Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Spam! Musubi!

I think my kimchi post was a little disorganized and kind of all over the place. So I'm attempting to be more organized this time with this food post, about one of my favorite canned goods: SPAM!

Spam is, in a word, delicious.

People that don't get Spam make me sad, because it's the best of what meat has to offer- look at the picture of the can of Spam! It even says "Crazy Tasty" right on the packaging. That's some honest labeling, I tell ya.

Following are the directions for my version of a Japanese-American staple, Spam Musubi. I'm not exactly sure how the authentic recipes go, because I pretty take what I have and make do somehow.

Spam Musubi, my way

- 1 can of Spam
- About 4 cups of rice
- 5 sheets of dried laver (seaweed)
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons sake (or other cooking alcohol)
- One packet of furikake (optional)
- 1 teaspoon sesame seeds (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground red chili powder (optional)

- Small pot
- Draining rack (optional)
- Musubi mold*

*I am told that instead of buying a musubi mold, one can take the Spam can and open up the unopened side with a can opener. (Wow, how many times can I fit the word 'open' in a sentence??) I have never tried this method, as I bought a musubi mold the second I realized what Spam musubis were, but in theory, it seems as though the Spam can would work just fine. I would be careful of sharp edges, though. Here's my musubi mold:


1. Slice the block o' Spam into thin slices, about 10. The picture below is to illustrate which way to slice the Spam- you must slice it horizontally. So if you were to slice the Spam correctly whilst it was still in the can, your slice would underline the word "Spam" on the can. I've actually heard a lot of confusion about this, so I'm spelling it out.

2. Dump the rice into a big bowl. I live in a household that is very Korean, so we always have fresh rice. The reason my rice is all purple and speckled is because it's short-grain rice (regular white rice) plus wild rice plus black rice. I like the texture of the mixture better than just plain rice, which is too sticky and starchy. The rice can't be piping hot, otherwise the seaweed will disintegrate.

3. The seaweed must be cut into the correct widths. I find that the seaweed I have is perfect when cut in half lengthwise. Just for illustration, following is a picture of the whole sheet of seaweed with the lid of my musubi mold on top. Some people also cut the seaweed in half widthwise, but I like a lot of seaweed on my musubi, so I only make one cut.

All cut up:

4. Now comes the entirely optional portion: the sauce.

Sometimes, when I'm either too lazy or I'm missing an ingredient, I won't make the sauce. I'll just fry the Spam in a dry non-stick pan and use it that way. It's tasty both ways, with and without the sauce. Fried Spam has a crispy yumminess that is entirely different than saucy Spam, and both are delectable in different ways.

Here's how to make the sauce, which is not as sweet as traditional Japanese teriyaki sauce.

The ingredients are quite simple: soy sauce, corn syrup, and sake. I use a Korean brand of corn syrup and a sake make especially for cooking, which is kept in the refrigerator. I list amounts in the "ingredients" section above, but this sauce is something best made by taste.

I usually start with the soy sauce and corn syrup, heating them together over gentle heat. Once they're warm, I hit it with some sake. I continue to taste the sauce as it cooks, because I find that the hotter the sauce, the sweeter the corn syrup.

The sauce, at a simmer:

5. Once the sauce is bubbling gently, add the Spam. I like to use a rather small pot for this sauce, so I have to cook the Spam in two batches. That's okay by me, though. (Just keep in mind that the water is evaporating and the second batch will cook much faster than the first).

The Spammies are enjoying their Jacuzzi experience:

... And ... they're done. They'll turn a couple shades darker and become flexible and limber:

I like to put them on a rack so the excess sauce can drip off. There is no point in having a lot of sauce in this particular application because it just makes the rice soggy, which in turn makes the seaweed soggy, which means the entire musubi will fall apart.

Let them cool, which also lets the sauce settle into the Spam:

6. Assembly! (I usually clean up the pot and the utensils used for the sauce while the Spam cools, which is a perfect amount of time).

