Perhaps you've heard somewhere that Hawaii eats a lot of Spam. We love the stuff with the whole of our hearts, ever since it was introduced here during the rationing days of WWII. We eat more of it per capita than any place on earth besides Guam. Here's a haiku someone wrote on the Internet about Spam that sums up our (or at least my) collective feelings:
Can of metal, slicksoft center, so cool, moisteningI yearn for your salt
The porcine saltiness, the impossibly emulsified texture, the infinite shelf life — these are reasons why we add this humble king of canned luncheon meat to fried rice, saimin, wontons or somen salad. We slice it up, we sauté it, we cook it with shoyu and sugar; we transform this gnarly industrial food scooped from a can into something beautiful and delicious.
No food allows Spam to shine brighter than musubi, a portable block of nori-wrapped rice that is sold at gas stations, corner shops, diners, gymnasiums, lunch wagons and takeout counters of all stripes. You'll often see musubi stuffed with red hot dogs, mochiko chicken, egg omelets or teriyaki, but the Spam-filled kind is easily the most popular.
Technique tips: There are many differing techniques for preparing and wrapping Spam musubi. Without getting too technical up top, here are a few of my basic guidelines:
1. Cut your Spam thick so you can taste it (I prefer the reduced-sodium kind for its balanced taste).
2. Sear then glaze the Spam with shoyu and sugar before wrapping.
3. Make sure your rice is warm and your nori sheets are bone-dry (and a musubi mold makes this easy, but you can use a Spam can).
Musubi maker molds, which are rectangular plastic boxes open on the top and bottom, are available for a few bucks online. If you don't have one, you can use the empty Spam can as a mold: Shape the rice into a block inside the can by firmly pressing it down with your fingers, then shake it from the can. Place the packed block of rice perpendicular to the nori strip and carefully wrap with the nori as directed.
Lightly coat the bottom of a skillet with oil and heat over medium heat. Fry the Spam slices until browned and crispy, 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from the heat and set aside on paper towels to drain.2.
Wipe out any excess oil from the pan. Add the shoyu, sugar and mirin, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, return the cooked Spam slices to the pan and turn them to coat. Cook until a sticky glaze starts to form, about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let the Spam sit in the glaze until ready to use.3.
Toast the nori sheets by carefully waving them over a stove burner on low (this is easiest with gas; use tongs if needed) for 10-20 seconds until crisp and crackly, then cut each sheet into thirds lengthwise (you can also toast them briefly in a hot oven, a minute or two, just until crisp).4.
Prepare a bowl of warm water.5.
Lay a strip of nori on a clean surface. Moisten the lower half of the inside of a musubi mold and place the mold perpendicular to the nori strip on the bottom third of the strip. Fill the mold with about 1/2 cup rice and press down very firmly and evenly until the rice is packed 3/4 inch high. Sprinkle the rice with furikake (if using). Top with a slice of Spam, making sure a little of the glaze carries over from the pan onto the rice.6.
Pull off the mold and wrap the musubi tightly in the nori strip by rolling it away from you as you would a sushi roll. Seal the edge of the nori with a dab of warm water if necessary (the moisture in the warm rice should do most of the work). Wipe off the mold with warm water and repeat with the remaining Spam and rice. Serve immediately or wrap in plastic wrap and save for later.
Reprinted with permission from Cook Real Hawai'i by Sheldon Simeon and Garrett Snyder, copyright© 2021. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House." Photography copyright: Kevin J. Miyazaki © 2021.