Serious Spammers turn
this low-rent food into
Top Spamarama recipesBy Betty Shimabukuro
WE are the Spam champions of Planet Earth. That's not urban legend, it's statistical fact. In Hawaii we consume 5 million pounds of Spam every year. Five. Million. Pounds.
That's six cans -- 4-1/2 pounds -- for every man, woman and child in the state.
This goes a long way toward explaining what happened Saturday night, when 100 people got together in a very nice place to elevate Spam from musubi status to fine food.
Spamarama, the event was dubbed by its creator, Dawn Isa. The physical therapist who put down a couple hundred dollars of her own cash to host this private event, more because she loves a good party than out of affection for Spam.
"I don't allow Spam in my house," Isa says. "... Actually, we have one emergency can -- just in case."
But it's a great gimmick. As a party theme, it guarantees plenty of positive RSVPs.
Spam is the food we love to hate -- a funky food, perhaps the funkiest in the meat-eating universe. As a culinary concept, that greasy pink cube is absurdly wonderful.
"If you ever fall off the Sears Tower, just go real limp, because maybe you'll look like Spam and people will try to catch you because, hey, free Spam."
That's a comment from Keith, "the Llama King," who maintains an Internet Website called "Hall of Spam" (http://www.geocities.com/CollegePark/Campus/4656/spam.html).
We include Keith's commentaries throughout this article as proof that Spam is not just food -- it's pop culture.
Contestants in the Spamarama recipe contest put the substance into dim sum, salads, puff pastries, wraps, even (omigod) cheesecake. Chocolate-dipped Spam was designed to look exactly like those Big Island cookies (except browner). The food was surprisingly not bad, and there was no denying the seriousness and competitiveness of the cooks.
The winner overall was a Spam Apple Quiche, concocted by Dave Mozdren. It mixed Spam with Granny Smith apples and flavorings of cinnamon and mustard.
An admitted quiche-maker of some experience, Mozdren adapted recipes he'd found using sausage in combination with fruit. The fruit, he says, seems to cut the saltiness. Indeed, the judging panel (which, in the spirit of full disclosure, included the reporter whose name sits atop this article) found the fruit-Spam combination to be complementary and flavorful.
Mozdren, a convert to Spam, admits that in his previous life, in Chicago, he couldn't stand the stuff. But now: "I love Spam. For breakfast I think it's a wonderful thing with rice."
Such devotion makes Don and Marsha Eovino look like Spam opportunists. The brother and sister, winners of top awards in secondary categories, are not true believers. Marsha says she bought her first can ever a week ago, in preparation for the recipe contest.
But the seriousness they brought to the competition cannot be denied. Marsh ordered bread specially dyed in three colors to make her Spam Pinwheels -- the fillings were Spam and crab, Spam and spinach, Spam and mac nuts. She had to buy four loaves of each color to pull off the dish and came away with the award for Most Creative.
Don was last year's overall winner. This time he nabbed the Best Presentation award for his Rack of Spam, which somehow incorporated a Spam log into a rack of lamb. He wore a full chef's outfit as he carved at the table from a display shrouded in a dry ice cloud.
H.L. Gamble, local distributor for Hormel in Hawaii, says these new products can be expected over the next few months:
COMING TRENDS IN SPAM
Turkey Spam: A 98 percent lean product, now being test-marketed.
Tabasco Spam: Already a sales success on Guam, the one challenger to Hawaii's title as Spam capital of the world.
"I won last year and I really worked at it to retain my crown."
The crown was lost, but he swears he'll be back last year.
"If a kid asks where rain comes from, I think a cute thing to tell him is 'God is crying.' And if he asks why God is crying, another cute thing to tell him is 'Probably because of Spam.' "
For at least a decade, consumption of Spam has held steady at that 5 million mark, says Hoagy Gamble, owner of L.H. Gamble, Hawaii sales agent for Hormel, maker of Spam.
"We go back and forth with Guam on who has the per-capita No. 1 spot," Gamble says . "Last year they had it, and then we got it back."
But, why? Gamble -- and his father before him -- has been asked that many times in the 52 years his family has held the Spam distributorship in Hawaii.
"We think a lot of it has to do with luck. Rice is the carbohydrate of choice here and the flavor profile of Spam goes extremely well with rice. It's a perfect match."
