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ByLaura Williams Bustos, MSEd/Updated: Sept. 17, 2021 12:39 pm EDT
Maybe you've been a diehard SPAM fan your entire life, or maybe you decided to give it a try (like so many other Americans) while on a tight budget, quarantined at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless, if you have a few cans of the supposed "mystery meat" stocked in your pantry, you shouldn't feel shy about pulling them out and putting them to use. The reality is, SPAM isn't mystery meat at all — it's simply ground pork and processed ham meat mixed together with a few flavorings (like salt and sugar)and preservatives (like sodium nitrite), cooked up and sold in shelf-stable cans. That means it's not all that different from other lunch meats or canned proteins (like canned tuna, chicken, or chili), although its reputation as a "mystery,"along with its "slab 'o meat"appearance may make it seem less appetizing to those who have never tried a piece of pan-seared SPAM alongside a fried egg for breakfast.
But given that SPAM is really just preserved pork and ham, the lunch meat is actually quite versatile and can be served and enjoyed in a variety of dishes. So if you're looking for new ways to doctor up the meat and add interest to your budget-friendly menu, consider the following options for cooking and eating SPAM.
Add it to your mac 'n cheese
You've probably seen sliced up hot dogs added to mac and cheese, so the concept of adding lunch meat to your cheesy pasta isn't exactly breaking the mold for ideas, but it also may not have crossed your mind as a possibility. The thing about SPAM is that its shape lends itself to slicing, cubing, or dicing the meat into nice, even pieces, allowing you to distribute it evenly through your mac and cheese.
Plus, the size and shape of how you cut the SPAM gives you the ability to achieve different sensations when you mix it into your pasta. For instance, if you like bigger, meatier bites, you can cut larger cubes that you simply mix into the pasta as you cook the mac and cheese, allowing it to heat through without crisping up. On the other hand, if you prefer smaller, crispier pieces, you can dice the SPAM and pan fry it as your mac and cheese cooks, crisping up the outside before you toss it into your prepared pasta and cheese. It might not be fancy, but that doesn't mean it's not a popular and quick meal.
Give your breakfast sandwich a makeover
If, pre-pandemic, you found yourself swinging through the drive-thru at McDonald's or Starbucks to pick up an egg and meat-filled breakfast sandwich, there's no reason your morning meal needs to change if you're now working from home. With nothing more than a can of SPAM, a slice of cheese, an egg or two, and your favorite bread, you can whip up your own breakfast sandwich in just a few minutes. Simply slice a piece of SPAM off the block o' meat, aiming for a thickness that's roughly the same size as a piece of breakfast sausage. Heat up a skillet over medium-high heat and pan fry the spam, searing the outside to a slight crispiness and allowing the inside to heat through. Then simply prepare your eggs your favorite way (scrambled or fried are classic breakfast sandwich options), butter and toast your bread (use the skillet to get a nice grilled flavor), then layer all your ingredients.
The best thing about a SPAM breakfast sandwich?You're unlikely to find it offered at any chain restaurant, and because you're making it at home, you can personalize your sandwich however you like. For instance, choose different types of cheese, add a slice of tomato or a handful of spinach, or cut out all the "extras"and enjoy the unblemished flavor of a spice of SPAM between two halves of an English muffin, thick slices of bread, or leftover biscuits.
Top off a salad
Generally speaking, when you add meat to salad, it's best to choose chicken, steak, or blackened fish to really level up the salad and intensify the fresh flavors. But salads that typically feature diced ham, crumbled bacon, or mayonnaise-based cold salads (think pasta, egg, or potato salad), can easily be re-vamped to include SPAM. For instance, take your classic Cobb salad. It's typically topped with three different proteins — hard-boiled eggs, crumbled bacon, and grilled chicken —but you could easily substitute the bacon or chicken for diced and pan-fried SPAM instead. Likewise, given that a Chef salad already comes topped with cold lunch meat (usually turkey or ham), replacing the standard meat with SPAM is a natural option to mix up your lunchtime salad. And if you're looking for a way to add extra protein to your egg salad sandwich, simply make your favorite egg salad recipe and mix in finely chopped pieces of SPAM.
Use it as a pizza topping
On the surface, adding SPAM as a pizza ingredient might not sound as appetizing as say, sausage, pepperoni, or even ham, but really that's just because you're not used to hearing "SPAM pizza."There's not much difference between slices of preserved and processed pepperoni, and slices of processed and preserved SPAM. And when making homemade pizza, all you have to do is add thin slices or finely diced SPAM to your pizza, just as you would any other pizza topping.
If you're looking for ideas, you can keep it simple and simply top your crust with tomato sauce, cheese, diced SPAM, and thinly sliced bell pepper and onion. Or if you're a Hawaiian pizza lover, simply replace the ham with slices of SPAM. The flavor sensation will be slightly different from the classic, but you'll still get the sweet pop of pineapple against the salty and savory flavor of SPAM to titillate your tastebuds.
