KC 119 – Musubi Jambalaya

Hello and welcome back to Kitchen Castastrophes, the site about food, failure, and trivial facts about basically everything. I’m your Encyclopedia Werner von Braun, Jon O’Guin. Today’s post is the third in our ongoing event of Mash-Up May. So far, there’s been a secret theme to each of the posts. Can you see what it is? I’ll give you 30 seconds to guess, as well as some links to jog your memory on what we’ve made the first two weeks. Also, take as long as you want, since this is a blog, not a mission directive from MI-6. I have no control over my own life, let alone yours.

Solved it? Let’s check. On Monday, we mixed Bloody Marys with Penne alla Vodka. The Bloody Mary, we learned, was technically started in France, but was truly first created in New York. Then, we mixed Mongolian Beef, a Chinese creation, with Burritos. And, If you’re not a food historian, you may be surprised to learn that Burritos aren’t actually Mexican. They’re an American adaptation of Tacos.  Yes, so far, the secret ingredient binding each of these dishes is the underlying theme of America. And today’s mixture is the culmination of that theme. (Next weeks will, if all goes well, be a slight inversion of it, to serve as a bookend.)

Today, we’re combining Spam Musubi, Hawaiian snack supreme, with Jambalaya, the Creole dish du jour. America meets America for a tussle of tastes. So let’s get ready to jumble!

 

There is a Dish in New Orleans, They Call the Rising Sun

Man do I love that song. That one and Mack the Knife. I’ve put them in every play I’ve worked on that I could justify it. I even won an Award for a show where something like 45% of the sound cues were just “If I tweak the speed/pitch/vocals of House of the Rising Sun, I can use this section of it here.”

Anyway, despite clearly writing a chapter title (which, yes, is the pretentious name I give those little headers) for jambalaya, I’m going to talk about Musubi. Because It turns out I didn’t have anything to say about Jambalaya yet, I just rushed in half-cocked on the title.

Cass.jpg

 I didn't have a plan for this joke, got lost trying to find my "Image Not Available" picture to put here for a punchline about that, couldn't find it, settled on something else, and somehow clicked THE WRONG PICTURE to end up here. It's safe to say I'm half-cocked at least half the time. 

Musubi, as I’ve discussed before, has become something of a treat in the O’Guin household. A lunch option picked up from the local market, a quick bite on-the-go. Interestingly, we haven’t MADE a ton of it, following the post I just linked. We made at least one additional batch of it, where we got the rice right and it didn’t collapse on us like Venezuela’s economy. And we’ve been in talks to do another post for months now, with the theme being a sort of “menagerie of Musubis”. The biggest thing that’s been holding us back is the idea of cutting up 4 cans of spam and building 4 distinct varieties is…just…so…hard, guy? I mean, it sounds cool, but also like work. Because neither Nate nor I are very active people. Well, that’s not technically true. I describe us as having a lot of inertia: But once we start doing things, we just keep doing them until someone stops us. But, if we’re not doing anything, then we’ll not do it all damn day long.

That half-baked (well, fried, technically) plan aside, the idea of musubi variations has been bouncing around in our brains like some sort of psychic Flubber, so when I came to Nate to pitch the idea for Mash-Up May, he immediately jumped to this specific combo as an option. He then voted for it by sending me a message instead of clicking the actual POLL on Patreon, because he enjoys making my day more difficult and thinks nothing of my internet credibility.

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I can destroy my OWN credibility quickly enough, thank you very much. 

The issue with combining musubi is that it’s a fairly…shit, I know there’s a word for this. “Inflexible” isn’t right. “Formulaic” is closer, but not quite on point… I’ll go with “formulated”, I guess. In that the form of the dish is fairly distinct. Spam comes in a specific can shape and size, so the slices are pre-measured. The Rice is shaped to the spam patty, so it’s predetermined as well. Part of the reason I know I can get away with the idea of a variety musubi mix is I understand that the shape is a primary element of the dish. Or, at least, I BELIEVE it is. I’m not Hawaiian, so what the Hilo do I know?

Remember earlier, when I tried to start talking about Jambalaya, but I wasn’t ready? We’re in a similar situation, in reverse: I don’t have anything more to say about Musubi that I haven’t already covered, but I don’t know how to stop. I’m like one of those cartoon characters who pretends to be a doctor because it was a good idea at the time and now someone’s pushed me into the Operating Room, and I’m realizing I didn’t have a plan, even if I had a plan it wouldn’t have accounted for this, and I desperately NEED a plan to get out of here before anyone gets hurt.

