pizza

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.

Bay Slices – A Slice of Port City Pie

Originally posted by Current Magazine May 2007.

pizza sliceAs a kid, pizza was always my favorite food. Already a little larval stage foodie I did my best to try all of the variations of pizza I could find. By the time I left for college I thought I knew all there was to know about it. But in 1999 something happened that changed my life entirely. I went to Chicago.

Everyone has heard about Chicago style pizza but until you actually try one it is hard to comprehend just how good it is. I suppose that it would be akin to having West Indies Salad at any of the seafood houses around town and then ordering the same meal in say, Omaha. It’s the same thing, but the then again it’s not the same thing.

Although I was in a provolone induced euphoria while in the Windy City it wasn’t until I returned home and tried to eat pizza from one of the big chains that I fully appreciated just how good Chicago has it. I literally could not eat pizza for months. NEWS FLASH: the national chains are “not the same thing.” Their pizza is fair at best. So how was I ever to be satisfied with ginger ale after having tried champagne?

Be it barbecue, jambalaya, or in this case pizza, nationalizing a product tends to strip it of a little soul. Fortunately, locally owned pizza parlors have not lost touch with the values that make for a really great slice: freshly made dough, a high quality sauce, and premium toppings. What’s more they employee imagination and integrity.

Doughboy Pizza (West Mobile) offers a delectable Italian menu but the pizza is what all of the hullabaloo is about. They have all of the typical choices but they also have a lot more like the Jo Cain (Conecuh sausage, pepperoni, salami, and meatballs), the Mobile Bay (choice of clams, shrimp, oysters, or mussels), and Deep Dish Chicago style. The array of toppings includes oddities like calamari and spinach.

Unassuming Navco Pizza looks like it would be at home in Brooklyn rather than Alabama. This inconspicuous neighborhood haunt plays host to some of the best pizza this side of the Hudson River. They do not bother with exotic toppings at Navco just the blue collar ingredients that you would expect from an authentic pizza parlor.

Downtown Fairhope is no stranger to eclectic shops and eateries so why not a pizza parlor that fits that description. Ravenite captures that casual neighborhood feel while at the same time remaining hip and stylish. The most remarkable pizza on their remarkable menu is the Southwestern chicken. A creamy white cheese sauce (like the dip at Tex-Mex restaurants) lays the foundation for this pie that conjures images of Arizona’s Painted Desert.

Where does one begin in discussing the pantheon of pies available at La Pizzeria? Perhaps the Mardi Gras with Andouille and baby corn or the 4 Seasons with artichoke hearts and winter ham? The variety is almost overwhelming. The choice of sauces includes traditional red, pesto, or black bean and they even offer whole-wheat crust for those watching their waste.

Janino’s (Midtown and Downtown) just may be the best pizza experience in the area. Another family owned and operated Italian restaurant, Janino’s takes particular pride in their genuine New York Style pizza. Janino’s employs witty names like The Bronx (pepperoni, sausage, beef, bacon, and real ham) and The Manhattan (pepperoni, sausage, beef, black olives, peppers, onions, and mushrooms). They hand make their sauce and dough everyday. They insist on using Grände premium mozzarella which costs considerably more than the average formaggi. This dedication to excellence is evident in every slice. It is like you can taste the hustle and bustle of New York in each bite. The downtown location even has a buffet. The only thing better than great pizza is unlimited great pizza.

Other noteworthy pies are available at Pintoli’s in Satsuma and Picklefish (Old Shell Road). Pintoli’s also features classic New York style pies while Picklefish offers both traditional and the white pizza that cemented their reputation. Sure Mobile Bay is not Lake Michigan but our shores still provide some quality pizza but be warned – once you go premium it will be hard to call the chains again.

Outdoor Cooking: Grilled Pizza

Most people have run into this scenario:  You’re having a pool party and everyone starts getting hungry.  Half the camp wants to crank up the grill and the other half want to order pizza.  There is no reason you cannot have both.  Pizza translates well to the grill.

The secret to a really good pizza is a blast of heat from the bottom to cook the crust with a slightly softer heat to warm toppings and melt cheese.  That is right in the wheel house of your grill.  The open flame, be it from charcoal or gas, is perfect for crispy crust and closing the lid will surround the toppings with a blanket of cozy heat and a kiss of smoke flavor.

pizzaPizza, grilled or not, can be broken down into two elements – crust and toppings.

