Say what you will but I’m a big fan of Spam. No irony, no poverty cuisine voyeurism, no pining for some lost Hawaiian vacation: fried Spam is a genuine treat for our family. At any given time we’ll have a half a dozen cans on hand, ready to whip up a quick batch of musubis on a lazy weeknight. Also great for a campfire breakfast. I’m not kidding myself that its gourmet and I’m sure it’s not good for me, but I like what I like and won’t make excuses.
Now I had eaten plenty of Spam growing up but when I started my own family it didn’t immediately carry over into our kitchen repertoire. I rediscovered my love for Spam at a local sushi spot. The restaurant is now long gone – replaced by a ramen shop – but for many years it was my go-to: good quality fish, and a dark izakaya-like atmosphere. The menu was mercifully light on the mayonnaise-drenched Americanized rolls, focused more on traditional preparations. Except for the Spam. Buried in with the usual nigiri was “Spam-and-seaweed salad”. Which was exactly what it sounds like. Uncooked spam, dressed in a vinegary seaweed salad and topped with furikake, served with a thin strip of seaweed around the base. It went from “why not?” to one of my regular orders pretty quickly. I haven’t ever tried to recreate this at home, but as I type this I’m thinking maybe I ought to.
Spam Puffs is adapted from Sunset Cookbook, published in 1949 by the eponymous magazine. Sunset Magazine was an ever-present feature in my house growing up. They are, remarkably, still being published but like most print magazines are a shell of what they once were. Sunset was and is a Western (United States) lifestyle magazine. They are decidedly upscale but present an air of attainability. Their travelogues described vacations my family couldn’t have afforded but were written without pretense or exclusivity. The crafts and recipes were a little bit more down to earth. I have a couple of other Sunset cookbooks in my collection spanning many decades: the recipes reflect quality and good taste but don’t typically rely on expensive ingredients. Spam Puffs would certainly be out of place in a modern issue of Sunset, but post-war era cuisine was hardly afraid of canned food. Turning out a light and fluffy potato puff with convenient canned meat reflects both the competence of the chef and Good Household Management. Remove the drudgery of the kitchen and all that. In the intervening years we’ve taken a hard right, with the expectation not only to cook from scratch but also to responsibly source our ingredients from local farmers who we know by name. There’s some irony that the generation that walked two miles uphill in the snow to school and liked it dammit seemed to have less patience for meal preparation.
The recipe as-written leaves out a few important details, presumably assuming that everyone understand how to make a basic breakfast puff, so I’ll fill in the blanks. Both the potatoes and corned beef should be coarsely chopped: think lumpy mashed potatoes or canned corned beef hash. A few big chunks will give it texture; creaming the potatoes will make it puffier. Err on the side of overcooking them (or risk them falling apart on their way out of the muffin tin).
Spam Puffs work best for a brunch or brinner situation, paired with scrambled eggs and a breakfast bread. The original recipe recommends serving with ketchup or horseradish sauce, both of which work well. Ketchup and hot sauce are another obvious pairing, or serve it island style with rice, tonkatsu sauce, and mayonnaise. This is not haute cuisine but it’s still starchy and satisfying. Enjoy!
- 2 cans Spam (or other canned luncheon meat)
- 6 russet potatoes (baked, skinned, and coarsely chopped)
- 2 tbsp chopped sweet onion
- 1 tsp chopped garlic
- 2 tsp baking powder
- salt (to taste)
- freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
- tabasco sauce (to taste)
- 4 eggs (separated)
- 1 cup canned evaporated milk
- melted butter
- Preheat oven to 450º F. Grease two muffin tins with shortening or butter.
- Coarsely chop the Spam and mix with the chopped potatoes, onion, garlic, and baking powder. Add salt, pepper, and tabasco to taste.
- Beat the egg yolks with the evaporated milk and add to the potato mixture. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Gently fold them into the potato mixture.
- you should be able to make 16-20 Spam puffs.
- Brush the tops with melted butter and bake 20-25 minutes until well-browned on the top. Let cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then lift out and serve immediately.