 

I Guess that’s What you Get for Being a Jamba-LAYA, hey, Jon?

Decent save, Title Jon. I’d say “I owe you one,” but you’re a literary construct, so it would be meaningless. Let’s talk about Jambalaya now, before I slip into a never-ending cycle of discussion with various fictional facets of myself.

We’ve tackled various Cajun dishes on the site before, including, interestingly enough, jambalaya. But we didn’t really talk about the dish itself when we did so, instead talking about the dumb jokes my family and I made in the grocery store while shopping for the ingredients. So let’s rectify that lack of detail, and discuss it NOW.

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SIDNEY! Start up some Louisiana Jazz for background music as we tear this thing apart. 

Jambalaya is a dish used in both Creole and Cajun cuisines, with some mild variations between the two. (Cajun is more informal about the meats, and doesn’t add tomatoes to the dish) The origin of the word and the dish is…complicated. So complicated that I was 400 words into explaining it before I realized I wasn’t even halfway done, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to fit it into this post. I’ll cover it in a quick tip later. Maybe this Thursday, pushing back our review.

IN any case, Jambalaya is a pretty simple recipe, stripping away the confusion and contention. Which is much like saying “World War 2 was a pretty simple affair, if you ignore all the history and countries involved.” It’s what I’ve taken to calling “Dump” recipes: dump X in pan. Wait a while. Dump Y in pan. Continue until finished. The binding element, what made me sure I could mix Jambalaya with Spam, was the last ingredient: rice. Jambalaya is made by cooking meat and veggies in a pot or pan, then adding liquid and rice and simmering it all together. (This is partly what makes it distinct from Gumbo: you don’t cook the rice IN the gumbo, you serve the gumbo on top of the rice. Also, gumbo uses slightly different ingredients.)

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The first actual picture of what we're making today shows up solely to bully gumbo. 

So, enough establishing history, let’s get to the dish as I made it.

 

Mixing up A Wicked Dish.

Now, the modern standard for jambalaya that I encounter most often is that the dish is served with Andouille sausage, chicken, and shrimp. So, logically, if you’re going to make Musubi Jambalaya, you replace the Andouille with Spam and call it a day. I did not do this, because I had Andouille in the house, but not chicken. So I went with Spam, Andouille, and Shrimp, because my family loves Seafood, so I had to make allowances for them. The first step is pretty easy, as all the steps are, when you get down to it. First, you fry the Spam.

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How you know a recipe is going to be healthy: the first step is "Fry your processed meat product."

And I’m going to immediately caution you: I don’t know if you need to put oil in the pan before you fry the Spam. I personally did, since I was just modifying a Jambalaya recipe, and in the end, I noted that the dish was just a little too greasy for my taste. If the idea of dry-frying the Spam worries you, and let’s be honest, “Dry-frying the Spam” is an inherently worrying set of words, then I’d suggest using only 1 tablespoon of oil. Anyway, the Spam cooks for like, 5-6 minutes a side. And you don’t want to move it. Or at least, I didn’t. Since the Spam is replacing the chicken, I knew we were going to have to increase the texture of the Spam, so I was going for a solid crust on the outside of the meat.

Also, in deference to the two dishes we were combining, I used one can of Teriyaki Spam, and one of Black Pepper. Sweet and Spicy. Just in case you look at any of the pictures and think “that Spam looks weird.”

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They'll all look normal once they're brown. 
That sentence feels weird. 

After the Spam is fried, you fry the Andouille in the left-over Spam grease for a couple minutes. Then you take the sausage out, and toss in Celery, Bell Pepper, and Onion, what Louisiana calls “the Holy Trinity”…what? This only uses Bell Pepper and Onion? Why?  “No reason”?  That’s…weird. Well, one less vegetable I need to chop, I guess. Sauté your 2/3rds of the Trinity (I’m guessing they’re the Father and Son, since the Holy Spirit is often the first to be ignored. ) in the fat from the first steps.  This is part of what makes Jambalaya (and most stews) good: the layering of flavors. The trinity are now cooking in fat that’s been flavored by both the spam and the Andouille, so they’re becoming infused with pork fat and spice.

