Are you a fan of Spam? No, not the junk email kind…the meaty canned mix that’s been around since WW2, when it was a much loved (or loathed) troop staple. It’s ubiquity and reputation was such that American GIs even labeled Spam “ham that failed the physical.”
A portmanteau of ‘Spice’ and ‘Ham,’ Spam is a cultural culinary icon. Originally marketed to busy housewives as ‘the miracle meat’ that didn’t need to be refrigerated, Spam’s big selling points included the possibility of enjoying it hot or cold, straight from the can, in countless Spam-centric recipes.
Soldiers On Spam
During the war effort, millions of cans of Spam were shipped to troops as a low-cost, filling, nutritious staple that was easy to transport and store for months on end. Inevitably, it quickly became the scourge of soldiers who had to eat it virtually every day in some form or another.
It even inspired some of them to think up increasingly creative ways to express their frustration at being served Spam for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One anonymous poem ends with the lines:
And thus the endless cycle goes;
It never seems to cease —
There’s Spam in cake and Spam in pie
And Spam in rancid grease.
The reference to Spam in ‘rancid grease’ is particularly appropriate; one of Spam’s extracurricular wartime uses was as a lubricant for the moving parts of guns. Pioneering soldiers used the greasy meat residue to waterproof boots and tents, before enjoying a game of poker played with Spam slices inked with card markings.
The empty tins weren’t wasted either – they were often pressed into service as pots and kitchen utensils.
A Festival of Spam?
Feelings about Spam during the war years might have been mixed, but today, Spam is still so loved in Hawaii, following the military presence there during WW2, that the locals have an entire festival dedicated to it.
Despite its rich history, if you think Spam doesn’t exactly set your culinary world alight, then we might just have a revelation for you. Try the homemade version.
Homemade Spam is tender and delicious and can form the basis of countless sandwiches and meals. The ingredients are few, the method is easy with no specialist equipment required and the results are seriously mouthwatering.
Serve up some nostalgia with a few slices fried up with eggs or in a grilled cheese Spamwich or go a little fancy and stir fry chopped Spam with Chinese rice or noodles.
Here’s how to get some homemade Spam into your life:
- 5 lbs pork shoulder;
- 1 lbs ham;
- 2 tbs + 1 tsp Tender Quick (order online if your local store doesn’t stock it);
- 3 tbs – sugar;
- 3 tbs – cornstarch or potato starch;
- 1 tbs – Kosher salt;
- 1 cup – ice-cold water;
#1. Preheat your oven to 250º
#2. If you have a bone-in piece of pork shoulder, remove the bone with a sharp knife and set aside. Dice the pork shoulder meat into stew-size pieces, keeping any fat attached to the meat.
#3. Again, without trimming off any soft fat, dice the ham into the same size pieces as the pork shoulder.
#4. Spread the cubed meats in an even layer on a tray and place in the freezer for 45 minutes to firm up.
#5. Meanwhile, make your curing slurry. Mix the Tender Quick, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a bowl with the ice-cold water until the dry ingredients are dissolved.
#6. Set the bowl to one side while you grind the meats, either pushing them through a grinder or using a heavy-duty food processor (you might have to work in batches with this option).
#7. Combine the ground meats in a large bowl and pour over the slurry, mixing everything together really well, preferably with your hands.
#8. Once everything is thoroughly mixed, press the mixture into a bread pan(s) and securely double-wrap the pan with aluminum foil.
#9. Place the smaller oven pan into a larger one and pour in cold water to come three-quarters of the way up the side before putting into the preheated oven for 3- 3/12 hours.
#10. After the cooking time is done, remove from the oven and check that the center of the loaf has reached an internal temperature of 155º.
#11. Take the pan out of the water bath and place a heavyweight on top of the foil and leave until completely cool.
#12. Once cooled, place into the refrigerator – with the weight in place – overnight.
#13. The next morning, remove the weight and foil and loosen around the edges of your Spam with a butter knife. Slide-out onto a plate and slice!
What you’ll notice immediately is the rich, delicious savory jelly that surrounds the meat. If you can resist eating your homemade Spam right away, store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze in parchment paper-wrapped slices.
The juicy, tender, meaty texture and that appetizing jelly is a killer combination that guarantees the first time you make homemade Spam is never the last.