When Worlds Collide

It's not just for animal traps anymore

Not just for animal traps anymore

A couple of weeks ago I received a comment on my post in which I was rather dismissive of spam, comparing it to an MRE (Meal Ready to Eat). The comment-er, a Vietnam veteran, said “if you think MREs are tough, you should have been around when all we had were C-rations…” and went on to list several of the fine meals you can make with spam. (He also told me you can use it to bait animal traps and catch fish. Clearly here is someone who has attained the level of manliness I can only dream of.)

Prepared to reconsider my position, I set out to make spam jerky. I didn’t know what I was going to use it for, but inspiration soon struck: I was going to make a spam version of the ultimate Japanese snack food, ramen. Unless you have seen Juzo Itami’s genius comedy ‘Tampopo’ you have no idea how much the Japanese venerate ramen. (Sadly, Juzo Itami was killed by the Japanese mafia after making a film about how to avoid extortion by the Japanese mafia, but his work lives on.)

The great noodle western "Tampopo"

The great noodle western "Tampopo"

Calling ramen a noodle soup is like calling Godzilla a lizard. The finest ramen noodles are made by hand out of flour, water, and alkaline salts which oxidize them to a yellow colour, making them look as though they were made with eggs, which they are not. The soup broth is made over a day or two out of konbu (kelp), shiitake mushrooms, chicken bones, pork bones, sometimes fish such as sardines or tuna, vegetables, soy sauce, mirin, miso, and a spice called taré. When you order your bowl of ramen the noodles are swiftly cooked and placed in a bowl before having the soup ladled over them. Then the bowl is dressed with scallions, decorative fish cake, pork slices, squares of nori (seaweed), and sometimes a poached egg. How’s that for ‘fast’ food?

A little faster is my version, which uses the greatest Japanese invention of the twentieth century, according to a 2000 poll: instant noodles (compact discs, if you want to know, came in fifth). Invented in 1958 by Momofuku Ando, instant noodles changed the lives of poor people and college students everywhere. You might know them as a rather disgusting salty snack, but that’s because you haven’t thrown out the little flavour envelope of MSG and salt and gussied them up yet. A case of instant ramen costs a few bucks and provides endless possibilities for invention and variation, without the tedious business of making your own noodles by hand.

But first: the jerky!

Spam Jerky

Spam jerky is dead simple. You will need:

1 can of Spam lite (I normally disdain anything with the appellative ‘lite,’ but when it comes to making jerky, the rule is the leaner the meat the better)

Tabasco sauce

Freshly ground pepper

De-can your spam and slice it thinly, somewhere between 1/8 and ¼ of an inch per slice. Paint one side of the slices with Tabasco sauce using a pastry brush, and grind pepper over them. Flip the slices onto a cake rack or similar and dress the other side. This goes into an oven at about 150°F (just about the lowest setting possible) overnight or longer, to dehydrate. Presto. Concentrated ham goodness. No, really. You’ll be surprised how good this is. Unless you already are a spam fan, in which case you’ll be stunned.

concentrated bacon

concentrated bacon

Spam Jerky Ramen

Now, you don’t actually have to use instant ramen. Most Asian markets sell fresh ramen noodles, but the great advantage of instant ramen is that they are cheap and keep forever, or until you get a craving for noodles, which I do, every day.

You also don’t have to use these seasonings. You don’t even have to use spam jerky. Use whatever you have. If you like garlic, use garlic. Use fish cake, use some shredded leftover chicken or barbecue pork, use some finely shredded cabbage, use miso. Get creative. Here is just the ghetto ramen recipe I threw together today:

1 package of instant ramen, flavour sachet removed and thrown away

1 ½ cups water

1 Tb soy sauce

1 Tb hoisin sauce

¼ tsp instant dashi (Japanese fish & kelp based stock)

1 dash mirin (sweet cooking wine)

A few drops sesame oil

1 slice of spam jerky

2 scallions

Toasted nori (laver seaweed)

½ tsp grated ginger

Sriracha or other hot sauce

In a small pan, combine the water, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, mirin, and dashi. This is your stock: you can adjust the quantities to taste, but I prefer to keep it light and jazz it up afterwards. I add the sesame oil not just for flavour but to compensate for the lack of animal fattiness in the traditional stock. Bring to the boil.

Add the noodles and crumbled jerky, and cook until the noodles are ready, about 3 minutes. You will notice I am deviating from the traditional method of boiling the noodles separately and adding the soup later.

Transfer the soup to a bowl, stir in the ginger, and adjust the seasonings. You can add more soy and sriracha at this point until it is perfect.

