Stop dissing Spam!

by Paul Michael on 24 April 2008 26 comments
Photo: Cursedthing

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.

Spam2
Hawaii's Spam Cookbook
 

Spam3
Hawaii's 2nd Spam Cookbook

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).

 

musubi

Spam Musubi

  • 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

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.

 

bake

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. 

Additional photo credit: All Recipes
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Myscha Theriault's picture

This is hilarious. I clicked through to say if you think everyone hates it you should go to Guam, and here you had already been there! I spent several years on that island and cried when I left. Some of the best years of my life, really.

Shirley's breakfast rice? Man, I was there every freaking Saturday I could go, and a few of the "school's cancelled earthquake / typhoon days" as well. I do my own knock-off version with leftover ham, but really I miss the Shirley's version after a Saturday morning hike to Talofofo Falls.

You must have been on that one, right?

Paul Michael's picture

I did the complete Guam tour in my two weeks. It was amazing to see just how beautiful a paradise Guam is, despite the damage from the typhoons. We went to family beach one day, the water was warm and crystal clear, there were no waves, we barbecued (everyone on Guam does that almost daily). Great times.

Xin Lu's picture
Xin Lu

SPAM is pretty expensive in Hawaii because it's so popular.  It's like nearly $5 a can.  When I got to California I saw that SPAM was selling for under $2 and I was like wtf??

Guest's picture
mls

As a life-long fan of Spam as well as a native Minnesotan, I loved your post but take umbrage at your naming Hawai'i as the home of Spam. Spam originated in good old Austin, Minnesota, home of Hormel Foods. While we're justly proud of Sven & Ole jokes, lutefisk, and winters that rival Antarctica, Spam is one of those things that transcends our state and enhances our international reputation as a place of high culture and outstanding cuisine. Next time, make sure you give credit where credit it due. BTW, visit www.spam.com for some great Spam fun, including a Monty Python Spamalot game!

Guest's picture
Kate

I haven't eaten spam for years, but all i can remember of it is the fatty slimy texture it had. Also the smell, a little similar to my cats cat food. Having said all that if thats what you like then thats ok but i wouldn't recommend that it is eaten too often, not with all that fat in it.

Guest's picture
Guest

Try it. Its cheap. It comes in turkey, bacon and some other one I can't remember. Makes a good sandwich. And it's not fatty or slimey any more. I haven't tried the regular flavor yet. Good cheap protein. Buy before everyone reads this, and then the price goes up

Myscha Theriault's picture

It isn't exactly lean, is it? When on Guam, I was amazed how many people served it for breakfast with rice and eggs. It's a little fatty for me personally to eat that way. One of the reasons I like to do it with leftover ham, actually.

However, if you ever get a chance to go to Guam and hit Shirley's for the authentic breakfast rice . . . do it! Honestly, it will rock your world.  Of course, you must be comfortable with finadene and Tobasco to do it in true Chamoru fashion. Worth it, none the less.

Paul - I think I did hit family beach as well a few times. Did you take the kids on the hike to Shark's Hole and Lost Pond? Pretty slamming family day trip, if I do say so myself . . .

Guest's picture
Dave

I used to eat spam musubi at the sushi place in Mililani. mmmmm

Guest's picture
Zannie

If all the cans of Spam ever eaten were put end-to-end, they would circle the globe at least ten times.

I wonder where all those cans are now. Hopefully they're getting recycled.

Guest's picture
Lisa

I also love Spam, though I haven't had it in years. It brings back childhood memories - and yes, I think it tastes great. I don't think I'll be trying the Spam Musubi, though... ;)

Guest's picture
Lucille

Spam must be said with the midwest accent of the female officer from the movie "Fargo" to get the full effect. Yes, I grew up in MN.

My dad used to fry up spam for breakfast on weekends. He said it was in their sea ration cans during WWII. I used to eat it as a kid but couldn't quite stomach it the last time I tried to eat it. Turkey spam actually sounds possibly ok though.

Guest's picture
Richard

Great article!

I also like the spam I get via email.

