Gourmet Spam Can Make You Think Twice About the Pork Product
Love it or hate it, Spam is here to stay — although you're definitely in the majority if you really don't care for it. For years, mainstream opinion has denounced the canned pork product, so much that its very name has been used as the slang term for undesirable email that you can't avoid and just want to drag into the trash.
Spam, a product of Hormel Foods, is almost synonymous with "processed food," yet with its unnaturally rectangular shape, it's a product so peculiar that it has become sort of a cult food item. In many developing nations, particularly in the Pacific, Spam is a part of the culinary culture — a remnant of the days of American military bases that required cheap canned meat. I myself am Filipino-American and grew up with Spam, and I quite enjoyed it for breakfast. So I wasn't too shy about trying a house-cured gourmet version of it.
"Spam really is a terrine — a French terrine," says classically trained and seasoned Chef Edric Har (Le Bernardin, Veritas, Cru), who serves his own version of Spam at his restaurant, Brooklyn Wok Shop, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. "It's ground pork, it's cured, it's cooked. I mean, it's even the same thing in a loaf. It's just got a bad rap, you know, because it was in a can."
The idea to make a gourmet version of Spam — sans the congealed fat that comes in the canned version — came from Chef Edric's wife, Melissa, who runs the restaurant with him. It's all a part of their combined efforts to make cleaner, "upgraded" Chinese food, which they've dubbed "Chinese food 2.0."
"I go to my butcher. I get a nice fatty pork butt, you know what I mean? I use butt. I mean, that's the best part of the pig, I feel," says Chef Edric. "It's ground, I cure it, and I cook it."
The end result of his specific blending of pork, salt and a little cornstarch, as a binding agent "to give it that Spammy, spongy kind of texture," is a gourmet "Spam" that is sliced and cooked in the similar fashion as the real thing. It's served on his brunch menu with his version of egg foo young, rice and taro home fries, as "Eggs & Spam." Right now it remains on the brunch menu to see if it catches on, in hopes that even a gourmet version of Spam might be cult-worthy.
If I didn't know this was a gourmet, house-cured version of Spam made with fresh ingredients, I wouldn't have known the difference. It's salty and delicious, and it reminds me of childhood — but perhaps I'm a bit biased because I already have the acquired taste for it. However, diner Laura Pence, who had never had Spam before (canned or otherwise), sampled it — and she quite enjoyed it.
"I always thought Spam was a gelatinous type of fake ham," says Laura. "Who knew that it is real pork and that I actually like it? It's like a delicious, salty comfort food... The fact that I knew this version came from high-quality meat may have swayed my opinion, but I would be open to trying the real deal."
This upgraded version of Spam tastes exactly like the real thing, which is a weird thing to say because which Spam is "real": the one in the can, or the one made fresh with meat from a butcher? In any case, Brooklyn Wok Shop makes a mean salty pork terrine, which just so happens to be nicknamed "Spam." And as Chef Edric says, "There's really nothing better than pork and salt."
Erik Trinidad is the author of Fancy Fast Food: Ironic Recipes with No Bun Intended, based off his popular food humor blog, fancyfastfood.com.