired. Place the other piece of bread on top. Bread can also be toasted first.
Spam & Cheese Bake
- 1 (12 ounce) container fully cooked Spam, chopped
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 20 soda crackers, crushed
- 2 cups milk
- 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
2. In a 9x13 inch baking dish combine the meat, eggs, cracker crumbs, milk and 3/4 cup of the cheese. Mix well. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup cheese on top.
3. Bake uncovered in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Let cool and serve.
This post is dedicated to my wife, her family and all the other great people who made me feel so welcome on Guam. Thank you all.