Kimchi fried rice became a weeknight staple of mine this year. My usual version is very spicy and a little briny; sweet green peas and savory ground beef pump up the diversity of flavor. (Predictably, as I do with everything, I top with a runny fried egg.) It takes very little time to throw together but is one of those infinite return-on-effort dishes that I never tire of. The first time I cooked KFR, I sent one of my close friends a picture and proudly proclaimed myself an official ajumma. This friend, coincidentally also named Jessica, is Korean - and she has an attitude. "What kind of kimchi fried rice doesn't have Spam?"
Point taken. Meat takes center stage in Korean cuisine, beloved even in military-style semi-carcinogenic form. Canned Spam is so packed with sodium that it will last in your pantry until the apocalypse. It bears no visual or textural resemblance to meat and is an garishly unappetizing pink color right out of the can. But you'll get over these aspects; it smells fatty and decadent and when grilled, and is as indecently delicious as can be.
I still don't put diced Spam in my kimchi fried rice on a regular basis, opting instead for ground meat that I'm a little more confident was once in animal form within the past few years. And why settle for small cubes when you could have an entire grilled Spam steak, perched atop a block of seasoned sushi rice and wrapped in seaweed? Spam is one of those once-in-a-while foods for me, but when I do have it I go the distance, unapologetically. There's no better way to enjoy it than in musubi form as is popular in Hawaii... unless the alternative is kimchi fried rice meets Spam musubi, a match so perfect that it was inevitable.
Think about it: KFR, packed into a block, becomes a dense, compact burst of complex pickled flavor and fever-grade heat. It's complemented by a distinct layer of savory meat; the two together add up to something greater than the sum of its parts. Umami meeting spice and salt meeting vinegar, all in a little oblong ecosystem where a wall of fatty protein faces a block of absorbent grain. But I can't ignore the tofu musubi, even next to their Spam counterparts - they certainly hold their own. Grilled in sesame oil and dark soy sauce, and dusted with sugar that melts into a deep smoky caramel, the tofu steaks absorb a richness of taste that is a subtler companion to the kimchi fried rice.
The final benefit of KFR in spam musubi form is that it travels well. And I mean that in all sense of the word: from kitchen to potluck party, plate to stomach - it's food on the move, and quickly disappears.
(Note: I used sushi rice instead of my usual brown rice. When we talk Spam musubi, the protein and fiber content of your rice is your last concern)
Ingredients (makes 12 - 8 spam, 4 tofu)
- 4 cups of cooked white sushi rice (1 cup rice: 1.25 cups of water)
- 1 1/2 cups of kimchi, chopped finely (if pieces are too large, then rice may not stick together well)
- 2 scallions, chopped finely
- 3 tbsp gochujang
- 1/4 cup reserved kimchi juice
- 1-2 tbsp togarashi seasoning
- Sesame oil
- 1 can of Spam
- 10-12 oz of super-firm tofu (I used Nasoya cutlets)
- 1 tbsp of sugar, divided (2 tsp and 1 tsp)
- Soy sauce
- 1 1/2 large square sheets of dried nori cut into 12 equal strips
Special equipment: Musubi mold
Prepare the kimchi fried rice: Heat sesame oil over high heat. Add the scallions, kimchi, and gochujang, and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add in the cooked white rice and pour over the kimchi juice; you don't want the rice to dry out because it won't stick together well. When all is well-combined, add in the togarashi seasoning. Season with soy sauce to taste (spam is super salty, so I don't find this necessary).
Spam: Cut the spam into 8 equal pieces to create steaks roughly the size of the musubi mold. In a pan over medium-high heat, grill the spam steaks (without oil). Sprinkle 2 tsp of sugar over the top of the spam. Add a splash of soy sauce and just enough water to bring the level of liquid halfway up the spam steaks; let it boil down. Flip after about 3 minutes when water has fully evaporated. Grill the other side for another 3 minutes. Continue turning until the spam steaks are crispy and a little browned.
Tofu: Prepare similarly to spam, but grill with sesame oil and don't add too much water. I used dark soy sauce for color here.
Assembly: Works best with warm rice so reheat the kimchi fried rice as needed. Place a strip of nori onto work surface, and put the musubi mold on top of it, in the center of the strip. Place a spam or tofu cutlet inside the mold, then top loosely with rice up to the top of the mold. Take the mold press (or a dampened spoon) and push firmly; rice should compact into around half original volume. Slide off the mold (if you have trouble with this part, then moisten the mold before using it) and wrap the nori strip around the rice. To seal the nori ends, either use a few drops of water or a few grains of extra rice. Flip the musubi over and serve!