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.)
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 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)
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.
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
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.
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.