Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Spam Musubi


or How You'll Learn to Love the Pig in a Can

There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like a Spam musubi. This satisfying brick of steamy, sticky rice topped with a pan-fried slab of Spam and wrapped in a sheath of nori represents all that is good about carbs, salted pre-cooked pig parts, and the sea, and no other treat takes the edge off bleary-eyed weekend mornings like it. In Hawaii, these ubiquitous snacks are packed in every lunchbox and every go-bag, sold in every convenience and grocery store, and always available to fuel dawn patrol surf sessions, tired soccer moms, cranky toddlers, and hungry Waikiki tourists surprised by Spam sushi at 7-11.

People have an aversion to canned meat, and most never get past their initial encounter with Spam. This is understandable: the sucking sound of the meat brick being loosened from the tin; the "plop" as it hits the cutting board; the mysterious translucent jelly that emerges like a frightened stowaway before disappearing just as quickly (this jelly is quite delicious when added to a Cup O' Noodles, or so I once heard from a disgusting college student microwaving meals in his dorm room who was most certainly not me. Ahem); all of it is quite alarming to the uninitiated. But if you never get past this point, it is a shame. For my dears, the Spam must be fried. Crisp up a slice of Spam in a pan and it is transformed from pale pig loaf into a beautifully caramelized salty slice of heaven, and the unbelievers are born again. For two years, I've brought platters of bite-sized Spam musubi to my company's holiday potluck, and on both occasions I have been met with shock, disgust, and curiosity - all of which invariably give way to incredulous delight. For two years, both platters have been picked clean in under ten minutes. 

There are "fancy" versions (nothing says "fancy" like a Spam musubi cut on the bias) which can be found at your local Hawaiian meat-and-carbery. They are usually served with a gooey teriyaki sauce and drizzled with scallions, two accompaniments that no Hawaiian I know has ever encountered in the Islands. You don't need all that. All you need is a can of Spam (I recommend the low sodium version because I care about your health), Calrose rice, and a few things usually stocked in the Asian aisle at your grocery store. You will also need a musubi press. This will help you mold the rice into the perfect size and shape, and if you're in Southern California, you can find them at Mitsuwa, Markukai, Nijiya, and some Korean supermarkets. Now you're set. Heaven awaits. 

Servings: 12 musubi*
Prep time: 1 hour
*cut in half for 24 appetizer servings

1 can of low-sodium Spam
2 cups of Calrose rice
1/2 cup soy sauce (Aloha Shoyu, if you can get it)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
6 dried sushi nori sheets, cut in half lengthwise (12 half-sheets)

Rinse and cook the rice according to your rice cooker's instructions, or on the stove following the package instructions. Remove the Spam from the can, lay it on its side, and cut into 12 1/8" slices (cut the slices across the width of the Spam, so that you end up with rectangular slices with rounded corners). In a mixing bowl, whisk together soy sauce and sugar until the sugar has dissolved. Place the Spam into a small container and pour the soy sauce mixture over it, letting the slices marinate while the rice cooks. 

When the rice is done, preheat a frying pan over medium heat until hot. Add the slices of Spam to the pan in a single layer, reserving the marinade. Cook 3-5 minutes per side, turning once, until nicely caramelized and crunchy around the edges. Remove to a cutting board to cool. 

Using kitchen shears, cut the nori slices in half lengthwise. Set up your musubi assembly station: in front of you, a clean cutting board or mat to make the musubi; to your left, the pot of rice, with a rice spoon in a small bowl or cup of water to keep the rice from sticking; above the cutting board, your musubi press in a small container of water, to prevent sticking; to your right, the slices of Spam and reserved marinade.

Place a half-sheet of nori lengthwise on the cutting board in front of you. Set the musubi mold across the center of the sheet, and fill it about halfway with rice. Holding the mold in place with one hand, press the rice down with the mold press, flattening it into a rectangular brick. Add more rice if you'd like a thicker musubi, and press again. Lift the press, and place a slice of Spam on the bed of rice, dipping it in the reserved soy sauce marinade before setting it down. Place the press once again inside the mold, this time on top of the Spam, and hold it in place while slowly lifting off the mold. Remove the press. What remains is a brick of rice topped with Spam. Lift the edge of nori closest to you and wrap it up and over the top of the musubi. Use a wet fingertip to moisten the nori on top of the musubi, before rolling the musubi the rest of the way up the sheet of nori until the entire brick is wrapped tight (the water will help the nori stick together). Your first musubi is done! Resist the urge to devour it right away (or eat it - no one will know. This is a perk of being the cook) and move on to the remaining slices.

Serve immediately, or wrap tightly in plastic wrap to save for later. Refrigerate if you won't be serving for a few hours, but let the musubi come to room temperature before serving. 

Nutrition Info (1 Serving): 

Calories: 111, Total Fat: 4.1 g, Sat. Fat: 1.5g, Cholest: 20 mg, Sodium: 1063 mg, Carb:11.6g, Fiber: 0.6g, Sugars: 1g, Protein: 6.4g

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