ARI SHAPIRO, host:
We now have a recipe for a savory snack, maybe even a last-minute addition to your Fourth of July picnic. The ingredients might surprise you, unless you happen to live in the Aloha State.
Here's NPR's Neva Grant.
NEVA GRANT: Promise you'll try to keep an open mind when you hear these words: Spam sushi.
Ms. MURIEL MIURA (Cookbook Author): Okay, here we are. Here we are. Let's look for Spam.
GRANT: I'm with cookbook author Muriel Miura in a Honolulu grocery store. More Spam per capita is sold in Hawaii than in any other state.
Ms. MIURA: Wow. They have quite a variety here. Look at that. They have bacon Spam, turkey Spam, hot and spicy.
GRANT: Miura is Japanese-American. She was a young girl in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was bombed. In wartime, tons of Spam were shipped here, shipped everywhere by the military.
Ms. MIURA: …plastic, of course…
GRANT: It was cheap, it kept well in the heat, and pretty soon, in Hawaii, it began to taste like home.
Ms. MIURA: Definitely. It's the favorite meat source, I think, for most people in Hawaii now.
GRANT: Miura's new cookbook basically blows the lid off Spam, enshrines it in recipes from every corner of the world.
Ms. MIURA: Like Spam pancit, which is a Filipino dish. And we have (unintelligible), which is a Korean version of Spam and rice. And we have Spam tacos, Spam taco salad.
GRANT: Yes, lots of dishes imported from the mainland, including a hearty casserole of rice, garlic and hot sauce called - what else - Spambalaya.
Ms. MIURA: Okay, we're in the kitchen now and we're going to roll some sushi. And so I have steamed rice that has been seasoned with vinegar and sugar.
GRANT: She's making Spam maki sushi, which is rolled in that flat, dry seaweed nori - think California rolls.
Ms. MIURA: So I just put the sushi rice to cover most of the area of the nori. Then, you can put some mayonnaise and…
GRANT: Well, wait a minute. Mayonnaise? Yes, says Miura. People in Hawaii put mayo on everything.
Ms. MIURA: And the Japanese like to have mayonnaise with the cucumbers.
GRANT: Which is what she adds next to the sushi roll, then spicy wasabe paste, and, of course…
Ms. MIURA: Two strips of Spam right across. Then, you need to place your hands on the Spam to hold it in place and just roll away from you like you would jelly roll. And then just give it a nice squeeze.
GRANT: And you have a fat caterpillar of nori with all the ingredients inside. After you slice it and before you eat it, you could say…
Ms. MIURA: (Foreign language spoken)
GRANT: …which roughly means thank you for this meal in Japanese.
Ms. MIURA: Would you like to taste the sushi with chopsticks? Of course, huh?
(Soundbite of laughter)
GRANT: Can I take this whole big chunk?
Ms. MIURA: Sure. Here you go.
GRANT: And, you know, the sushi roll is tasty.
Ms. MIURA: It's great with green tea.
GRANT: And whether you love Spam or hate it, frankly, you can't really taste it in this robust mix of flavors. If you didn't know, you might think the Spam was a chewy bit of avocado or maybe a very pink piece of egg. And if you feel like cleansing your palette afterwards, just as you would after eating raw fish, Muriel Miura says go right ahead and have a pink slice of pickled ginger. That's what it's for.
Ms. MIURA: The other thing you could do if you really like ginger is to put the ginger into the center, right next to your Spam.
GRANT: And really, why not? Spam with ginger, mayonnaise on seaweed - we're Americans. Critics say we don't really live in a melting pot, but on the Fourth of July, and on any day, really, we sure do eat out of one.
Neva Grant, NPR News, itedakimasu.
(Soundbite of music)
SHAPIRO: If you want it, the recipe for Spam sushi is online at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Hawaiians consume more Spam than any other people in the United States. Cookbook author Muriel Miura explains why and shares one of her favorite Spam recipes.
Classics From Hawaii, Japan Collide In Spam Sushi
Hawaiian cookbook author Muriel Miura makes Spam sushi.
Miura creating a "maki" sushi roll, with sticky rice and Spam, wrapped in nori, the flat, dry seaweed wrapping.
When people think of sushi, sticky rice, crab meat and seaweed wrappers might come to mind. But Spam?
This meat-in-a-can is a sushi staple for Hawaiian cookbook author Muriel Miura. In fact, Miura recently came out with a new cookbook entirely devoted to the oft-derided pork product, Hawaii Cooks with Spam.
Her ode to Spam takes foodies around the world with recipes like Spam pancit from the Philippines, a Korean dish of Spam with rice and Spam tacos.
She also has dishes imported from the mainland, including a hearty casserole of rice, garlic and hot sauce called – what else? – Spambalaya.
Tastes Like Home
More Spam per capita is sold in Hawaii than anywhere else in the United States. Grocery stores in the Aloha State cater to their customers with a wide variety of the product: bacon Spam, turkey Spam, hot and spicy.
Miura recalls when she was first introduced to the processed meat.
She was a young girl in Honolulu when Pearl Harbor was bombed. During the war, the military shipped tons of Spam to Hawaii. It was cheap, kept well in the heat, and for Hawaiians, pretty soon it began to taste like home.
"This is the meat for everybody," says Miura. "It's the favorite meat source for people in Hawaii now."
Miura, who is Japanese-American, has her kitchen set up to demonstrate how she makes a maki sushi roll. Maki is sushi wrapped in a seaweed sheet, called nori. California rolls are a kind of maki that calls for crab. Miura's maki, however, uses around Spam.
"I have some steamed rice... seasoned with vinegar and sugar," says Miura. "Some homemakers add mirin, the Japanese sweet wine."
Miura covers the flat piece of nori with rice, and then coats the rice in mayonnaise. She says people in Hawaii put mayo on everything.
"And the Japanese like to have mayo with their cucumbers," she notes. Sliced cucumber is the next ingredient to go into her sushi roll, followed by spicy wasabi paste, and then, finally: "I put two strips of Spam right across," says Miura.
She rolls the ingredients together into a fat caterpillar of nori with all the ingredients inside.
Miura suggests that after slicing it up into rolls you say "Itadakimasu," which means "thank you for this meal" in Japanese.
The taste of Spam is not detectible in Miura's roll. An unwitting diner might think it was a chewy bit of avocado or maybe a very pink piece of egg.
To cleanse the palate afterward, Miura suggests a slice of pickled ginger. She says the roll can also be made with ginger inside, next to the Spam.
Spam with ginger and mirin with mayo on seaweed: They are less Japanese classics and more American hybrids.
Critics may say that Americans don't really live in a melting pot, but we sure do eat out of one.