Hot Fusion

eating musubiRice, to me, is not a comfort food like pasta or bread. It is something far more fundamental and taken for granted until you don’t have it, like blood. Rice is a hint at the great and profound fact that we must eat to live. When I hear the word “Spam,” on the other hand, I feel like I just watched someone trip off the edge of the sidewalk – simultaneously compassionate and amused. Spam does not even deserve to be rice’s opposite – their relationship is more akin to Superman and helpless victim. However! I should have realised that without the helpless victim, Superman is just a dude in tights wearing his underwear on the outside, and I’ve learned that if you put rice and Spam together you get the way-too-unknown Hawaiian snack known as Spam musubi. You won’t see it in fusion restaurants but musubi are true fusion cuisine, combining both the Japanese and American influences in Hawaii in perfect harmony.

musubi on a plate

If you’re going to do a dish comprised of just Spam and rice, do it right. Sushi rice is tricky to make perfectly, and, unfortunately, there is no simple recipe. It all depends on what kind of rice you are using. Once you open this particular can of worms you soon understand why in many Japanese restaurants there’s a guy whose sole job is just to prepare the rice. I quote from the brilliant but absurdly named Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji:

“It is difficult to prescribe an exact formula for the size of pot and the amount of water to use in cooking rice because there are so many variables. Assuming that our interest is only in short-grain rice, we still must consider whether it was grown in a flooded paddy or dry field, whether the rice is newly harvested or whether it has already been on the shelf for some time, whether the climate is hot and muggy or desert dry. These are all factors that the rice chef, with a many-year training period, would have no trouble in dealing with.”

Not being a rice chef, I had some trouble dealing with the factors. I used white medium grain Calrose rice from California, which is often considered a good substitute for real Japonica sushi rice. Shizuo Tsuji suggests as a general rule, for rice of Asian origin grown in wet fields, 1 cup of water to 1 cup of washed rice (not dry), and for rice of American or European origin (grown in dry fields), 1 ¾ cups of water to 1 cup of dry rice. Exhausted yet? I followed his directions for American rice and ended up with rice pudding, not at all suitable for sushi. Fortunately, no one was very hungry yet, so I had time to start again:

Rice for Spam Musubi

2 cups medium-grain Calrose rice from California

2 cups water

4 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

1 tablespoon white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Wash the rice. This is done by putting the rice in a bowl, covering with cold water and squishing the rice around with your hands until the water turns milky. Do not let the rice stand in the water – when the water is milky, pour it out. Refill the bowl with cold water. Do this for about five minutes, removing the starches, until the water is almost clear. Shizuo Tsuji makes a point of mentioning that later washings should be performed more gently than the first washings, to avoid “bruising” the grains. Sure. Whatever. When done, drain the rice in a sieve and let stand for 30 minutes to an hour. I am convinced this does something, because the rice changes from clear to opaque.

Place the rice in a heavy pot with a tight fitting lid. I used my Le Creuset cast iron casserole. Add the water, cover, and heat over medium heat until the water just starts to boil. Turn the heat to high and let the water get to a vigorous boil. White foam will creep out from under the lid and sizzle on your burner but this is a sign you are doing the right thing. After two minutes, reduce heat to low and simmer for five more minutes. Do not, at any time, take the lid off to see how it is doing.

Turn off the heat and let the rice sit for twenty minutes unmolested.

While this is happening, combine the rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar and salt dissolve. The quantities of the flavourings vary, traditional sushi rice is quite a bit sweeter, but we don’t like sweet things much. When dissolved, cool the saucepan in an ice bath (just kidding. No I’m not. Well, I did it. Hey, in for a penny, in for a pound, right?).

Now enlist your helper with a bamboo fan (or folded newspaper), lift off the lid on the pot, and sprinkle in the vinegar mixture. While your helper fans like a demon, cut the rice with a wooden spatula and turn it, essentially speed cooling it. This also apparently does something essential to the texture of the rice, I’m not sure what, but 126 million Japanese can’t be wrong, can they?

block of rice

And there you have it. Perfect sushi rice, unless you are using a different brand than me or the weather is unsual or… anyway, if you want oodles more detail on the subject, I urge you to consult Japanese Cooking, a Simple Art.

Did I mention you will need a musubi mold?

Sorry about that. A musubi mold, exactly the dimensions of a slice of Spam, is used to compress the rice into a lovely brick shape. I don’t have a musubi mold, but I have a lovely 70s era sushi press that served the purpose. I have heard that some musubi fans use the empty Spam can.