Don't forget the fryer
Just because you're cutting back on carbs doesn't mean you need to ditch the fries. Well, you'll likely want to ditch fries made from potatoes, given the carb count, but there are other options. Like SPAM fries, for instance. Granted, they won't taste exactly like fries made from potatoes (SPAM is meat, after all), but if you're looking for the crispy, dip-able snack that you can serve alongside a salad or grilled veggies, it's time to pull out a can of SPAM and your frying pan.
All you have to do is add peanut oil (or another high-heat vegetable oil) to your frying pan and heat it up. Slice up your SPAM into fry-shaped sticks, and when the oil is hot, add the SPAM fries in small batches (enough to cover the bottom of the pan in a single layer), frying them for about two or three minutes until the outside is nice and crispy. You don't even have to add salt or other spices because SPAM is already plenty salty on its own. When the fries are hot and ready, serve with your favorite dressing or dipping sauce, and don't be afraid to get creative! For instance, mix up Sriracha and mayonnaise, try a honey mustard, or even a barbecue sauce. If the sauce pairs well with meat, it'll probably taste good with your SPAM fries.
Make a hash with it
Traditional corned beef hash is made of diced beef, potatoes, onions, and cabbage, all fried in a skillet, sometimes served with scrambled or fried eggs for breakfast. But hashes, in general, don't have to include these specific ingredients. In fact, corned beef hash originated as a simple way to use up leftovers from dinner. So when you have some leftover veggies and you're looking for a way to put them to use before they go bad, or you're just looking for a new way to enjoy a well-balanced dinner, consider making a SPAM hash.
The sky's the limit when it comes to possible combinations, but if you're looking to make a breakfast hash, consider dicing up white or yellow onion, potatoes, bell peppers, and SPAM before pan-frying all the ingredients in a skillet over medium-high heat. When everything's nicely browned, you can fry or scramble an egg on top to give it a true breakfast feel. Or if you want to try a more fall-flavored SPAM hash, dice and chop Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, onion, and apples to brown and pan fry with your SPAM.
Incorporate it into pasta dishes
Macaroni and cheese isn't the only pasta you can add SPAM to. Any pasta recipe that's served with ham or bacon makes for a good recipe to substitute SPAM. For instance, spaghetti carbonara recipes are often made with pancettata or prosciutto, but you can easily dice and pan-fry SPAM before cooking the other ingredients (usually eggs, Romano and Parmesan cheese, and pepper for seasoning) to serve over freshly-cooked spaghetti.
Likewise, if you're making a cold pasta dish to serve at a picnic, simply add diced SPAM in place of diced ham or crumbled bacon. The only trick with cold pasta dishes is deciding if you need to pan-fry the SPAM to give the outside a crispier texture before adding the meat to your pasta to chill in the fridge. You may decide you prefer the "natural" (uncooked)texture of SPAM more, in which case you simply dice up the meat and toss it in with your pasta, veggies, and dressing before popping it all in the fridge to cool.
Add it to your hot pot
If you're unfamiliar with the concept of a "hot pot,"then it's time to try something new. Think of a hot pot a little like you might think of fondue — it's typically a communal meal enjoyed by a group (the group doesn't have to be big — your family counts!) that involves a steaming hot broth, sliced and diced foods to dip and cook in the broth, and sauces to enjoy with the dipped foods. Essentially, you're cooking meats and veggies at the table as a group, so having lots of options is part of the fun.
While SPAM might be an out-of-the-boxprotein to include as a meat choice, instead of asking yourself, "why?"try asking yourself, "why not?" Simply slice SPAM thinly (maybe even consider trying some different SPAM flavors, like teriyaki) and serve alongside other options like thinly sliced beef, prosciutto, meatballs, dumplings, and assorted veggies. You could even make your hot pot "SPAM themed"and offer all the different flavors of SPAM as cookable options.
Use it in your fried rice
Fried rice is one of those delicious, Asian dishes that lends itself to a variety of added proteins. This is because the focus is more on the whole mixture of rice, veggies, and proteins, than it is on a single type of meat. That's why you can find veggie fried rice, chicken fried rice, pork fried rice, shrimp fried rice, and, well ... you get the picture. So there's certainly no reason not to try SPAM fried rice.
Making this type of dish is refreshingly simple. You just need to cook rice (using a rice cooker makes this especially easy), and while the rice is cooking, heat oil over high heat, stir-frying onions and garlic before adding dice spam to brown up the edges, and cook it through. Once that's done, add any additional stir-fried veggies you want — diced carrots, peas, and peppers are good choices — and when all the veggies are cooked through, mix in the rice. Once everything is hot, stir in eggs, soy sauce, salt, and pepper, and in just a few minutes your SPAM fried rice is ready to serve.
Enjoy it in desserts
Okay, so including SPAM in desserts may not sound like a great idea, but try to reserve your judgment for a few minutes. If bacon can be used in desserts ranging from cupcakes to ice cream, there's really no reason why SPAM can't be used in a similar fashion. The trick is to include SPAM as a savory hint, rather than the main event. One easy way to give it a try without investing a ton of time cooking is to try your hand at SPAM s'mores. All you need is the regular s'mores ingredients — halved graham crackers, a chocolate bar, and large marshmallows — and thinly sliced pieces of SPAM cut to fit between your graham cracker "sandwich."
