People, I have arrived. A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to judge the SPAM Cook of the Year competition, along with TV chef Phil Vickery, a really chatty lady from er, Chat magazine and a ‘representative’ of Hormel Foods (the people who make the SPAM).
It’s very easy to take the piss out of SPAM. It’s chopped pork and ham – in a can. It has a funny sounding name and it consists of what is commonly known as ‘mystery meat’ – no-one is ever sure which bits of pig are in it or where those bits came from.
You know what though? I rather like it, once a year. I don’t know if it’s nostalgia or guilty pleasure. Probably both. I like a slice fried and served Chinese-style over rice with crisp steamed greens.
Asian flavours work very well with SPAM. In his piece for Word of Mouth, Oliver Thring talks about the Asian fondness for the luncheon meat, which he puts down to SPAM’s ‘porky saltiness’ and ‘familiarity with slimy, rubbery textures.’ He was right, too, in suggesting that’s what led me to make the SPAM mi (it’s a banh mi with SPAM), presumably as it led Su-Lin to drizzle kecap manis (sweetened soy) over hers and Lizzie to make her SPAM ramen noodles.
Amazingly, there was only 1 finalist at the Cook of The Year Awards who had the same idea. There were 6 finalists in total, previously picked by someone who remained nameless; the people at Hormel perhaps, who knows. I only saw the recipes 5 minutes prior to the start of the cook-off and a quick glance revealed that this was going to be an (ahem) interesting afternoon.
Some of the entries looked quite promising, while others were just a little bit scary, quite frankly. SPAM mousse anyone?
It was clear that all had put a lot of effort into their entries. One guy, who created without doubt the funniest recipe of the day, had been practising his ‘SPAM box’ for ages in order to perfect it. His cheeky, beer-addled student brain had come up with the idea of hollowing out a block of SPAM into two separate compartments; he filled one side with an egg and the other with baked beans. The box was literally still shaped like the tin, with a little spammy lid concealing the contents. He served it with a mushroom, black pudding and grilled tomatoes. He didn’t win, but we did decide to give him ‘special mention’ for making us smile.
The winner was Shannon Stenning who was put forward for the competition by her supervisor at catering college. Her SPAM rosti with a poached egg and hollandaise was actually, honestly, really tasty. We just kept digging our forks in for more – a sure sign that she was the worthy winner.
I’d always regarded SPAM as a comedy ingredient; a dirty secret; a hangover food, like eating a Pepperami or “pig snack” as my friend’s daughter calls them. It’s interesting though, to consider the different ways in which SPAM is perceived around the world. In Hawaii of course, they worship the stuff and in South Korea it’s considered a gourmet food. The contestants last week were also taking the SPAM seriously and because of that, it was only fair that I did, too.
Well done to Shannon who won a luxury 2-night stay for 2 people plus a spa treatment from Oxford Hotels and an iPod Touch. She slightly burnt her rosti but it didn’t matter and extra marks were awarded for the way she brought back that hollandaise when it split. If you had said to me that I would one day be eating SPAM and hollandaise and really quite liking it, I would have laughed you out of town. Always keep an open mind, kids, because you never know.
And as for runner-up prizes and freebies, it’s amazing how many things you can write the word ‘SPAM’ on. I already had a SPAM apron, spatula and recipe book (stop sniggering) but I am now the proud owner of a SPAMdle. That’s a candle made by pouring wax into an empty tin of SPAM. Seems like Shannon wasn’t the only winner, eh?