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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Steve Ray cooks Spam for a Loco Moco dish at the Owls Nest BBQ supply store in Ooltewah. The dish consists of rice, onions and Spam with a fried egg and gravy.

Spam is one of just a handful of foods that has become an American icon, reaching near-cult status over the past 80-plus years since it first appeared on store shelves. And now, more than ever, sales are booming as people fearing shortages of fresh meat during the coronavirus stock up on pantry staples with long shelf lives.

Answering the call for new ways to use it, Hormel, maker of Spam, has published a new cookbook, "The Ultimate Spam Cookbook," scheduled for release on Tuesday, Aug. 18. The book has more than 100 ideas for preparing Spam, from everyday to gourmet, providing consumers with recipe inspiration and new ways to serve it up.

But it's a product Chattanoogans have enjoyed for decades.

Lynda Gayle Steele Vincent, a member of the Bea's Restaurant family, grew up eating Spam sandwiches with the canned meat fried and put on white bread with a slice of home-grown summer tomatoes and fresh lettuce. To this day, you can find a can or two in her cabinet.

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100 ways to serve up Spam

"We eat it maybe two to three times a year," she says.

Steve Ray, owner of Ooltewah's Midnight Oil and Owl's Nest BBQ Supply, says Spam is a tasty addition to one of his favorite dishes, Loco Moco.

"Place boiled white rice on a plate, and top it with onions that you've fried on a flat-top griddle. Top that with three slices of smoked SPAM and cover it with chicken gravy and a large fried egg," he suggests.

Chattanoogan Greg DeMars likes his Spam sliced and topped with a pineapple ring and cherry, then sprinkled with a little brown sugar and baked. "Fantastic," he declares.

Karen Treadway Fogo remembers when she and husband Jimmy first married and found that Spam helped to stretch their dollars. "We were broke and in love but couldn't live on love all the time, and Spam was cheap," she says. "We'd run home for lunch and have a Spam topped with cheese or barbecue sauce. It made for some pretty yummy sandwiches."

SPAM brand manager Jason Hron often hears stories telling of these emotional, amorous connections to the canned meat. "Our consumers have a combination of an emotional tie from their childhood, a strong cultural tie, and, because of the product's versatility, it brings out a person's creative side," he says.

SPAM was created by Hormel back in the 1930s in an effort to increase sales of pork shoulder, which, at the time, was not a popular cut of meat. Sales gained momentum during World War II when it was difficult to get fresh meat to the troops overseas, an operation that, while feeding the military, introduced the pork product to the Pacific islands, primarily Hawaii.

"By the end of the war, Spam products were adopted into local culture in Hawaii, with fried Spam Classic and rice becoming a popular meal," Hron says "The unique flavor quickly became a fixture for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Today you'll find Spam dishes served everywhere on the island, from convenience stores to restaurants, reflecting a demand that is unmatched by any place in the world."

Chattanooga chef Charlie Loomis, who beat celebrity chef Bobby Flay at his own game a few months ago on the Food Network, says Loco Moco is one of his all-time favorite Spam dishes. Banh Mi, he adds, is a classic Vietnamese dish that's made with pork loin. But it's made all the better with Spam.

Hron says his favorite Spam dish depends on the time of day. For breakfast, he likes it with eggs and rice; for lunch, on a sandwich. And for dinner? With fried rice and ramen.

But the most-interesting use of Spam he's heard of — and he's heard of plenty — is fried Spam on ice cream, a recipe you won't find in "The Ultimate Spam Cookbook," but there are recipes just as interesting, showing its versatility as a substitute in traditional dishes from around the world. Here are several.

 

Spam Shakshuka

This traditional North African dish is composed of eggs cooked in a slightly spicy tomato sauce. It's the perfect quick and easy dish that you can make for breakfast, brunch or even a simple dinner.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 (12-ounce) can Spam Less Sodium, diced

1 small red onion, diced

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes with their juices

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

8 large eggs

1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

Set a large skillet over medium-high heat. Once hot, drizzle in the olive oil and add the diced Spam. Cook, stirring often, until brown and crispy, 4 to 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the Spam to a plate and set aside. Add the onion, red bell pepper and garlic to the skillet, and cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Stir in the cumin, paprika, oregano, cayenne, red pepper flakes (if using) and the tomato paste. Allow to cook for about a minute to develop their flavors. Add the whole tomatoes with their juices, and break them up with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 10 minutes.

Gently crack the eggs into the skillet over the tomatoes. Season the eggs with salt and pepper, and cover the skillet with a lid. Cook over moderate heat until the egg whites have just set, 10 to 12 minutes. Turn off the heat, uncover and top the shakshuka with feta, cilantro and parsley before serving.

 

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Fox Chapel Publishing / Spam Red Beans and Rice is among the 100-plus recipes included in "The Ultimate Spam Cookbook," set for release on Aug. 18.

Spam Red Beans and Rice

Wake up your taste buds and make them smile with this hearty dish. The Creole influence will add some literal spice to your life.

1 can Spam, diced

2 tablespoons butter

1 large white onion (large dice)

2 serrano peppers, thinly sliced

1 large green bell pepper (large dice)

4 cloves of garlic, minced

2 stalks of celery, diced

2 teaspoons Creole seasoning (see below)

2 (15-ounce) cans dark red kidney beans

2 cups cooked jasmine rice

2 tablespoons chopped curly parsley

Creole seasoning:

2 teaspoons chili powder

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon paprika

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon oregano

Combine all ingredients for Creole seasoning. Set aside.

In a large skillet over high heat, sear diced Spam until browned and crispy on all sides. Add butter to the skillet, and melt. Once butter is melted, add diced onion, bell pepper, garlic and celery to the skillet, and sauté for 5 minutes or until vegetables soften and the aroma of garlic builds. Once Spam and the vegetables are cooked, add Creole seasoning and 2 cans of dark red kidney beans with the liquid from the cans. Bring the contents of the skillet to a boil, and then simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve with a side of hot jasmine rice, and garnish with coarsely chopped parsley.

 

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Steve Ray spoons gravy over Spam over the rice and grilled Spam to complete his Loco Moco. The dish can then be topped with parsley, green onion and tomato.

Spam Loco Moco

If you can't get two tickets to paradise, bring paradise to you! Try Spam Loco Moco, a traditional breakfast from the Hawaiian islands.

1 (12-ounce) can Spam Classic, cut into 8 slices

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup chopped cremini mushrooms

1 cup chopped sweet onion

2 cups beef broth

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons cornstarch

3 tablespoons water

4 cups cooked rice

4 eggs, cooked sunny side up

3 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley

3 tablespoons chopped green onion

1/4 cup diced Roma tomato, if desired

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook Spam heat 3 to 5 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. Remove from skillet. In the same skillet, melt butter. Add mushrooms and onions, and cook over medium-high heat for 6 to 8 minutes or until golden brown and tender. Add beef broth and Worcestershire sauce to mushroom mixture; bring to boil. In small bowl, mix cornstarch with water to make a smooth paste. Add to pan, whisking until combined and thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide rice among 4 plates. Place 2 Spam slices on top of rice. Top with gravy and 1 egg. Garnish with parsley, green onion and, if desired, tomato.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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