Cooking the Unthinkable

Cooking the Unthinkable: Spam

Cooking the Unthinkable is a series that examines some of the more eccentric ingredients. Whether you are a fan of the bizarre or are preparing for the eminent collapse of Western society this series will help you better stomach weird food.

I have never considered Spam luncheon meat to be anything but an economically priced delicacy.  I guess that is one of the bonuses of growing up in the South – we don’t have childish or pretentious attitudes when it comes to food.  If it tastes good and can’t get away we’ll eat it.

So imagine my shock when a Yankee friend actually turned their nose up at an offered fried Spam sandwich.  Seriously?!?!?

It was then that I realized that to many of those oh so judgmental and considerably less-intellectual-than-they-think Northerners, Spam is considered some kind of gross, redneck food.  And Southerners are supposed to be the closed-minded, unintelligent bigots.

Spam, after all, is an American icon – nay an American hero!  Spam, unlike chowdah, pizza or cheesecake defeated the Nazi scourge, avenged the attack on Pearl Harbor and beat back the tide of Socialism across Southeast Asia.  Spam has a very unique history in the lexicon of American cuisine.

What is the biggest argument that anti-Spametics use to justify their infantile phobia?  “Do you know what’s in that stuff?”  Yes, as a matter of fact I do.  You see, if there was anything at all harmful in it they wouldn’t let them sell it.  But if it puts your mind at ease Spam is made up of, “chopped pork shoulder meat, with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, and sodium nitrite as a preservative.”  Thanks to Lisa Jones for doing the research on that in the October 2006 issue of Men’s Health.

Wow pork shoulder and ham – how gross.  And that gelatinous goo?  It’s aspic.  It is served at every swank party in the Hamptons and exclusive BBQ'd Spamgolf club in America.  Spam is magical and if you disagree then you are a Nazi-loving, Pearl Harbor-bombing, puppy-kicking Socialist.

I eventually turned the heart of of that poor Yankee when I showed them how well Spam translates to BBQ.  BBQ’d Spam is a true delicacy and it is so easy to make.  Simply slice the Spam about 1/3″ thick, throw it on the grill until a nice crust forms, flip and repeat.  Finally baste each side with your favorite BBQ sauce (a sweet Kansas City style is best) and return to the grill just long enough to caramelize the sauce.   It can be eaten alone or wrapped in white bread.

This flavor combination is so good that I created a pizza using it that I call the SPizza.  Here’s the recipe from my 2010 cookbook, Third Coast Cuisine:

SPizza
Recipe Type: Appetiser, Entree
Author: Stuart Reb Donald
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 12 mins
Total time: 22 mins
Serves: 4
From Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico.
Ingredients
  • 1 ready made 12” pizza crust (or use your favorite pizza dough)
  • 1/2 cup of a sweet BBQ sauce
  • 1/4 cup onion, diced
  • 2 ounces smoked cheddar cheese, grated
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 can of Spam, 1/2“dice
  • BBQ dry rub (whatever brand or recipe you prefer)
  • Olive oil
Instructions
  1. Preheat an oven to 400 degrees (or follow directions on package).
  2. In a skillet sauté the Spam until slightly brown.
  3. Spread the BBQ sauce across the pizza crust leaving a small border. In order scatter 2 ounces of the sharp cheddar cheese, onions, diced Spam, smoked cheddar, and finely the remaining sharp cheddar.
  4. Bake 7 to 12 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and crust is toasty.
  5. Remove to a cutting board and with a basting brush apply the olive oil to the edges of the crust.
  6. Sprinkle the entire pizza with dry rub especially the oiled edges.
  7. Slice and serve.

Cooking the Unthinkable: Gizzards and Hearts

Cooking the Unthinkable is a series that examines some of the more eccentric ingredients.  Whether you are a fan of the bizarre or are preparing for the eminent collapse of Western society this series will help you better stomach weird food.

Frying Chicken GizzardsAs a child I always thought of fried chicken gizzards as a treat.  Anyone could have fried chicken but chicken gizzards?  You had to be rich to have those right?  I mean they are so much tastier than most any other part of the bird, well except for the heart and a good package of gizzards would also have a few hearts thrown in.

Today I know better.  Gizzards aren’t rich people food they are peasant food and yet another example that offal (what Tony Bourdain refers to as the “nasty bits”) is the best part of an animal.  Offal refers to the various organs and generally unsavory parts that civilized folks don’t eat.

In this case gizzards are the muscular, thick-walled part of a bird’s stomach used for grinding food.  And if sissies want to turn their noses up at them that’s OK with me because their childishness helps keep the Fried Chicken Gizzardsprices low on the good stuff.  I’d rather have thighs than legs, legs over wings and wings are far tastier than breasts which are the poultry equivalent to tofu only edible.

