I wouldn't necessarily call myself a Spam advocate, but the pre-cooked meat product holds a special place in my heart. Growing up, it was considered standard dinnertime (and sometimes, breakfast) fare, and my family probably consumed one or two cans a month. In the Philippines, Korea, and especially Hawaii, Spam has a storied culinary history that dates back to the 1890's and gains momentum during World War II. In South Korea, Spam is "more popular than Coca-Cola."
But ask a random American about their thoughts on Spam, and chances are, you'll be met with a series of noises that range from "ew" to "ugh." Aside from the general sinister reputation of canned meat, the main reason behind the disgust is the high number of preservatives and additives, particularly sodium nitrite, a common ingredient used in many dog foods. Eat Spam every day, and your body will probably physically revolt against you (but at the very least, you'll be immune to botulism).
That is, however, an extreme case. Treat Spam like, say, caviar or a fine Cuban cigar, and consume it sparingly, and you've got an interesting delicacy on your hands. So how do you reverse such a sordid reputation? I decided to start small and cook a Spam-themed dinner for three naysayers.
Curating the menu proved to be surprisingly easy. SPAM.com was a virtual treasure trove of Spam-centric recipes that covered everything from breakfast to dessert. The taste-logic behind some of the recipes was questionable, but I applauded their creativity. In the end, I decided on quiche, fried rice, sushi, and the obligatory bacon dish. It was a ragtag selection, but I wanted there to be variety. My dinner guests had wide, playful palates, so the Spam had to be equally multi-faceted.
I started with the quiche, as baking has always terrified me. The recipe, it turned out, was fairly simple. Execution was trickier. After I spooned the spinach, cheese, and Spam mixture into the biscuit dough waiting in a muffin pan, I threw it in the oven and forgot about it. When I returned, the mix had spilled over, dribbling onto the floor of the oven. It looked gnarly, but once I cut the quiche out of the pan, it seemed relatively presentable. The moral of the story: baking with Spam is messy.
This recipe called for Black Pepper Spam, which my local store did not carry. (The variety of Spam flavors is mind-boggling.) I improvised with Garlic Spam instead because that's the kind of quick-thinking that is required on Spam Night. This was an easy dish, and the final step of the recipe stated: "Enjoy with friends." I hoped I would still have some by the end of dinner.
I have never made sushi before, but I knew after sobbing through Jiro Dreams of Sushi , that it was supposed to be a transcendental experience. Sadly, this was not the case with Spam. Perhaps I didn't cook the rice correctly, but forming them into perfect sushi-shaped blocks proved to be a bitch. I used an empty Spam can in lieu of a bamboo rolling mat and ended up with rice on the floor, in my hair, and curiously enough, on the wall.
Cooking-with-Spam factoid: uncooked Spam has a Play-Doh-like consistency that makes chopping it up oddly therapeutic. I saved this dish for last since it seemed like the easiest. But once I turned on the oven, my apartment was consumed by black smoke. I opened all the windows and allowed the smoke to billow out, and to the outside world, it looked like I had failed to elect a new pope. It turned out the residual quiche goop was the culprit. An easy fix, but a foreboding beginning to Spam Night.
I immediately lost my first dinner guest when she took a look at the nutritional label on a discarded Spam can and decided to opt out of dinner. (Foolish me for not hiding them from her in the first place.) My other two guests knew what they were getting into. The bacon bites and fried rice were met with praise, while the quiche left much to be desired. Only one person dared to confront the musubi, but he said it was "smokey and not unpleasant," though the serving size was daunting.
At the end of the meal, I asked them if their opinions on Spam had changed at all. One said she would eat it again, possibly even without all the accoutrements. The other said he would think about it. I marked that down as two victories.
Credit: Flickr user Eddie Awad. Used with a Creative Commons license.