Spam Musubi is one of those dishes that could only come about in Hawaii. It stands as an example of exactly what is so interesting, comforting, and delicious about Hawaiian food.
In Hawaii, spam is a highly regarded food. Oahu is home to that famous navy base, Pearl Harbor, of which we all know the significance during World War II. Beyond Pearl Harbor, the Hawaiian islands served an important role as a foothold and rallying place in the Pacific. Many battleships moved through there, and along with them came the wartime food.
Spam, officially called a luncheon meat, is a heavily salted, canned, pressed, loaf of pork. Due to its long shelf-life, it was an ideal wartime food. It can be eaten straight out of the can if necessary, but is much tastier fried in a pan until crispy.
Some will disparage spam, as its slightly slimy and geometric appearance can be off-putting, but none who have eaten a plate of perfectly crispy spam and eggs or a spam musubi would make that mistake. As an aside, if you have ever eaten a sandwich made with sliced deli meats, they are the same damn thing. Believe it or not, that loaf of meat behind the deli counter did not naturally grow in that perfect rectangular prism–it is also a loaf of meat pressed out of scraps. And any good environmentalist (or chef) will tell you that there is nothing wrong with making something tasty out of the scraps.
The origin of spam musubi is in the Japanese snack onigiri, which are rice balls wrapped in nori and often stuffed with a tasty filling. After the war, the military stockpiles of spam (and other foods) were made available to the public, and makers of onigiri had a new ingredient to play with.
At its base, spam musubi is simply a piece of fried spam atop a bed of packed rice, wrapped in nori. And that is a pretty good snack. But with a little bit of dressing up, spam musubi becomes something really spectacular. In this recipe I use sushi rice as the base, with its sweet, salty, and sour flavor, and make a soy and brown sugar glaze for the spam. It is only a couple extra steps, and they turn it from a pretty good snack to something to drool over.
A crispy, salty-sweet piece of fried pork on top of slightly sweet and sour sushi rice, wrapped with fragrant nori. It does not get much better, folks.
Serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 with a side for a light dinner
2 cups short or medium grain Japanese rice
2 cups water
½ cup rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 can spam in 8 slices
1 tbsp + 1 tsp soy sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp rice vinegar
3 sheets of nori
First you will make the sushi rice. Some folks make spam musubi with balls of normal, medium grain rice, but the delicate flavor of sushi rice is worth the extra effort.
On the stove, combine 2 cups of rice and 2 cups of water in a pot over medium-high heat. Cover and bring to a boil. When it reaches a boil, reduce the heat to low and allow it to simmer for 10 minutes. Uncover as little as possible. If necessary, you may lift the lid briefly to peek or to let off a little bit of excess heat, but try to keep it covered the entire time, relying on sound to tell you how it is doing.
After the rice has simmered for 10 minutes, remove it from heat and allow it to steam for another 10 minutes. Do not uncover it during this time, the steaming is very important.
After 10 minutes have passed, your rice should be perfectly al dente. At this point, mix together the ½ cup rice vinegar, 1 tbsp sugar, and 1 tsp salt in a small bowl until the sugar and salt have dissolved. Transfer the rice to a large bowl where you will have space to stir it. Pour the vinegar, sugar, and salt mixture over the hot rice and stir it well to combine.
Once stirred well, you can allow the rice to cool and begin cooking the spam.
Remove the loaf of spam from the can and slice it into eight even, rectangular pieces. Add the spam to a large skillet over medium heat and cook until nicely crisp on both sides. If you do not have a skillet large enough for all eight pieces to cook at once, feel free to cook them in batches.
When all of your spam slices are nicely crisped, remove the pan from heat and allow it to cool for around 1 minute. Add the soy sauce and rice vinegar first, allowing them to absorb some of the heat of the pan, then add the brown sugar. Stir it all around until it forms a nice glaze on the spam pieces.
The skillet needs to cool slightly before you do this or you run the risk of immediately turning the sugar into a hard candy. If the skillet is at a reasonable temperature, it will instead become a sweet and salty glaze for the spam slices. Be sure to flip them once to get glaze on both sides. And if the mixture is too thin to form a proper glaze, you can apply some heat to cook out a bit of moisture.
After the spam has taken on the glaze, remove them from the pan.
Slice your sheets of nori into strips around 2 inches wide.
To assemble the spam musubi, begin by laying down a strip of nori and placing a slice of spam in the center, perpendicular to the nori.
Wet your hands and pick up ~½ cup of the cooked sushi rice. Use your fingers to shape the ball of rice into a rectangle of similar size to the spam slice.
Place the rice ball on top of the slice of spam and wrap the nori around it. Wet your fingers again and seal the nori to itself with a bit of water. Flip the musubi over and voila, there it is.
These make an excellent snack or appetizer, and two plus a salad makes a nice light dinner.
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