I’d take a plate full of fried gizzards over all of these.  I’ve used gizzards a number of ways including finely chopped to make Dirty Rice, giblet gravy and in dressing.  But for my money the best way to eat gizzards (or pretty much everything else) is fried.  Like my regular fried chicken I like to marinate them in buttermilk for a while to help tenderize them and add a little more flavor.  A nice spicy dipping sauce is the perfect accompaniment although making a little gravy of the frying oil works as well.  Heck I bet you could do them Buffalo style and they’d still be tasty.  Check it out:

: Fried Chicken Gizzards & Hearts
  • 1 package chicken gizzards with hearts
  • 1 pint buttermilk
  • 1 cup AP flour
  • Canola oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a large airtight container place the chicken gizzards and cover with buttermilk. Marinate for 1 – 4 hours.
  2. When you are ready to cook heat a large cast iron skillet (cast iron really is the best for this) at medium high heat filled with a half inch of canola oil.
  3. Mix flour with salt and pepper then place into a large deep walled bowl. Shake extra buttermilk from the gizzards then dredge in the flour, finally shake off excess flour and place into the skillet.
  4. Do not overfill the skillet (the gizzards should have space between them) then cook at medium high for roughly 4 minutes.
  5. They should be clearly brown at this point. If so, flip them over and cook another 3-4 minutes or until all sides are brown then drain by placing onto a cooling rack over paper towels, lightly season at this point.

Preparation time: 1-4 hour(s)

Cooking time: 10-15 minute(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2-3

: Tabasco Mayo
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 2-3 teaspoons Tabasco Sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  1. Stir together all ingredients thoroughly.
  2. Refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preparation time: 5 minute(s)

Cooking time: 1 hour(s)

Number of servings (yield): 2-3

 

 

Cooking the Unthinkable: Chitlins

Cooking the Unthinkable is a series that examines some of the more eccentric ingredients. Whether you are a fan of the bizarre or are preparing for the eminent collapse of Western society this series will help you better stomach weird food.

Plate of ChitlinsFew ingredients trigger as many dry heaves as chitlins.  Also known as chitterlings these stringy morsels of porcine protein have been treated with disdain by most of the so-called civilized world.  But cleaned and prepared properly they can prove to be very tasty especially when paired with other soul food favorites like collard greens and cornbread.  That being said, I don’t think I would fix them for any special occasion diners like Mother’s Day of Valentine’s.  Just sayin’.

But just what are chitlins?  Well according to Wikipedia, “Chitterlings (sometimes spelled chitlins or chittlins in vernacular) are the intestines of a pig that have been prepared as food. In various countries across the world, such food is prepared and eaten either as part of a daily diet, or at special events, holidays or religious festivities.”

Uncle Lou's ChitlinsI have never actually cooked chitlins.  The smell during cooking is said to be oppressive.  I have eaten them though and they were pretty tasty.  However, they were not tasty enough for me to permeate every fabric in my home with the aroma of pig intestines.  If you have an open cooking area (like a desert) or you are olfactorlly challenged you may want to give this recipe a try.  It’s from Uncle Lou’s Chitlins, the premiere purveyor of chitterlings in America – the Cadillac of pig entrails.

Uncle Lou’s Chitlins Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 – 5 Lbs Bag of Uncle Lou’s Super Clean Chitlins
  • 1 Clove Garlic
  • 1 Cup diced Celery
  • 1 Cup diced Onions
  • 2 Tablespoons Crushed Red Pepper
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Instructions

  1. Rinse and clean chitlins to desired cleanliness.
  2. In a stock pot completely cover with water and boil for approx 1 hour.
  3. Drain water and again cover with fresh water, add all additional ingredients and boil until tender (approx 1 ½ to 2 hours).

Cooking the Unthinkable: Bone Marrow

Cooking the Unthinkable is a series that examines some of the more eccentric ingredients. Whether you are a fan of the bizarre or are preparing for the eminent collapse of Western society this series will help you better stomach weird food.

If you watch enough cooking contests you know that there are two ingredients that never fail to give judges the culinary equivalent to an erection.  The first is sea urchin (more on that HERE).  The other is bone marrow.  Sea urchin isn’t the easiest thing to get your hand on but bone marrow is.

The name “bone marrow” is not a euphemistic title for some fern bar dish, like calling stuffed jalapenos Armadillo Eggs.  It is exactly what the name implies, the actual marrow from inside a bone.  It is usually served as an appetizer and  in Manhattan it’ll run you between $15 and $25 for an order.  That’s ridiculous since you can buy marrow bones for four for about $5 (American).

So why would someone want to eat bone marrow?  It’s easy to take the high road and click off the long list of health benefits but I figure if you are interested in that you can just click HERE.  The main reason to eat the marrow is that it’s is utterly amazing.  The marrow is what makes BBQ ribs so lip smacking good.  It’s the difference between beef flavored stock and a rich, Bone Marrowhearty beef stock.  So don’t kid yourself that you’ve never eaten it because you have just maybe not roasted by itself and spread on toast points like a dip.

I paid $3.50 for three marrow bones at the butcher section of my grocer.  I roasted them at 425 for about 20 minutes.  I toasted some garlic naan, spread the marrow and topped it with a salsa of finely diced onions, sesame oil, sriracha and cilantro with a sprinkle of kosher salt to finish it off.  Yeah I know, that does sound great.

My good friend, John Mitzewich, has done a terrific video showing you the basics of roasting marrow at home on his awarding winning (2 Tastys!) webcast Foodwishes:

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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