Recipes from the Road: Hawaiian Spam Musubi
We’ve all seen the blue and yellow signature cans of SPAM at the grocery store, but have you ever tried it? Hawaiians have a longstanding love affair with Spam. They eat it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, consuming more Spam than any other population in the world. With an average of twelve cans per person per year, Hawaiians are consuming four million cans of Spam every year. Their favorite way being through Spam musubi.
Spam History Lesson
In Minnesota, the Hormel Company developed America’s first canned ham in 1926. Once the hams were cut, the company had thousands of pounds of wasted pork shoulder leftover. Eventually, the wasted pork shoulders were used to make Spam in 1937 and with it an American icon and American institution was born. With no refrigeration needed, Spam sales boomed during World War II. Commonly used in military meals and a standard K-ration for US soldiers, Spam was quickly introduced to the Hawaiian Islands.
A Taste of Spam Musubi
The most known and favorite way for Hawaiians to consume Spam is by eating Spam musubi. Musubi, (pronounced moo-sue-bee) is eaten like a sandwich with fried sliced Spam on top of pressed rice, wrapped in seaweed, or nori. You can find musubi pretty much everywhere in Hawaii from convenience stores, like 7-11, to food carts to bake sales to grocery stores and almost anywhere that sells food. Spam musubi is a wonderfully simple culinary creation composed of four ingredients- Spam, rice, nori, and furikake. Each ingredient a staple of every Hawaiian kitchen. Put together, they create one of the tastiest little snacks that always leave you wanting more. Before you begin assembling, make sure to have all your ingredients ready to be able to put the musubi together when the Spam is at its hottest and crispest. Working according to your taste preferences, there are no exact measurements involved in making musubi. But, a good rule of thumb to go by when making musubi is three cups of uncooked sushi rice for every can of spam.
Hawaiian Spam Musubi Recipe
1 can Spam
1 pat of Butter
3 cups uncooked sushi rice
Hawaiian Teriyaki sauce (recipe below)
- Open the can of Spam and remove it from inside. Set the can to the side as you will need it later. Slice the Spam into eight even pieces. You can slice them thinner giving you ten slices or thicker giving you six; all depending on your preference. We like our musubi on the Spam-y side and prefer to go with the eight piece cut.
- Pour some of your teriyaki sauce in a flat pan and place your Spam slices in it making sure they are completely submerged in the teriyaki sauce. If you pile your Spam on top of each other, like we did, be sure to flip the bottom Spam with the top so each piece gets a turn fully being in the teriyaki sauce. Let the Spam bathe in the sauce while you get everything else ready. This allows your Spam to pick up more of the teriyaki flavor.
- Cook three uncooked cups of sushi rice per package directions. No one in Hawaii would use instant rice and you shouldn’t either. Yes, it must be sushi rice to be able to stick together properly.
- Cut the nori sheets in half lengthwise. Fill up a small dish with water. Make sure your furikake is open and ready to go. Set up a work station with your cooked rice, rice paddle to keep it from sticking all over your hands, cut nori, water dish, opened furikake, and the empty Spam can. Some people use a musubi maker, but it’s pretty easy to pick up how to make musubi with your hands, so a maker isn’t really needed.
- Heat up a frying pan over medium heat. Melt a pat of butter in the pan before laying the slices of Spam in the pan. Slowly put half of the teriyaki sauce left in the dish over the Spam. Fry the Spam for 2 to 3 minutes on each side. Keep frying until the sugar in the sauce has caramelized and you have reached your desired level of crispiness. Flip the Spam over and pour the other half of the teriyaki sauce on top. Keep frying until you reach your desired level of crispness on the other side of the Spam, as well. Once done, transfer the Spam to a plate.
- You already have everything laid out and waiting for you to make your musubi assembling as quickly as possible. You will want to work quickly to be able to assemble the musubi while the Spam is still warm and crispy.
- Place a cut sheet of nori down on your work space. Wet your hands. Paddle out a generous mound of rice into them. Use your hands to assemble a brick of rice about an inch thick; constantly pressing to make sure the rice sticks together. No one wants a floppy, unpressed Spam musubi.
- If you are unable to make the rice brick with your hands, you can use the empty can to help you. Press the rice into a pile on your workstation, away from your nori. Use the can to “cut” the brick. Once you have the shape, make sure to still press the rice really well.
- Shake a thin layer of furikake over the rice and lay a slice of Spam on top. If you are feeling adventures you can use li hing mui powder in place of the furikake to give it a completely different taste of tangy-sweet. Most prefer the flavor of furikake and the added crunch of sesame seeds in it.
- Here’s where you can play with your musubi a bit. You can either add another shake of the furikake on top of the Spam and another layer of rice, or not. The option is up to you. We make and eat it both ways, enjoying both versions for different reasons.
- Press all the layers together, as hard as you can. You want the musubi to pack together as tightly as possible to make it easy for you to eat or pack to take with you to the beach. No one likes musubi that falls apart in their lap while eating it.
- No matter which version of musubi you decide to make, quickly wrap the nori around the rice. Leave the nori on the work station and place the rice brick on top. Wrap the nori around the rice and Spam. Use a few grains of rice and a little water on your finger to help seal up the nori and hold everything together.
- For best results, eat immediately! The warm, crispy Spam and crunch nori go perfect together.
- If making the musubi to take with you for the day, wrap each Spam musubi individually in plastic wrap as tight as you can. If you have access to a microwave later, they are great to pop in the microwave to heat up. However you eat it, there is no wrong way to eat Spam musubi.
Hawaiian Teriyaki Sauce
8 cups shoyu
6 cups sugar
¼ cup sherry wine
¼ cup vegetable oil
3-inch piece ginger, peeled, sliced and crushed
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- Combine shoyu, sugar and wine in a mixing bowl. Heat oil in a small frying pan and brown ginger. Add ginger to shoyu mixture, leaving oil in the frying pan. Brown garlic in oil and add to shoyu mixture. Mix well. That’s it!
This may seem like a lot, but once you try this Hawaiian teriyaki sauce you are going to be glad you made a huge batch. You aren’t going to want to have store bought sauce ever, again. Not only can you use it for your Spam musubi, you can use the teriyaki sauce as a marinade for beef, chicken, pork or seafood. Cut it with a 1:3 ratio of water and it makes a great sauce for stir fry or yaki soba.
Liked our Spam Musubi article? Be sure to try our other Recipes from the Road.
Have you ever had Hawaiian Spam musubi?
All photography by Kimmy Hayes © 2014.