To prep your s'mores, simply fry up the slices of SPAM over medium-high heat, getting them nice and crispy on the outside. If you slice the SPAM the same thickness as a piece of bacon, you'll end up with a nice texture. Break apart your chocolate bar into pieces that will fit on top of the graham crackers. Start your s'mores by layering a slice of SPAM on one graham cracker half, with a piece of chocolate on top.Place your marshmallows on a skewer and grill them over your stove (or an outside grill)until they're golden brown on the outside, and soft and melty on the inside. As soon as the marshmallows are ready, layer them on top of the chocolate and top with another graham cracker half.
Add it to soups
Soups are a great option for lunch or dinner on cold winter days, and because you can often just throw a whole bunch of ingredients in a pot with water or broth to cook, they're an easy crowd-pleaser. For any soup that typically calls for ham or bacon (split pea soup and bacon and potato soup are two options), you can simply sub in SPAM for the other meat. But really, almost any soup can be made with SPAM.
When you're looking for an easy soup recipe on a work night, try making a slow cooker soup with SPAM. All you really need are canned veggies (you can choose your favorites, but for a tomato-based soup, try options like V8, diced tomatoes with onions and green chilies, mixed veggies, okra, and corn), a can of SPAM cut into small cubes, and spices like salt, pepper, paprika, and hot sauce. Throw all the ingredients in your slow cooker and cook on low for eight hours. When you get home from work, simply spoon into bowls, top with cheese and chips, and enjoy!
SPAMburgers and SPAMwiches — enough said
SPAM is made to be cut into slices of whatever thickness you prefer, making it an excellent option when building burgers at home. Plus, SPAM can be grilled, heated in the oven, pan fried, or eaten without additional cooking, making the varieties of burgers or sandwiches you can enjoy practically endless. Even McDonald's has capitalized on the appeal of SPAM's burgers. So the next time you're craving a gourmet-level burger but you don't feel like going out, simply grab a can of SPAM from your pantry and get to work. For instance, try grilling up a couple of thick slices of SPAM to layer with cheddar and pepper jack cheese, sauteed onions and jalapenos, Sriracha mayonnaise, and slices of lettuce and tomato for a spicy burger. Or, slice smaller pieces of spam (aiming for narrow slices similar to fajita meat) and pan-fry them with onions and bell peppers, then layer them in a roll with Provolone and mozzarella cheese and dill pickle slices for a fresh take on the Philly cheesesteak.
Have Spam tacos
If you think about it, tacos are really just another form of sandwiches, right?You have your bread (the tortilla), and you load it up with meats, cheese, veggies, and sauces. So if you can make practically any sandwich you want with SPAM, you can certainly make tacos, too. Of course, they won't be authentic Mexican or TexMex tacos, but that doesn't mean they'll be bad. Just not traditional. So go head and slice up your SPAM meat into ground beef-sized pieces, throw them in a frying pan to cook with oil and taco seasoning, then load the pieces into the tortillas of your choice. Serve with shredded cheese, pico de gallo, lettuce, and diced onions for a more "standard"taco, or mix up the toppings and try mango and pineapple salsa, shredded cabbage, and lime juice for more of a Caribbean flare. There's really no way to go wrong on taco Tuesday when you add SPAM to the menu.
Put a stick in it
Who doesn't love a good kabob?Perfect for poolside parties and camping cookouts, loading veggies and diced meats onto a stick before grilling them is a great way to provide hand-held meals that can be personalized for everyone in your household. Most kabobs feature chicken or beef, but there's no reason not to also include SPAM. In fact, because SPAM is pre-cooked, it could even cut down on the time you spend cooking, giving you more time to relax and eat with family and friends. Try grilling your cubed SPAM with pieces of bell pepper (all the colors!), grape tomatoes, chunks of onion, thick slices of squash, mushrooms, or even cubes of pineapple and mango. Or, if you want a more fall-flavored kabob, try combining apples, SPAM, red onions, and Brussels sprouts.
When your kabobs are done cooking, you can serve the sticks as-is, or you can decant the toppings onto a bed of greens or rice to round out your meal.
Make Spam casseroles
The beauty of a good casserole is that you can "hide" pretty much anything inside. Not that you want to hide the fact that you're serving SPAM, but if you typically whip up a casserole with a different meat, and you haven't been able to make it to the grocery store in time, you can probably sub in SPAM without raising many eyebrows. No, SPAM doesn't taste like ground beef or chicken, but as long as you just tell your family, "Hey, I'm trying something new this time," they probably won't ask too many questions. Especially when your casserole is loaded with cheeses, creamy fillings, and tasty toppings like breadcrumbs, fried onions, or even tater tots.
In fact, a tater tot casserole is the perfect way to try using SPAM. Simply saute onions and cubes of SPAM in a frying pan. Whisk eggs, cheddar cheese, salt, pepper, and other seasonings in a large bowl before mixing in a bag of frozen tater tots and the onions and SPAM. Cook the entire mix in a casserole dish for about 45 minutes, waiting for the eggs to firm up and turn golden brown. Just like that, you have the perfect SPAM breakfast casserole that's practically guaranteed to satisfy the whole family.