Fried rice #3
Previous installments introduced innovations in fried rice. Today's lunch was the culmination: in goes the SPAM.
After advertising my SPAMmy intentions a few weeks ago, my father called to try to talk me down off the ledge. It's not like I was contemplating a vacation in Tehran or a vote for Pat Buchanan, but SPAM seems to have a way of striking fear in Jews all the same. Sorry Dad, I just had to do it.
SPAM has its share of detractors. Is any other food so identified with white trash culture? Recent usage of "spam" to refer to junk e-mail isn't helping SPAM's cause any. It's not really good food, I'll grant you, but it's also not deserving of such widespread fear and loathing. Until recently I was ignorant of SPAM's charms, so I did some poking around and came up with some delectable porky factoids:
-SPAM is a portmanteau word combining "spiced" and "ham." It should always be spelled in all caps.
-Hormel Foods introduced SPAM in 1937. According to Hormel, SPAM "became America's favorite luncheon meat almost immediately." ("Luncheon meat" is a fantastic phrase. Why not just lunch? Is it because a luncheon is something special? Isn't it great that something so not special goes by a name that's all about trying to make it seem really special?)
-SPAM has its own home page, with links to a fan club, SPAMmobile info, something about Spamalot (the Bway musical), that kind of stuff.
-SPAM is something like a national food of Hawaii. (Hawaiians also love mayonnaise. I big-red-heart Hawaiians.)
-SPAM inspires its own cooking contests.
-Even crazier, there's the annual SPAM sculpture contest.
-SPAM is made of pork, water, salt, sugar, starch, and sodium nitrate, which preserves its pink color. Sausages aren't much different in principle. Not to mention gefilte fish. If it's canned meat you don't like, consider that canned duck and goose confit are ubiquitous in French gourmet shops, ditto canned crabmeat in upscale American fish markets. Canning is a way of preserving food and the world is a better place for it.
Well, all of this SPAMtastic SPAM stuff is making my SPAM fried rice seem ho-hum, but it's mine so here it is.
I diced up the SPAM and fried it in a hot pan until it browned and crisped up. I also cooked some diced carrots, peas, shallots, garlic, ginger, and egg (cooked as an underdone omelette ahead of time and hacked into tiny pieces with the side of my spatula). I used shallot instead of my usual scallions. Shallots are always delicious and it's not often you see them paired with SPAM.
After adding the rice I sprinkled what I thought was black pepper into the pan but it turned out to be cardamom. I tried to remove the pieces of rice the cardamom had hit but I wasn't entirely successful. So I ended up making cardamom-SPAM fried rice; the hint of exotic spice worked well, actually, and I wouldn't hesitate to add some in the future. I seasoned with kecap manis this time (instead of the alternative, a mix of dark and light soy), and since kecap manis has a bit of spice in it perhaps it complemented the cardamom.
E had a dilemma. She was hungry and the food in the pan smelled good but she wasn't too keen on SPAM. Laziness won the day and she shared the fried rice with me. She found the cardamom to be weirder than the canned, processed meat.
I was nervous taking the first bite. I eat pork all the time but this still had a trace of taboo about it. Once I had tasted and swallowed the first pieces, though, it seemed like a lot of fuss over nothing. It's just meat, after all.
I liked it. SPAM is saltier than most bacon, which is fine with me, and almost as greasy. It has a softer texture than I was expecting, more like meatloaf than cooked sausage. It browned really quickly and nicely in the pan, which pleased me. And it just livened up the dish. I'm all for SPAM in my fried rice.