Let’s make some ‘man food’
The other day, our hanai son was visiting to be with his sister and the twins, who are living with us temporarily. (Have I mentioned this? Have I mentioned this repeatedly ad nauseum? Am I all about the twins? Do I spend half my day changing, playing, feeding, burping, repeat? Yes.)
Anyway, my daughter and I were doing babies, as we always are and my husband and son were watching football. I’d put out corn chips and salsa, which my gluten-intolerant daughter can eat. And maybe some cut vegetables or something else disgustingly healthy.
I overhear my son, a notoriously quirky eater, mutter to his dad out of the side of his mouth, “Is there any man food in this house?”
This tickled my funny bone no end and I went into action, making the men some meat and cheese sandwiches. (True to form, our son declined mayonnaise, mustard, pickle relish, anything on the bread; “No sauce,” he said, firmly.) Since, as far as I’m concerned the whole POINT of a sandwich is the mayonnaise or Thousand Island Dressing or tahini-garlic-lemon sauce or whatever, and also a thick slice of tomato and some bread-and-butter pickle strips, I was struck speechless.
This particular young man is known in the family for his attraction to salty, tangy, tart, vinegary things. He LOVES pickles and salty olives and tapenade. (Apparently the whole family had a debate on the meaning of the term tapinade one day recently when I wasn’t there and he was adamant. I’ve never known anyone who was not a chef or a culinary student to give a rip about something like that. I actually spent an hour looking up terms and sent him a text — and my texting is hilariously laborious. A tapenade, by definition, contains capers and anchovies; anything else is olive spread; olive salad is something else entirely.)
Our boy spends humongous amounts of money buying the most expensive ume (Japanese pickled plum) at Daiei. He’s crazy about salami and prosciutto; he likes to slow-slow-slow-cook prosciutto until, my daughter says, it’s so delicious you forget American bacon ever existed. He’s also a bacon fiend (he really ought to go to England, which has the best, least fatty bacon I’ve ever tasted — they call it “streaky bacon” — and it’s available every morning in every B & B). He doesn’t like anything creamy, runny, saucy (except for melted cheese). He showed up the other day on his lunch hour so he could see the twins for a few minutes and in his hand: SPAM musubi.
Well, to me, an opinionated eater is a challenge. I want to please them. I want to make them something they’ve never had before that speaks directly to their preferences and then I want them to bow down and worship me. (Sorry, I’m just being honest. Read the passage on this in Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Woebegone Days,” — how, no matter what we say or how we act, we REALLY just want everyone to think we’re crazy special.)
So when we had the family over for a casual dinner the other night, I made a bacon, spam, ume, kimchee cucumber, furikake pan sushi. I called it Omusubi Kala-sama (his name is Kala). I started to call it Onigiri Kala-sama, but that would be technically wrong; onigiri are rice balls. Omusubi is probably technically wrong, too, because this isn’t a hand-shaped musubi, it’s more what the Japanese would call “Chirashi,” or “scattered” sushi that’s been compressed and then is cut with a knife.
I used my favorite technique with white rice, which is a Filipino thing: half medium-grain premium Tamanishiki and half mochi (“sweet”) rice. This creates an almost creamy, sticky but not gummy texture and I just dote on it.
But, anyway, he loved it. Took half the pan with him when he left and said as he was going out the door, “I’m going to eat some of these in the car on the way home.” Not only that, everyone else loved them, too. So much so that I got only one piece. My husband snagged the last two or three for his lunch next day. Darn him. Don’t you hate it when you cook something you really like and you hardly get any of it???
Here’s the recipe:
1 1/2 cups medium or short grain Japanese rice
1 1/2 cups sweet (mochi) rice
1/2 cup furikake (your choice; I use Nori Kome), maybe more
1 can SPAM
1 package good-quality bacon
1/2 cup drained and finely chopped kim chee cucumber (or use fresh)
Umeboshi paste or whole ume, seeded and chopped, to taste
Cook rice in microwave or on stove top according to usual method.
While it’s cooking, fry the bacon over medium heat, careful not to overcook it; or better yet, line the bacon up neatly side by side on a roasting rack or cooling rack and place in roasting pan and cook at 350 for 10 minutes, then turn and cook an additional 10-15 minutes. If you line the roasting pan with foil, the job of clearing away the rendered fat is made much easier. (Of course, I always keep my rendered fat, freeze it and use it for frying meat for stews.)
While the bacon’s on, slice the SPAM crosswise, then slice again lengthwise to form a small, neat dice. Place 1 tablespoon each of shoyu, sugar or mirin, sake or water in a frying pan and braise the SPAM until the liquid is all absorbed and the pan is dry and the SPAM somewhat caramelized.
Chop the cucumber kim chee or fresh cucumber (for an additionally zingy treat, use the kim chee marinade for part of the water when cooking the rice — HO! broke da mout’.
Now you’re ready to assemble.
Line an 11-by-7-inch baking dish with waxed paper. Scatter furikake evenly over bottom atop waxed paper; the bottom is going to become the top when you turn it out. Pack half the hot rice evenly into the casserole dish, pressing lightly but not mashing. Scatter SPAM, bacon, cucumber over and drizzle with ume paste or scatter chopped seeded ume on top. Spread remaining rice over the top and press firmly so layers will stick together. Cool 15 minutes. Have ready an appropriately sized flat tray (or a large cutting board or a piece of cardboard covered in foil). Place on top of baking dish, centered. Carefully invert (for those of us with weakened upper bodies, this is where a young, hungry man comes in handy!). With the waxed paper still in place, repair any leakage, pushing rice or whatever back into place. Press gently with hands and allow to cool at least to lukewarm. When ready to serve, peel away the waxed paper. Sprinkle with more furikake and cut into musubi-size rectangles. Makes about 15 or so squares, which fed six but some people got LOTS more than others. (I’m not naming names.)
A couple of testing notes: When I do this again, I’m going go dice the SPAM even more finley; possibly even shred it. And I may use even more teri braising liquid and let it really cook down to almost crispy. Be sure to let the rice cool to lukewarm before cutting and to use a sharp serrated knife and to delicately saw as you cut. An even easier alternative would be to mix the hot rice with all the prepared ingredients in a large, wide bowl. Then cut sheets of nori in half and allow people to scoop up the mixture to make their own hand rolls. Keep some wasabi mayonnaise, pickled ginger or other condiments on the side so people can dress their hand rolls up as desired. Find umeboshi paste in squeeze bottles at Asian grocery stores such as Daiei and Marukai.