A bowl of water big enough for the musubi mold is important (it's shown below with the bottom half of my musubi mold in it):

The rice is quite sticky and will adhere like a stubborn ex to the sides of the musubi mold if the mold isn't watered. It shouldn't be dripping wet- dunk the mold in water and then shake off the excess water.

7. Place the bottom half of the musubi mold (the one that looks like a cube missing two sides) on top of the seaweed, lining it up to the narrow sides of the mold and leaving just a little lip of seaweed poking out nearest you.

Scoop some rice into the mold, being careful not to let the mold slide around:

Take the top half of the mold and dunk it in water, shaking off the excess. See how the stuck bits of rice come off the mold in the water? And conveniently sink to the bottom?

8. Place the top half of the mold into the bottom half of the mold and press down to shape the rice. I have read that it should be a "gentle press," but I'm not a gentle presser. I like the rice in one solid block, not a loose bundle that threatens to fall to pieces.

Here's my firmly pressed block of rice:

I usually pile the rice into the mold in two batches, because I have OCD and also because I feel that it makes a sturdier block of rice. A giant pile of rice cannot condense as nicely as two smaller piles of rice, right?

Completely optional, of course, just for crazy people like me. When I first started making musubis, I used to press the rice in as many layers as I could, to make a really perfectly squared-off chunk of rice. This two-step process is my compromise with my inner perfectionist.

9. Furikake, a fancy word that basically means "dried stuff to put on rice." It's generally dried vegetables, seaweed, salt, sometimes some dried fish, etc. I add sesame seeds (toasted, white and black) and red chili powder to my furikake, because I love sesame and I think furikake tends to be a bit sweet. The red chili powder sort of negates the sweetness. Here's my mixture:

Sprinkle it over the block of rice. I keep the bottom half of the musubi mold around the rice because I don't want furikake all over the place. I can't conquer all my OCD issues- it's one step at a time!

Here's the rice with furikake:

In order to get the bottom half of the mold off, you need to use the top half of the mold. While pushing down on the top half, pull the bottom half off from around the rice.

I wiggle the mold around a little and usually take it off at an angle, which seems to help:

10. The best part. The Spam!

11. Folding, rolling, wrapping.

Take the little lip of seaweed that is closest to you and fold it up. It will stick to the rice (conveniently). Take the long end of the seaweed and fold it up over the Spam. I try to keep the seaweed as tight as possible around the bundle without squeezing so hard that the rice oozes out. Keep wrapping the seaweed around until you run out.

Set the musubi seam-side down, so it doesn't unroll itself. Because the rice is still lukewarm and the Spam is a bit sticky, the seaweed will glue itself down.

12. I like to let the musubis cool a while before slicing them. If they're still warm, the slicing gets messy. I don't enjoy the messy, so I generally make them the night before I'm going to eat them, which means I have ample time to let the suckers cool before slicing.

I slice with a thin-bladed, very sharp knife, and keep a tall mug of just-boiled water and a kitchen towel near me. Between each slice, I dip the knife in the hot water and wipe it on the kitchen towel. It seems excessive, but because the rice and the seaweed and the sauce are all sticky, the knife gets coated with something or other between every single slice.

Little bricks of Spamalot goodness!

I honestly don't understand the American aversion to Spam. It might not be a recognizable animal, but neither are foie gras or meatloaf!

With rice to temper the saltiness and seaweed to add some texture and heartiness, Spam can be part of a very satisfying meal. Spam musubis are great picnic food (although making more than a couple cans' worth of musubis is tiring) and an even better snack. I usually won't make musubis unless I'm leaving the house, because if I'm at home, fried Spam and rice plus some kimchi is perfection.

(Off topic from Spam, I tried color-correcting my photos because they are so unattractive. Point-and-shoot cameras suck. I think the color-correction turned out a bit too dark, but because it's 24 photos, I don't care to do it all over again. I need a digital SLR camera...)