Most of it is hilarious:

...Yes, in fact I DO want to refinance my home, lose weight, look at pron, buy cheap cigarettes, file bankruptcy, & win big at the casino...how do they know all this...?

(Cool blog btw, 1st time I've been here.)

:)

Rich

Guest's picture
LizLovely

Amen! I love Spam.

Guest's picture
Kitty

A great American invention. I've always loved it, but now that I'm almost a Senior Citizen, they came out with a reduced salt version for me. I like it better than the original. I made chili with it last week and it was delicious.

Kitty

Guest's picture
Dave

Spam diced small on top of a green salad.
Fried Spam Sandwich.
Love it, Dave

Guest's picture
Guest

Amazing but true, Dollar Stores had it for 99 cents a can... expiry date 2010. Who knew? So everyone we know is using expensive gas to go buy bags of rice and dehydrated food cause they finally believe the economy is in trouble, and my husband and I are pulling our little grocery cart home with $20 worth of Spam every payday :) Hey, it's protein, and much tastier than some of the alternative meat sources in the survival books, too. Crockpot Spam and beans, it's what's for dinner.

Guest's picture
tbone

um... quick and cheap korean kimchi soup...

put some kimchi in a pot
you can add onions too
add spam (cut any way you like, bite size is good)
fill with water to cover
boil the crap out of it.
eat with rice.

enjoy

optional, rice cakes, ramen noodles, glass noodles, other meats

Paul Michael's picture

Maybe I should start a Spam support group. By the way, there is Spam Lite out there, which has 30$ less fat I believe. But that's a bit like light whipped cream or choccy cake...not the same on a taste level. Oh, and Spicy Spam rocks!

Guest's picture
minnemom

I humored my family by taking them to the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. Until then, I'd never eaten Spam, but I tasted the free samples they had at the museum and now I can tolerate the stuff. I was amazed at all the different types of Spam there are.

If you're heading across I-90 in Minnesota, stop in at the Spam Museum. It's a pretty cool place, and it's free. How's that for being frugal?

Guest's picture

I grew up eating SPAM so I loved this post! But even I didn't realize that SPAM has so few ingredients - no wonder I love SPAM and hate hot dogs. My favorite way to eat it is as you described, with rice and eggs. It's also delicious in ramen or udon (add some julienned veggies, shredded cabbage and/or chopped spinach for a complete, well-rounded meal).

Guest's picture
Audrey

for giving SPAM a bad rep...

*tsk, tsk*

sp4m 43v4

Guest's picture
Guest

Is spam really a good friend of the frugal chef? I love spam, don't get me wrong, but I just don't find it cheap, especially for what it is.

Guest's picture
Meg

I am sorry, but ew! I am all about frugal eating, but I cannot stomach the idea of spam. Or the smell of it. And it is SO not good for you in ANY way. It's a can of meat fat, sugar, salt, and preservatives! Cans of tuna are cheap too, and much better for you in general.

Guest's picture
Ginny

I grew up eating Spam too; and fried bologna when I visited my grandmother. Liked both of them, although I'm not sure I'd still go for the bologna. We had a lot of baked Spam with pineapple as well as fried Spam. And nobody was fat back then, nobody--look at the black and white news from the era. My grandmother lived to be 96, both my parents into their 80's and they both smoked. Maybe it was the Spam that preserved them.
Think I'll go out tomorrow and look for some at the Dollar Store. Good post--thanks for putting yourself out there.

Guest's picture
Guest

But Tofu is cheaper, at least where I live, and has no fat and can be flavored in a thousands ways in a thousand recipes. But if one must have meat why not buy a solid piece of roast beef even if it is more expensive, just eat less of it. Go for quality in your diet, not quantity.

Guest's picture
jeff

for all the people who like to diss spam: consider what goes into hot dogs. the very thought of hot dogs is unsettling. i'd go for spam any day over a hot dog. and for the one who mentioned tuna, look into its mercury content and what mercury does to your brain. fish as brain food? only if you like holes in your head. spam spam eggs and spam...