Add to that a general openness to the taste of pig -- pork consumption is also higher in Hawaii than on the mainland, Gamble says.
(Reminder: Hawaii consumption is six cans a year, per person. Rule out the vegetarians, vegans, children too young to chew, plus all those who claim to despise Spam -- and there must be a lot of people out there eating more than their quota.)
Spam's popularity survives despite a trend toward healthier eating, although Gamble says the No. 1 seller locally is the low-sodium version, with 25 percent less salt. Spam Lite, with 25 percent less fat and salt, makes up just 15 percent of the market.
Personally, Gamble likes Spam with eggs and is an afficionado of Spam musubi. He likes his fancied up with egg, perhaps fishcake and green onion.
"I don't eat a lot," he says. "I eat my quota."
"How come the dove gets to be the peace symbol? How about Spam? It has more pink mucus than the dove, and it doesn't have that dangerous beak."
Let's back up to where Gamble talks about the "flavor profile of Spam." Them's fancy words for a gelatinous meatlike substance. It's only right, then, that we should now talk about wine.
Master sommelier Chuck Furuya, one of the Star-Bulletin's wine consultants, without hesitation suggests Vin Gris Cigare, a rose commonly served in bistros and cafes along the Mediterranean. It's dry and fruit-driven (remember that previous point about fruit and Spam?) and is the right counterpart to the saltiness of Spam.
Furuya also suggests a Riesling as a good match, especially for spicier dishes. Bottles of Cigare and Bonny Doon Pacific Rim Riesling were offered at the Spamarama, and both were emptied along with the plates of Spam entries.
"Dad always thought Spam was the best medicine, which I guess is why several of us died of tuberculosis."
Last year, Isa threw the Spamarama at her own house. By this year, interest had grown so much the event had to be moved to larger quarters at the Honolulu Club, with Isa again gladly serving as hostess.
She pulls it off using skills honed while running city prosecutor Peter Carlisle's election campaign. Carlisle returns the favor by serving as Spamarama emcee. Last year he was a judge, but says it took days for him to recover.
Isa plans to bring Spamarama back in 2001 on a larger scale, perhaps as a fund-raiser for a charity.
"If you're in a war, instead of throwing a hand grenade at the enemy, throw one of those small cans of Spam. Maybe it'll make everyone think how stupid war is, and while they are thinking, you can throw a real grenade at them."
Creative cooking with SpamStar-Bulletin
Reach beyond Spam musubi and try these Spamarama specialties, the No. 1 and No. 2 winners in the category of tastiest entry. The first is a fat-packed main dish, the second, a surprisingly slim salad.
SPAM-APPLE QUICHEDave Mozdren
1 unbaked 9-inch deep-dish pie crust
1 12-ounce can Spam, in 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 large Granny Smith Apples, skinned and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 large eggs
1 cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon dry mustard powder
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon garlic salt
Brown Spam; cut into cubes.
Mix the cheese together and spread half in the bottom of the pie crust. Top with 1 cup of Spam cubes (save the rest for garnish). Arrange apples evenly over Spam. Top with remaining cheese. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
To make egg mixture: Combine eggs and half-and-half in a blender. Add mustard powder, Worcestershire sauce and garlic salt. Pour over filled piecrust.
Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes. Cool 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 6.
Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 750 calories, 53 g total fat, 23 g saturated fat, 230 mg cholesterol, greater than 1,400 mg sodium.*
ONCE UPON A SPAMEric Richards and Huilin Dong
1-1/2 cup dried black-eyed peas
1/2 cup dry anasazi beans (or substitute with more black-eyed peas
2/3 can of Spam, fried until lightly brown and drained
1 small Maui onion, diced
1 fresh mild red chile pepper, seeded and finely diced
Juice of 3 large lemons
2 tablespoons Thai fish sauce or 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 bunch of mint, diced
2/3 bunch Italian parsley, diced
1 large tomato, diced
Soak beans overnight. Cook, rinse, drain and chill.
Combine seasoning ingredients and let sit 30 minutes.
Combine beans, Spam, seasoning and greens; toss well. Makes about 10 cups
Approximate nutritional information per cup: 240 calories, 7.5 g total fat, 2.5 g saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 600 mg sodium.*
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