Once your aromatics are softened, it’s time for the rice. In keeping with the “Musubi-fication” of the dish, I used short-grain sushi rice instead of traditional long-grain rice for this. It was definitely an intentional decision, and not at all because I thought both dishes already used the same rice.

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Don't you eyeball me, boy. You were a mistake! 

Toast the rice for a couple minutes, just to get some of the flavors into it, pour in chicken stock, toss the sausage back in, and let that sucker simmer for 20-30 minutes to puff that rice up. While it’s going, it’s time to prep the finishing touches. Firstly, the shrimp. Shrimp cooks very quickly, so it’s going to be tossed in for only 5 or so minutes at the end. Which also served as a great time to punch things up, flavor wise. The Musubi Marinade, a mixture of soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and Worchestershire, is a prime element of the dish I wouldn’t want to leave out, AND it replaces the moisture from the tomatoes! But we don’t want to pour it in before the simmering process: that much salt and sugar could make the rice gummy, and if the sugar caramelizes, it could make the flavors wonky. So instead we’re going to dump in a last couple ingredients for 6-7 minutes of cooking once the rice is ready.

We have one last ingredient I wanted to incorporate, and I was both pleased with it, and irritated. Nori is the traditional Musubi wrapper, so it made sense to me to sprinkle into the jambalaya instead of parsley. The problem is that Nori is much harder to cut than parsley, when you’re an idiot. It’s basically a sheet of edible paper, so if you want to cut Nori, use scissors. I tried a Chef’s knife, and the process was just difficult enough to frustrate me. It also took up both my hands, so I couldn’t take any pictures until everything was done.

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I prominently placed the shrimp here because it's more visually interesting than small chunks of Spam. 

So, the dish was made. How was it? In my personal opinion, it had two flaws: first, it was a little too greasy, as I noted several paragraphs ago. Second was the homogeneity of the dish: everything was soft and tender, and permeated with the flavors to just a single step too far for me. Nate loved it, as did Stephen and my mother. I’d personally give it an 8 or so out of 10: it was really good, it was just barely shy of being perfect. And that’s a hell of a result for a mash-up like this.

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THURSDAY: WE EITHER REVIEW A SHOW OR SOMETHING, OR WE TALK ABOUT JAMBALAYA. DEPENDS ON HOW MUCH FREE TIME I HAVE THIS WEEK.

MONDAY: WE FINISH MASH-UP MAY ON MEMORIAL DAY WITH ANOTHER MASSIVELY AMERICAN MESS. THE PHILLY CHEESE STEAK LOAF.

 

Recipe

Musubi Jambalaya

Serves 6-8

 

Ingredients

2 cans of Spam, preferably Teriyaki and Black Pepper, sliced

½ tbsp vegetable oil

1 package (roughly 12 oz) Andouille Sausage, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and stemmed and chopped

5 garlic cloves, minced

1.5 cups of short-grain white rice

1 8 oz bottle clam juice

2.5 cups low-sodium chicken broth

¾ pound jumbo shrimp (21-25 per pound), peeled and deveined

½ cup soy sauce

¼ cup oyster sauce

¼ cup white sugar

1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce

2 tbsps chopped Nori sheet

 

Preparation

1.       Heat a 12 inch skillet over medium-high heat, adding up to 2 tsps of vegetable oil, heating until shimmering. Add the sliced Spam, frying for 6-7 minutes per side, until browned, working in batches if necessary. Remove the spam to a paper towel-lined plate.

2.       Drain oil to no more than 2 tsps in the pan, and fry Andouille for 3-4 minutes, until browned. Remove to another bowl.

3.       Add 3 tsps of oil to the pan, return to shimmering, and add the bell pepper and onion, along with garlic and ½ tsp of salt. Cook for 5 minutes, until the onion is softened. Add the rice, and cook for another 3 minutes. Then add the chicken broth and clam juice, and the Andouille sausage, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

4.       While it is simmering, mix together the soy sauce, oyster sauce, sugar, and Worchestershire sauce. Also dice the Spam to roughly ¼” cubes. Add the sauce, diced Spam, chopped nori, and the shrimp to the rice, stir, and cook for another 3 minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat, and let sit for another  3-5 minutes. Serve hot.