Friday, July 25, 2008

No Itadakimasu to Spam Sushi

An open mind is an important asset. I consider myself an open-minded person, especially when it comes to food, so at the mention of Spam Sushi instead of shuddering like a saner person might of, I thought why not?

Many forces collided in my life to result in my lack of judgment. First, I am under a considerable amount of stress trying to ready my life and household goods for a cross-country move in 10 days. Therefore, I am desperate to clean out my pantry and freezer, so I just happened to have a few sheets of nori and some sushi rice that needed a purpose. Second, I am an NPR junkie, and I happen to see an online profile of a new cookbook called Hawaii Cooks with Spam, which was intriguing , exotic, and kitschy all at the same time. I have a weakness for just such things. Third, that week's Food section in the newspaper happened to be about the come back Spam is making in these economically depressed times. This was a sign. In retrospect, this was a very ominous sign.

I am no stranger to sushi rolling. I love making sushi what I don't love is paying up the nose for sushi grade fish on my let's-finance-a-several-thousand-mile-move-this-month budget. However, this recipe from Hawaii Cooks with Spam was fatally flawed from the beginning. Although I followed the directions for cooking the rice perfectly, the end result was crunchy. Trying to salvage the pot of rice, I added more water and cooked longer. This resulted in slightly mushier rice than I would have liked. The rice dressing was also problematic. Usually I use a mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt, that is more tangy than sweet. This recipe called for equal parts vinegar and sugar in addition to mirin. I substituted the mirin for some plum wine I happened to have on hand, but that couldn't have screwed up the recipe that badly because the dressing was still sickenly sweet.

Aesthetically, the rolls came out perfect. They would have tasted better had I omitted the Spam and just rolled plain cucumber in them. I don't want to be a food snob here, but when your frame of reference for sushi is maki rolls made with firm, velvety, slabs of yellow fin tuna that melt in your mouth upon impact, then a cold, coagulated slab of assorted pork product is not only sacrilegious, but just plain disappointing.

While the NPR profile author, Neva Grant claims "the taste of Spam is not detectible in Miura's roll. An unwitting diner might think it was a chewy bit of avocado or maybe a very pink piece of egg," this is not true, and even if it were, the texture alone is enough of set back for this roll.

I have eaten Spam and enjoyed it in an illicit thrill sort of way. It's not nearly as bad as I previously thought, and I was thinking back to summer camp hazing rituals that involved Spam. You don't want to know the details. Spam is too World War II, Donna Reed-esqe to succumb to Asian fusion. It's best served with Velveeta and perhaps some scrambled eggs because sometimes, keeping things in their proper place is the right thing to do. Spam is sushi is wrong in so many ways.

Muriel Miura, the author of Hawaii Cooks with Spam, "suggests that after slicing it up into rolls you say 'Itadakimasu,' which means 'thank you for this meal' in Japanese." I, however, think it would be best to say no itadakimasu to this one. Yet I am intrigued by Miura's Spambalaya recipe...

*Thanks to Marianne for the photo


holly said...

in Hawaii mcdonalds serve breakfast sandwiches with spam. . . . spam mcmuffin anyone? gag me.

Sarah said...

Don't knock it until you try it.
Spam probably isn't as scary as any other pork product McDonalds serves.

I made a Denver omelet with Spam and it turned out quite nice. I'll make you Spam Mcmuffins when I'm your house guest. I mean, it's the least I can do.

holly said...

actually as my house guest i almost feel the urge to drive/convince you to go to omaha and the bohemian cafe while you're in nebraska. i mean this could be the last time you get any dill gravy, dumplings, kraut, and melt in your mouth roast for a very long time. and you can't forget about the kolaches.

Anonymous said...

Girls, there is nothing wrong with Spam if you like fatty processed pork. I use to buy it now and then. It is better if you fry it and get some of the greast out of it. It makes delicious sandwiches. That makes me recall the old old farm days when I was first cooking!! Actually, don't the letters "SPAM" stand for something? Isn't your pantry and freezer empty yet? Mom