I thought I’d have some fun today. With both my palate and my perceptions. Could I create something from nothing? Well what I mean to say is could I create something from a lot less than nothing? Could I make something creative and delicious using SPAM?
It’s easy to snub SPAM, but why would you after tasting these little sliders. Marinated in a spicy blend of sesame, soy and chilies, you might be reminded of the Hawaiian snack food masubi. But these little sandwiches are topped with a warm, oozing quail egg and a dollop of gingered mayonnaise– making them something else altogether.
SPAM is not something I buy everyday. Well in fact this is the first time I ever bought SPAM. Not that I haven’t eaten SPAM before. I have eaten and I recall liking it. Of course that may have been 30 or more years ago.
Well as soon as I had that block shaped blue can in my hands some repressed SPAM memories came flooding back. SPAM chunks in mac-n-cheese. That’s what I immediately thought of. Obviously I was served SPAM and blue box macaroni as a child.
But it was the sound that surprised me the most, ker-lunk-click. That’s the sound the top makes when you use your thumb and forefinger and pry open the special pull-tab top that defines SPAM packaging. The sound was one thing– metallic and false. I began to feel like I was making a mistake because the next sensory perception was aroma. I was beginning to worry that my experiment into SPAM would end badly.
Because the smell came barreling at me immediately, it took me by surprise. Smell is one of the most powerful triggers of memory and that’s scientific fact. And SPAM still smelled exactly the same. Suddenly I was seven years old and I was hungry.
Yes the smell is meaty; my well-tuned carnivore olfactory mechanisms were suddenly alerted. Still, it’s not the same meaty smell I attach to the meat I eat today. The aroma of SPAM is a bit more aggressive. It’s as if bits of pig had been stuffed in a can for too long…
Which is why I am surprised by what I did next. I touched the meat while it was still in the can. I rubbed my finger all over the top of the pinkish blob and then I licked my finger. Whatever else you want to say about SPAM, it is quite nicely seasoned. Not too salty, not too sweet– with a certain peppery bite. I wasn’t yet ready to say mmmm, but I did say hmmm.
I quit eating SPAM for a very specific reason and that reason is SPAM jelly. I recall one day, maybe the first time I ever actually opened a can of SPAM on my own, that SPAM was engulfed in a sick, meaty yellowish jelly. This jelly turned my stomach and I rejected SPAM from that day forward.
But modern SPAM is different. No jelly. Just meat. Firm, well seasoned meat.
Spam was conceived in 1937 in Minnesota when Jay Hormel knew he needed to do something with pork shoulder off-cuts leftover from making some of his other meat products. They tinkered with a recipe and came up with what is pretty close to what we call SPAM today. Next they needed to market their new product. So they had a naming contest. That’s right bloggers are not the first people in the world willing to take on the task of product marketing for free. Why should big business have all the fun?
The winner was Kenneth Daigneau, from New York; he ‘won’ the right to name the product. That’s pretty much all he won though. The real winner of course was Jay Hormel. The name SPAM is generally assumed to be an acronym for “spiced ham” which is a pretty straightforward concept. But there have been many suggestions of other acronyms, not all of them pretty: Something Posing As Meat, Spare Parts Animal Meat and others too rude to repeat.
A can of SPAM today contains pork, ham (technically the meat from the haunches of the pig), salt, water, potato starch, sugar and the color preservative sodium nitrate. The worst thing health-wise that can be said about SPAM is it is high in sodium, too high for me to be willing to eat it in large quantities. Still, anything and everything in moderation is my credo. So I knew whatever I made with SPAM would be petit. Which meant I needed to concentrate its sweet and salty nature. I immediately thought of Hawaiian masubi. I’d take my SPAM and marinate it in sesame, soy and chili. From there it wasn’t hard to decide on a sandwich (afterall it is SPAM), and sticking to the idea that I only wanted a small taste of SPAM I decided to do mini-sandwiches and call them sliders. The quail eggs came to be in a flash of genius while on Twitter.
SPAM wasn’t always enjoyed in tasteful little tid-bits. SPAM took off during the Second World War in a big way because it shipped well and would not spoil. Troops all over the world fueled their war efforts with SPAM. That’s a pretty admirable idea if you look it at that simply.
But SPAM’s star did not fade with the end of WW2. It continued to figure heavily in postwar austerity diets making the name synonymous with hardship. As with anything ubiquitous SPAM easily became the subject of popular jokes. The most famous was the Monty Python sketch set in a café where everything comes with SPAM: “You can’t have egg, bacon, sausage and SPAM without the SPAM.” And later, in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the Knights of the Round Table “eat ham and jam and SPAM a lot”. This was the origin of the hit musical Spamalot.
For all the fun that has been had at its expense, it’s the Hormel Foods Corporation that is enjoying the biggest laugh. In 2007 SPAM celebrated its 70th birthday and has claimed to have sold its seven billionth can. I used one such can in my masubi inspired Sesame Marinated Spam Sliders with Quail Egg and Gingered Mayonnaise. Makes 16 CLICK here for a printable recipe
- 1 c soy sauce
- 1/3 c brown sugar
- 6 clv garlic, minced
- 3 T rice vinegar
- 2 T sesame oil
- 2 T sesame seeds, toasted
- 2 t fresh ginger, grated
- 1 Thai bird chili, minced
- 1/4 c mayonnaise
- 1 cn Spam
- cooking spray, as needed
- 16 fresh quail eggs
- fine grained sea salt, to taste
- 16 slider buns, toasted or grilled as you prefer
- 16 slider sized pieces of crisp lettuce,
Prepare the marinade: In a medium sauce pan set over medium heat add the soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, rice vinegar, sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger and minced chili. Cook without boiling until the sugar dissolves, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to come to room temperature.
Make the mayonnaise: Add 1 tablespoon of the cool marinade and the remaining 1 teaspoon fresh grated ginger to the mayonnaise. Mix well, set aside covered and refrigerated until ready to use.
Prepare the Spam: Cut the Spam crosswise into 8 slices, keeping them together in a block and then cut them all in half clengthwise to form 16 nearly square pieces. Lay the pieces in a single layer in the bottom of a shallow dish. Pour the remaining cooled marinade over the slices and marinate 2 to 4 hours.
Drain the Spam slices, discard marinade. Heat a large skillet or griddle over medium high heat. Spray with a light coating of cooking spray. Brown the Spam slices on one side until nicely colored, about 3 minutes. Flip each piece and repeat the browning. Transfer to a tray, loosely covered with foil.
Fry the eggs: Using a fresh non-stick or cast iron skillet set over medium heat. Spray with a light coating of cooking spray. Carefully crack each quail egg onto the surface, gently frying the eggs with a few grains of salt on top, until the whites have set but the yolks are still runny 2 to 3 minutes. Work in batches if necessary.
Assemble the sliders: Lay the bottoms of the slider buns on a work surface in front of you. Spread a dollop of the gingered mayonaisse onto each. Top this with a piece of lettuce followed by the a Spam slice. Gently place a warm fried quail egg on top, taking care to keep the yolk intact. Add the top to the slider and serve.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD