The Spam Jam Celebrity Chef Cookoff is coming up June 4th at the opening night of ‘Spamalot’ at Casa Manana. Celebrity chefs and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram Spam recipe contest winner will duke it out for the title of King of Spam. It is free to the public, so come try some spamtastic dishes and help vote for the winner! The fun starts June 4th at 6:30 p.m. in front of the Casa Manana lobby. Taste and vote for your favorite spam dish using canned food. The Chef with the most canned goods will be declared Winner and King of Spam! (All canned goods will be donated to the Tarrant Area Food Bank.)
I am also entered in this Spam Jam smack-down, and decided to fix a traditional Hawaiian Spam snack with a little Texas twist — a Spam musubi, Texas style!
It’s basically a giant spam sushi that is popular in Hawaii ( Spam itself is very popular there). This Spam-sushi hybrid is a quarter-inch thick slice of Spam that has been fried or grilled with a sweet teriyaki type sauce, then laid on top of a block of rice and wrapped together with nori (dried seaweed). You can find these spam treats (wrapped in plastic wrap) next to cash registers in all the convenience stores in Hawaii, including 7-Elevens.
I asked our Star-Telegram resident Hawaiian, reporter Andrea Ahles, for any Spam tips she could pass along before making my version of a Spam musubi. First tip was I was pronouncing the name wrong. It is pronounced MOO-soo-bee, apparently I was not stressing the first syllable enough.
Now that we got that out of the way, what about cooking the Spam itself? Andrea says cut it thin and cook it crispy — like bacon. If it is not crispy on the outside it is not properly cooked. Actually, this was really the only tip she gave me, but she repeated it multiple times in our 15-minute Spam conversation. Crispy on the outside, got it!
With this new insight I started to plan making a Texas version of a musubi. The cool things about this dish (besides the name) is that it looks like a giant piece of sushi and that it is easy to eat with your hand. Another reason I think it’s so popular in Hawaii is that the ratio of rice to spam offsets the saltiness of the meat , plus it gives it a texture contrast — if you’re cooking your Spam crisp.
Speaking of contrast, the sweet vs. salty of the teriyaki type sauce and Spam sounds like another winning taste combination.
Hmm… not wanting to mess this taste profile up, I’ll replace the teriyaki sauce with a Dr. Pepper reduction and add some pickled cactus ( nopal) between the Spam and the rice to brighten up the flavor a little bit with a hit of acid. There you go, a Texas Spam musubi.
The ingredients to this recipe are as easy to find as Spam. I thought the nori for wrapping and the nopal for the pickles might be a problem, but I found them at my local Wal-Mart. They even carried the nopal already peeled and diced. They also had sushi grade rice that was precooked and ready to microwave.
Spam musubi with a Dr. Pepper Unagi sauce and pickled cactus
Makes 8 musubi
4 cups cooked sushi rice, warm (I used pre-cooked microwavable rice that came in 1 cup bowls)
4 sheets of nori, cut in half lengthwise (or rice paper if you do not like seaweed)
1 (12 oz.) can of spam
1 cup nopal pickles
¼ cup Dr. Pepper Unagi sauce
Empty Spam can for rice mold
2 cups nopal (cactus), diced
1 jalapeño, diced no seeds
½ cup rice vinegar
½ cup water
¼ cup sugar (I used raw sugar)
2 teaspoons soy sauce
Dr. Pepper Unagi sauce
1 can (12 oz.) Dr. Pepper ( I used the one with real sugar)
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine) or 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
To make pickles
I normally make pickles with a Sous Vide machine, something you are not going to find at Wall-Mart. So I am going to have directions on how to make the pickles with and without one.
1. Rinse diced nopals in a strainer under hot water to remove the slim. (nopals have slim similar to okra)
2. Combine vinegar, water, sugar, and soy sauce in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat.
3. Add nopals and stir. Cover with a double layer of paper towels so that it is saturated with liquid and is in direct contact with the nopals.
4. Let rest 30 minutes, then transfer nopals to a sealable container with pickling liquid just covering the nopals.
5. After the container has cooled, store in refrigerator for 24 hours before use.
Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Fancy Sous Vide method
1. Set sous vide water bath to 185ºF.
2. Rinse diced nopals in a strainer under hot water to remove the slim. (nopals have slim similar to okra)
3. Add water to a measuring cup and heat in a microwave till water is hot. Add sugar and stir till dissolved. Now add the vinegar and soy sauce and stir.
4. Add nopals and pickling liquid to a plastic bag and submerge the bag into the water bath until the nopals and pickling liquid is submerged and clip to side of bath.
5. After 1 hour, remove plastic bag and cool in an ice bath.
6. Transfer nopals to a sealable container with the pickling liquid just covering the nopals.
Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
To make Dr. Pepper Unagi sauce
1. Combine Dr. Pepper, mirin and soy sauce to a small sauce pan.
2. Bring Dr. Pepper mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and let simmer until reduces to a semi-thick liquid. Should take around 30 to 40 minutes. Be sure to watch it towards the end, when it starts to thicken up pull it off the heat. If you let it go to long it will turn to caramel.
3. Pour sauce in a small bowl and let cool.
To make musubi
1. Remove Spam from can and cut into 8 slices, I cut the Spam in half, then cut those in half, and half again making 8 slices. Be sure to rinse out the can and save to use as rice mold later.
2. Fry Spam slices till both sides are very crispy, than set aside on plate with a paper towel on it.
3. Molding rice. In Hawaii they have acrylic musubi molds in the shape of spam to mold the rice, but in a pinch you can just use the empty spam can the way it was originally done. Line empty can with plastic wrap, taking care around the opening of the can.
4. Put a half a cup of rice into the lined can and pack it tightly into the bottom. Keep a bowl of warm water handy and dip your hands into it to keep the rice from sticking to your fingers.
5. Using the plastic wrap, pull the Spam shaped block of rice from the can. Leave the rice block on the plastic wrap, uncovered with the wrap pulled flat.
6. Add a tablespoon of the pickled nopals on top of the rice block, evenly distributed.
7. Take a slice of the fried spam and place it on top of the rice block, then brush or spoon some of the Dr. Pepper sauce on top.
8. Wrap musubi with a nori strip. Start by lining the strip of nori up with the middle of the musubi with the shinny side out. Start at the bottom middle edge, sticking the nori to the rice, then folding over the top of the Spam. Fold it back over the other side till you get to the rice, then lift the musubi off the plastic wrap and fold it under the bottom. You can now set the musubi back down onto the plastic wrap. There should be a little edge left that you can fold back up and stick to the first side of nori with a grain of cooked rice or by wetting it with your finger.
It is now ready to eat, or you can wrap in plastic wrap to eat later.
So how did it turn out? My wife loved it. I see a trip to Hawaii in my future coming soon. Everything worked as planned. Spam was crunchy with the rice countering the salty taste of the Spam. The pickled nopals really brightened up the flavors and the Dr. Pepper sauce gave it some salty sweet that really worked.
But don’t take my word for it, come by the Spam Jam Celebrity Chef Cookoff and give it a try yourself!
For more Spam recipes check out the Star-Telegram's SPAM JAM Recipe Book. The 20-page recipe book includes the reader-submitted recipes from our inaugural SPAM JAM Recipe Contest. Also included in the book are recipes using the classic canned meat from some of our favorite local celebrity chefs, including Chef Keith Hicks of Buttons Restaurant and Pitmaster Billy Woodrich of Billy’s Oak Acres BBQ. Proceeds from the recipe book sales benefit the Tarrant Area Food Bank.