The Texas State Fair is here, along with its weird deep-fried foods. Every year contestants try to outdo previous years—like this year fried bubble gum is edging out fried butter. One of the lesser known contests is for Spam recipes, but my friend Weldon Adams submitted his fried Spam stix—and didn’t win. Still, his wife, Beth, insists that they are “embarrassingly good.” We had them for dinner tonight. I found them like crunchy fish sticks, delicious dipped in ketchup. I was only cautious because the fat content in traditional Spam is pretty high. Christian, my fussy son-in-law, ate two helpings plus what was on his son’s plate, and ignored the back-up hamburger I’d gotten him. We thought Jacob would like them but he didn’t (ate a ton of purple-hulled peas with ketchup).
For those that might not know Spam is a canned lunch meat made of ham, pork, sugar, salt, water, starch, and sodium nitrite. Since it was introduced in 1937 over six billion cans have been sold worldwide. It was introduced primarily for the armed forces because, with all that sodium, it keeps well. They used so much of it at Pearl Harbor that Hawaii became sort of Spam Central, and the international recipe competition is held there to this day.
When I was a kid, Spam sandwiches were made much like ham sandwiches with lettuce and mayo or mustard. My frugal mother, who’d lived through the Depression and was living through the second World War in her lifetime, treated a whole can of Spam like a ham—she crisscrossed knife slashes across the top, sprinkled it with brown sugar, studded it with cloves, and baked it. Mom sliced the leftovers and fried them for breakfast meat. Weldon says his family ate chicken-fried Spam.
Spam has become sort of an inside joke these days. Lots of people who’ve never tasted it say, “Yuck! I could never eat that.” (Count at least one of my daughters among them.) But it spite of the product’s generally poor reputation, Hormel has a huge Spam Web site that you can explore for hours (http://www.spam.com). Much of it seems tongue-in-cheek. The Spam Museum, for instance, is a virtual museum. Listing visits per year, the site says, “As many as you’d like.” There’s a page devoted to Spammobile, a gift shop that sells T-shirts, coffee cups and mugs, drop earrings with SPAM cans, lapel pins, bumper stickers that say “I love Spam,” a Spam fan club (“your membership lasts a lifetime”), and an endless list of things. The Book of SPAM is available online from amazon.com. Today Spam comes in a dithering array of flavors—original, hickory smoked, with bacon, with garlic, with cheese, lite, turkey. The Web site has recipes—Spam stroganoff, Spam meatloaf, Spam quiche, a speedy dip, croquettes, and a minestrone soup made with Spam. There are also suggestions for adapting the ubiquitous meat to various cuisines. Prefer French food? You can have your Spam in ratatouille or something called Ragin’ Cajun Spam party salad. Asian? How about Speedy Cheesy Stir-fry? Spam a la orange? Sweet and sour Spam Cantonese? If Mexican is your preference, you can have Spam in chili relleños, ranchero eggs, chimichangas, or breakfast burritos. And finally, of course, there’s Italian—pizza is inevitable, but you can also make turkey Spam lasagna, eggplant Italiano, spaghetti sauce, or fettucine primavera. The possibilities are endless.
It’s no coincidence that spam has become the term for unwanted junk email. There’s an explanation on the Web, but it went over my head.
Here’s Weldon’s description and recipe for his Spam stix:
French Fried Spam Stix are intended as a replacement for both sausage links and hash browns to help break the monotony on a breakfast plate. They are a tasty match with my special “Dippin’ Sauce,” especially when paired with scrambled eggs. And kids love them for breakfast…or lunch…or dinner.In addition, this dish is completely gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, & corn-free. (It can easily be made egg-free as well by substituting Almond Milk for the beaten egg.) Food allergies are such an issue today that Hormel Foods should highlight the fact that Spam is gluten-free.
1 12-oz. Can of Spam (Several flavors will work, but I use the classic)
½ Cup Almond Meal (a.k.a. Almond Flour)
½ Cup Brown Rice Flour
½ Teaspoon Salt (or to taste)
1 Egg (beaten)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (to fry in)
Note: if gluten allergies don’t trouble you, substitute regular white flour and corn meal for the rice flour and almond meal.)
Kickin’ Chicken Dippin’ Sauce (So named for the chicken on the label of the Sriracha bottle)Ingredients:
1 cup ketchup
1 Tablespoon Sriracha hot sauce (or to taste)
French Fried Spam® Stix directions:
Set out two bowls in a line next to a deep pot you will use to fry in.In the bowl next to the pot, mix the Almond Meal, Brown Rice Flour & the salt.
In the bowl further away from the pot, thoroughly beat one egg.
Open and carefully remove the Spam from the can. Rinse and gently shake off any excess water.
Your block of Spam will have score marks (indentation lines) on the sides and ends from the shape of the can. Stand it upright. There is a single score mark down the middle of each of the skinny ends.
Use a sharp knife to cut the block in half using those lines as guide lines. Then divide each half the same way on your own, making 4 slabs of Spam.
Keep them stacked up and lay your Spam on its side. There are 4 score marks on the sides. Use them as guides to slice the SPAM® that way as well. Then divide each of the thicker end pieces in half the same way. You now have 28 almost uniform ‘French fry’ shaped pieces of Spam. Add enough Extra Virgin Olive Oil to your fry pot to cover at least half the thickness of these sticks and bring it to heat.
Once the oil is hot enough to fry, use the “wet-hand/dry-hand” method to move the sticks to the fry pot. Take some sticks in your “wet hand” (the one further away from the pot) and roll the sticks in the beaten egg. Then drop them on top of the mixed dry ingredients.Using your ‘dry hand’, cover the sticks and roll them over to ensure equal coating on all sides and ends. Then using the same hand, lay them on a broad spatula and lower them into the hot oil to fry.
As you fill the pot evenly across the bottom, check to make sure the first ones are not overdone. They should have a nice golden brown on the sides and bottom. If so, flip them with the spatula. Once all are done, remove them to a cooling/draining rack.Repeat the process until you have fried all 28 sticks. Once all are on the cooling rack, you can mix up the Kickin’ Chicken Dippin’ Sauce.
Kickin’ Chicken Dippin’ Sauce directions:In a bowl, mix 1 cup of ketchup with 1 tablespoon of Sriracha Sauce.
Paired with eggs, this serves four.