For the crust you can purchase some of the pre-cooked “skins” out there like Boboli or Mama Mia’s.  You can even get creative and turn various breads into crust like Italian loaf, naan or pita.  You can also stop by your favorite pizza parlor and purchase raw dough balls from them and put them in the freezer until you’re ready to use them.  Or you could make the dough from scratch with this handy recipe:

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast or 1 oz brewer’s yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water (between 100 and 110 degrees)
  • 3 cups AP flour
  • 1/2 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of salt
  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and stir to dissolve it. Set aside until the yeast starts forming bubbles – about 5 minutes.
    Sift the flour. Pour the flour into a large bowl or on a work surface. Mold the flour in a mound shape with a well in the center.  With a wooden spoon, draw the ingredients together.
  2. Mix everything with your hands to form dough.  Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Place the dough on the floured surface. Knead the dough briefly with your hands pushing and folding.  Knead just long enough for the dough to take in a little more flour, and until it no longer sticks to your hands.
  3. With your hand, spread a little olive oil inside a bowl.  Transfer the dough into the bowl.  On the top of the dough, make two incisions that cross, and spread with a very small amount of olive oil. This last step will prevent the surface of the dough from breaking too much while rising.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth, and set the bowl aside for approximately 1½ – 2 hours until the dough doubles in volume.  The time required for rising will depend on the strength of the yeast and the temperature of the room.
  4. When the dough is double its original size, punch it down to eliminate the air bubbles.  On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into three equal pieces.  Knead each piece to form a ball – these are called dough balls.
  5. On the work surface, using a rolling pin and your hands, shape one piece of dough into a thin round layer. Make a pizza about 12 inches in diameter – this is called a skin.

I like to make large batches of pizza dough at one time and then freeze the dough balls in individual zip top bags until I want to make a pie.  They take a few hours to defrost at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.

PizzaNow that you have your skin ready you can either throw it on the grill by itself to cook part of the way (par-cook) before topping it and returning it to the grill or you can top it first and then carefully move it to the grill. The latter will take some practice but you’ll be rewarded with a more cohesive pie.  Regardless of which way you go I suggest investing in a peel – the giant spatula that pizza parlors use.  You’ll thank me later.

As for toppings, well, that’s up to you.  You can stick to tradition with tomato sauce, pepperoni and mozzarella or experiment with less conventional adornment.  It is outdoor cooking so why not replace the marinara with BBQ sauce, pulled pork for the pepperoni and pepper Jack for the mozzarella?  Try basil pesto with grilled chicken, sun dried tomatoes and feta for a pie that is a good deal more authentic than many in this country know.

For the kids you can make a chili dog pizza with turkey chili, sliced turkey hotdogs and cheddar cheese.  Adults can garnish theirs with relish, kraut, onions or even jalapeños.  You can take a grilled pizza skin and cover it with yogurt drizzled with honey and sliced fruit for dessert.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast on the warm water and stir to dissolve it. Set aside until the yeast starts forming bubbles – about 5 minutes.
Sift the flour. Pour the flour into a large bowl or on a work surface. Mold the flour in a mound shape with a hole in the center.  Using a spatula, draw the ingredients together.  Then mix with your hands to form a skin.
Sprinkle some flour on the work surface. Place the dough on the floured surface. Knead the dough briefly with your hands pushing and folding. Knead just long enough for the dough to take in a little more flour, and until it no longer sticks to your hands.
With your hand, spread a little olive oil inside a bowl.  Transfer the dough into the bowl.  On the top of the dough, make two incisions that cross, and spread with a very small amount of olive oil. This last step will prevent the surface of the dough from breaking too much while rising.
Cover the bowl with a kitchen cloth, and set the bowl aside for approximately 1½ – 2 hours until the dough doubles in volume. The time required for rising will depend on the strength of the yeast and the temperature of the room.
When the dough is double its original size, punch it down to eliminate the air bubbles.  On a lightly floured work surface, cut the dough into three equal pieces.
On the work surface, using a rolling pin and your hands, shape one piece of dough into a thin round layer. Make a pizza about 12 inches in diameter.

Slice of Life: Healthy Meatball Pizza

Slice of Life is a series on inventive styles of pizza. Some may have toppings you’ve never thought of putting on pizza and a some use crusts that are a little out of the norm.

March Madness is here and that means pub grub.  Everyone loves meatballs and everyone loves pizza so I have combined the two.  Now I’m not the first person to ever make a meatball pizza, they are pretty common.  But this may be the first ever healthy meatball pizza.  Whole wheat naan for the crust, turkey meatballs, low-fat mozzarella and no-sugar added tomato sauce makes this a heart healthy pizza.  Did I just say that?  I think I did; in fact I’ll say it again: heart healthy pizza.

For those interested in the nutritional value of the ingredients just click on the links.  What makes this pie even better is it is quick to make (provided you grocer’s bakery makes whole wheat naan like mine does – if not use whole wheat pita bread).  Open a jar of Ragu Light No Sugar Added Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce and spread a generous amount on the naan.  Lightly sprinkle Sargento Reduced Fat Mozzarella Shredded Cheese over the sauce.    Open a package of Honeysuckle Italian – style Turkey Meatballs slice them in half with the flat side down onto the pizza.  Top with a little more cheese and bake in a 425 degree oven for 5 – 6 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and toppings are hot.

Oh, and my prediction? Kentucky over Kansas.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

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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