Illustration by Andrew Abbott. Photographs by Katrina Thorne, unless otherwise noted.
Andrew and Katrina’s Take
SPAM SPAM SPAM! What can I say about this myth of the ages that hasn’t already been said? The can itself boasts that it is in fact “Crazy Tasty!”. What other super processed mystery meat can say that? I hadn’t ingested any SPAM in quite some time. This was another one of those things my dad introduced me to when my mom wasn’t paying attention and I was too small to know any better. Don’t get me wrong SPAM didn’t have any lasting impression on me. I didn’t remember the taste or smell that well. Or even the fact that you have to squeeze it out of the can. I don’t usually go out of my way to devour this pink spongy brick. Except in this case I did.
The gross meaty smelling KY jelly like substance that accompanies the SPAM on its rebirthing into the un-canned world was also a little much, but I was determined to follow this gastroventure through to the finish. We had planned on a feast of epic proportions. Just doing SPAMwiches or SPAMburgers wasn’t going to cut it. We had three bricks to utilize. We searched the internet to find the most appealing recipes and wound up making classic SPAMburgers, SPAM dip, and Hawaiian SPAM skewers. Unintentionally we also wound up with deep fried SPAM. Mike recently acquired a deep fryer for his birthday, so this was almost necessary.
You, the reader, must be thinking at this point “Are you mad!? That much SPAM would kill any normal man!”. Well luckily for my fellow Gastronauts and I, we are no mere men. In fact there was a fine lady amongst our company that night! We spaced the SPAM out over the evening as to avoid any SPAM overloads. We started with the SPAM dip accompanied by the Ritz crackers. The dip was mostly comprised of the SPAM meat mixed with sour cream, horse radish, and dill relish. It was good. Better then any of us thought it was going to be considering some of the other recipes we looked at included ingredients to help with the taste of the SPAM. The dip was fine although quite salty. Just think of it as some sort of fancy ham/fish hybrids caviar if it helps you sleep at night. Good stuff!
Next up was the unexpected deep fried SPAM. Mike’s deep fryer had been sitting around since our last frying adventure when we tried fried nutty bars with funnel cake batter. OOPS. They were good. Although we forgot to freeze the bars so a lot of the chocolate melted off into the oil. So after a quick rinse and an oil change (what am I talking about a car here?) we got it ready to fry some SPAM. We might’ve also snuck a pickle or two in there for good measure. We looked up a quick and simple batter recipe online and got to it. The SPAM fried up pretty quickly and held the batter well. It was a lot like crispy sliced hotdog. Really greasy and fatty but not too terribly gross. Not nearly as gross as you’d imagine it to be.
Now that we’ve got the appetizers out of the way onto the main course. We still had two cans left so we decided to make some extra skewers. The skewers we made included SPAM marinated in barbeque sauce alternated between chunks of pineapple. The question was raised if SPAM could even be marinated. No one was sure but we assumed it was a safe bet and went ahead anyways. The BBQ sauce stuck to the spam well and it tasted pretty good too. One good thing to know is anything you add to SPAM can only improve the flavor. We tossed those on the good old George Foreman and got the SPAM burgers ready. We just sliced the SPAM and threw it in a pan on the stove top. It cooks up fast and then your burgers are good to go. Classic SPAMburgers are general garnished with lettuce, tomato, onion, and cheese with optional mustard or mayo. We all got our burgers ready and by then the skewers were all done.
No wonder SPAM was such a hit in Hawaii. It goes so well with the pineapple just like real ham! You might even be able to fool some people into thinking it is real ham. That’s how close it is. If you prepare it just right and don’t let any of the can impressions show you just might be able to pull it off. Not that I’m advocating tricking your dinner guests, but you know it would be funny. I’d even go so far as to say that SPAM get’s a bad rap. It had been so long since I’d eaten it that all the stuff I was reading and hearing about how gross it was really started to get me a little worried. But it’s all bull hockey! While I can accept the fact that it’s just too gross for some people I’d definitely recommend anyone to give it a try at least once. Especially if you like to cook. I like to think of SPAM itself as a lot like the Playdough of the food world. (Although I guess non-toxic Playdough could technically be like the Playdough of the food world. Kids love that stuff!) but really you can do a lot with SPAM when cooking with it since it’s extremely versatile and susceptible to seasonings, spices, and sauces.
Ché’s Take: SPAM Is What it Is
“Soldiers Eating” from the Library of Congress Digital image collection and is in the Public Domain.
Last week I discovered I liked SPAM. Especially SPAM dip. Some friends might make fun of me for that. It doesn’t embarrass me, though. My grandfather also loved SPAM. His early childhood was like a much more impoverished version of Bless Me, Ultima, and his relationship with food did not really start until he was drafted to fight in WWII. From his life before his service, he only had two stories about eating. One was gathering pine nuts from the deserts of New Mexico with his brothers. The other was, when he had not eaten a full meal in days, going to the hills above the rez to smell dinner being cooked there.
The first foods that my grandfather could eat as much as he wanted of were SPAM and the other wartime foods, and so, for me, SPAM has always represented the promise of American plenty, the reality of American want, and space between the two. Like Victory Gardens, which I talked about last week, SPAM originated in the scarcity of the Depression and WWII. Hormel Foods helped the war effort like many other companies, and went to work packing meat for soldiers. SPAM was, for a moment, like the rest of American industry, fighting for something beyond simple profits. As Americans learned to grow food to feed themselves, companies learned to feed something beyond themselves.
SPAM and victory gardens are actually not that different. SPAM got its start as a way to use leftover pork-shoulder. SPAM also does not need to be refrigerated and its packaging is completely recyclable, making it the “greenest” processed food that has ever existed. The flip side of this is that it’s terrible for you. Full of saturated fat and sodium, with almost no vitamins, the best thing you can say about it is that it’s a source of protein. That’s like telling somebody they look alive when they ask if they look healthy.
But from another perspective, that’s one of the other great things about SPAM. Nobody questions for a moment that it’s bad for you. It existed before the revolution in artificial flavors and mass marketing. It only has five ingredients; pork, ham, salt, water, sodium nitrite, and potato starch. It is what it is, which, like most processed foods, is kind of delicious and kind of disgusting. SPAM has almost no commercials or print advertisements. Nobody eats SPAM and tries to justify it. When you make the choice to eat SPAM, you do it in an honest, unadulterated, and un-coerced way. If that doesn’t make it a force of good in the world, it at least means it represents a larval stage of processed food, before it became the monster it is today.
Note: Most of the information on SPAM I had read before, but I brushed up on it from the TLC Web Post on the history of SPAM. I should have read this book by Carolyn Wyman before I started writing, but I didn’t have the chance. Sorry folks.