Decorate the bowl with finely sliced scallions and some nori torn into squares.

spam ramen

A word about Sriracha. You probably know this sauce as the red bottle with the green spout you see in every Thai, Vietnamese, and teriyaki bar. It’s basically the Thai equivalent of Tabasco, and is very, very good. Get a bottle right now.

sriracha

10 comments to When Worlds Collide

  • “Juzo Itami was killed by the Japanese mafia” ?!

    oh.my.God.

    I *so* loved him, Tampopo and his cinema in general!!!

    -Vic aka the “other” Naomi (ask Chris, he knows me).

  • I comment as I read.

    this made me laugh out loud:
    “a spice called taré”

    taré in French (I’m French) means “nuts”, or “retarded”.

    reminds me that in the Carribean (I think), there’s a very common spice called “jerk sauce”.

    ;-)

    -Vic

  • thanks for the recipe. there’s no SPAM where I live, but plenty of dried ramen for poor students!

    also of note, I like that you explain all the names of the seaweeds. I learned a lot from your post today.

    and here’s to Sriracha *sips some excellent French wine* !!

    -Vic

  • No spam where you live? Where could that be?

  • WarPig

    Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner. Life got in the way. That is a good Spam jerky recipe. I prefer to use Jamaican jerk spice in place of the black pepper. I like mine zesty. I make it and take it with me on hunting or fishing trips. Just pop it in a plastic Ziploc bag and put it in a pocket. I’d advise not rubbing your eyes with the hand you used to pick the jerky out of the baggie, though. Also, in the Ramen recipe, actually in all my oriental soups and in many “western” soups, I tend to use some wasabi, either sliced or minced or powdered, depending on the soup. I cheat and use it in Chinese hot and sour soup, too. I happen to really like wasabi and, indeed, all the horseradishes.

    Did you know that Tabasco, in a pinch, is also an excellent disinfectant and also a local anesthetic (although the initial burn before things go numb is considerable)? In ‘Nam, I was on a LRRP and we got ambushed and had to withdraw. At the assembly area many of us were nicked up to some degree or another. I had gotten a piece of punji stake in my leg. The VC used to smear stuff on them and put them on either side of a trail, hoping you’d fall on them and be impaled if they fired on you. We were running out of the sulfa packets for disinfecting. I gave mine to Doc to use on the guys who had it a lot worse than I did. I took out the small bottle of Tabasco I always carried (to kill the taste of C-Rats)and, spreading the wound, took out the piece of bamboo and after letting it bleed a bit, dribbled the Tabasco in it. It stung considerable, let me tell you, but after a few minutes of my cursing quietly but fluidly under my breath the wound became numb and when Doc handed me a suture needle and some gut, I was able to stitch it closed myself without feeling it much. And, despite Charlie’s trick of smearing dukey on the stakes, it never got infected.

    However, I do not recommend it as a disinfectant or local anesthetic if other things are available. We also used Tabasco to put in our eyes to stay awake when we’d not slept in two or three days and we were on watch. I’ve heard the guys in Iraq used that same trick when they were on watch after days of fighting with no rest.

  • Good Lord. I understand they used to use garlic as an antiseptic to prevent gangrene in WWI and WWII. Whatever works, right?

  • Orv

    I’m going to have to try this. I love SPAM as a breakfast meat (fried up and served with rice and eggs) but never thought to turn it into jerky. Sounds like a good use for the leftovers, since a whole can is way more SPAM than I care to eat in a couple days.

  • WarPig

    Daniel:

    Garlic was called Russian Penicillin in WWII. And funny enough, it worked. The trick, as I understand it, was to smash up a bunch and lay it on/in the wound, then bind it tightly or put a cast on it. You had to keep as much air out as possible.

    “Garlic’s curative properties became more than anecdotal during World War I when British doctors used garlic juice on battlefield wounds to prevent infection. Russian physicians did the same during the Second World War and supplemented soldiers’ diets with garlic and onions to prevent disease.

    In fact, garlic was such an effective antibiotic that was nicknamed “Russian Penicillin.” It’s still used in Russia to treat many ailments and for preventive care. Public health educations programs promote garlic and onions as disease preventatives and not just because they help repel germ-carrying people. “

  • Orv

    Reminds me of a story I heard about the old doctor I used to see as a kid. Seems during WWII, when he worked as an Army doctor, there were critical shortages of penicillin. The military had ordered that it be used first to treat victims of STDs, because they could go back to the front and fight right away once they were cured — but that left insufficient amounts to treat soldiers with infected battle wounds. This troubled him. However, it turns out penicillin is rapidly removed from the blood by the kidneys and excreted in urine, so he would extract penicillin from the urine of patients and re-use it.

  • There’s a new (?) cookbook featuring Sriracha sauce, which they call “Rooster Sauce.”

    I had to chuckle at “Rooster Sauce,” because my Asian friends all call it “Cock Sauce.” :-)