Spam Musubi

Prepared sushi rice

1 can Spam

2 sheets nori

Furikake seasoning

De-can your Spam and slice it into eight even slices. Heat up a frypan and toss in the Spam. When it begins to brown on the underside, pour in a mix of soy sauce and sugar. How much? Well, let’s say about three tablespoons of soy and 1 teaspoon of sugar, but you can mix it up to your own taste. Spam is far more forgiving than rice. The Spam will quickly suck up the soy; turn it off the heat.

frying spam

Place rice in mold. Squash rice under high pressure until it is a firm brick. Sprinkle the rice brick with furikake and add slice of Spam. Since I was using a long sushi mold, I found it the perfect size to hold four slices of Spam, which I then turned into individual musubi with a sharp knife.

nori

Cut strips of nori, and wrap the musubi up prettily. The nori is essential, it adds a fresh vegetable aroma to the heavily meaty Spam. My word, this is a snack for the gods, believe me.

lots of musubi

8 comments to Hot Fusion

  • War Pig

    Love me some Spam. Spam sushi, Spam jerky, Spam & eggs. Spam chili, Spam stew, Spam gravy, etc.

    Spam sushi is not only served in Hawaii, but in the Philippines where they use Spam for EVERYthing. Some Filipinas will cut Spam into rectangular “hot dogs”, pan or deep fry it and serve it on hot dog buns cut crosswise into halves.

    I’m glad you brought this one out. Spam doesn’t get the respect it deserves. Hope you are enjoying Hawaii way too much. Had an ice storm here yesterday. Ugh.

  • I am not in Hawaii, alas. My wife brought back tales of this wonderfood from her visit last year.

    Hadn’t heard about the Filipino spam-dogs, but I know there’s a soup in South Korea called budae jjigae, “army base stew” based on Spam and hotdogs. Everywhere the GIs went the Spam went too it seems.

  • War Pig

    As many soldiers have, I spent time in the 2d Infantry on guard in Korea. While I had heard of that stew, I have never eaten it, myself. But then, I also heard of Korean dog stew, boshintang (SP?), but have never eaten it, either. I like dogs too well.

    Spam is good. I even cut Spam thin with a meat slicer and use it like shaved ham or as a replacement for salami if I didn’t have any salami. If you had to exist for very long on the old-style C-rations, a can of Spam was a delight. In ‘Nam, we used to carry 3 things not issued: rice balls w/raisins, Tabasco and Spam.

  • War Pig

    @daniel:

    Just read an article supporting the cooking and intelligence theory you postulated a while back. Read it here:

    http://www.world-science.net/exclusives/121022_cooking.htm

  • I do like that theory. Cooking has never felt like a chore to me, it feels fundamental.

  • Muzhik

    I was listening to NPR in the shower this morning. In between the chattering of the hosts and the anguished cries for help (”Give us money or we’ll shoot the kitten live on Car Talk!”) there was a story in the section called “The Salt” where they talk about food. I thought you might find it very interesting, in a “Maybe Dr. Frankenstein was on to something” sort-of-way:

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2013/03/07/173611461/in-a-grain-of-golden-rice-a-world-of-controversy-over-gmo-foods

    For the record, I didn’t used to be so opposed to GMO foods. But ever since they HAD to create glow-in-the-dark fish and HAD to put human genes in my tomatoes, I’m much less inclined to look favorably on Frankenfoods.

  • I wonder if it would be possible to engineer rice so that it contains ALL the nutrients you need to live and thrive. Think of it – rice three times a day! It would be just like “The Seven Samurai.”

    Oh, by the way, they have glow in the dark kittens now too.

  • Muzhik

    I’m fully aware of glow-in-the-dark kittens. It’s just that kittens, at this time, don’t form even a small part of my acceptable food list. (Which is a fancy way of saying I’m a picky eater. That may change if my cats don’t stop puking right in front of the bathroom door at night.)

    And as for rice three times a day? Forget it. Not until they develop a strain of rice that can be crushed to exude cocoa liquor and cocoa butter. IOW, chocolate rice.

    What’s more, as much as my mind likes playing hyperactive hopscotch, I’m reminded of a John Brunner novelette that appeared in the March 1994 issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (aka Asimovs) titled “Good With Rice”.

    (spoiler alert) The upshot of the story is that someone from the WHO is traveling to the hinterlands of China to find out why so many Chinese women have started dying of ovarian cancer. By chance, she traces it to an act of bio-terrorism on the part of a Russian scientist. This geneticist engineered a new plant that produces a fleshy fruit, high in protein and other nutrients, that tastes very much like pork when cooked. He seeded these plants throughout much of China, with the result that the peasants start relying on it as a big source of food — it keeps them from starving. The locals call this new food “Good With Rice”. The problem is that the geneticist put a “Trojan horse” into the new fruit: after a few years of eating it, women develop ovarian cancer. Within a generation, China will cease to be.

    The story was written 20 years ago, before the effects of China’s one-child policy and sex-selective abortions started becoming realized; still, since reading it I can’t eat any GMOs without thinking, “I wonder if this would be good with rice?”