Since 1937 when the Hormel Corporation first introduced their new “spiced ham” or — as no one is actually quite sure what it stands for — it may actually have been named as the more honest “spare meat” (albeit one that’s redolent of the current “mechanically separated recovered meat”), Spam has grown to become ubiquitous across most of the world. Cheap & able to be safely stored for a long time, its use in WWII both in the US (as part of the troop rations) and the UK (here as cheap, reliable protein source for a blockaded nation) meant that its success was pretty much assured.
It’s even become a ‘delicacy’ in some areas of the Pacific and the Far East. In Okinawa, Japan, the product is added, alongside eggs, to onigiri as an ingredient in their traditional chanpurū dish. From Korea, chef David Chang has mixed memories….
It’s not seen as anywhere nearly so desirable over here in Merrie Olde England. Since the 1950s, it’s been portrayed as food fit only for “poor” people and, looking at the ingredients inc. high levels of fat, sodium, and preservatives, I can understand why Thatcher* (who, like most Tories had a visceral hatred of poor people) referred to it as a “delicacy”…
* [Yes, that same evil witch who earlier in her career was happy to steal milk from the very mouths of school kids].
All that said, I liked the bloody stuff. I have hugely fond memories of eating golden, fatty, yet at the same time, crispy, spam fritters as a kid, cooked either by my Mum or eaten as a school dinner. They along with their close cousins, corned beef fritters, were absolutely gorgeous. At least so my memory assures me, from this far away distance in time. I actually can’t recall the last time I ate them though since early childhood. So, prompted by curiosity to see whether they were as good as I recall, I spent an hour or so YouTubing (is that a verb now by the way?) around to see what recipes I could find — we’ve all been lost down that ‘research’ rabbit hole, for hours & hours haven’t we?
And lo, Heston Blumenthal hove into view, with his take on “posh spam fritters”. The guy is certifiably insane but it’s the insanity of genius. The recipe below is a little light on detail; I’m going to experiment first before diving in with the Pata Negra ham as an ingredient but he served this to a group of people many as old (or older) than I, all of whom got what he was attempting, straight away — the tastes and smells and memories of a school dinner, filtered and altered through the prism of his madness, his attempt to surprise jaded 21st century palates by re(de-)constructing a sort of Back-To-The-Future meal summoning up forgotten flavours, textures and taste sensations.
This is the (rough) transcript of what ingredients are needed and the process of b̶u̶i̶l̶d̶i̶n̶g̶ cooking them. I’ll amend it as I find things that go wrong until I’ve given you as close as possible a copy of this meal that I can put together.
Make a chilled and seasoned mixture of diced Pata Negra ham & pork shoulder.
Add some black truffle juice.
Grind again, using a fine (4.5mm) grade plate.
Add to this in a bowl, a mix of white port, red port, Madeira & brandy that’s been reduced down to just a tablespoon of thick “syrup”
Mix it all together.
Take it out of the bowl, and then flatten the mixture between greaseproof paper with a rolling pin.
Square it off (it needs to be about 1cm thick) and from the mixture, you need to make two rectangles, saving some of the mixture to then…
Build a wall around the first rectangle about 1.5cm deep, which space is then filled with a pea & cabbage puree mixed with diced duck liver & black truffle.
Once that’s built, put the other “lid” on top.
Dust this fritter in some seasoned flour then dip it into a batter made of flour, carbonated water & baking powder. Use Japanese panko breadcrumbs, light & crunchy to give a different texture.
Fry, until golden brown.
In the meantime, make the mashed potato, which, creamed & riced contains a braised cabbage mixture bound in a thin strip of cured pork fat. “Organic Smash!” as one of the lucky eaters called it.
Bring the mash together in a flattened ball using some cling film keeping the cabbage mixture bound inside.
The final touch is the “lumpy” school gravy made of a reduced beef stock with pieces of bone marrow served in a school milk bottle.
Plate. Eat. Marvel. Enjoy.