When the term “whole hog” was coined, few people were probably thinking spam. But for Justin Meddis of Rose’s Meat Market and Sweet Shop, spam naturally worked its way into his repertoire. The rather drab 1937 invention from Hormel & Co. may have a troubled past, but it’s on the up and up in Meddis’s town of Durham, North Carolina.
Meddis came up with the recipe a few years ago while working at Nojo in San Francisco. Looking to craft a brunch item with an Asian flair, the talented artisan immediately thought of Hawaii and its longstanding relationship with the tinned meat. He eventually created a dish with house-made spam, rice, and fried egg. Now, across the country at Rose’s, his spam is one of the stars of his charcuterie platter and is available over-the-counter.
Charcuterie: Cold Cut Spam, Seared Spam Steak, Matambre, Head Cheese, Pastrami, and Liver Pudding with Pickled Watermelon and Radish, Caponata, and Mustard
“We’re not like the Alinea of butcher shops,” says Meddis, who likes to approach his craft with more of a nod to the past than a leap toward the future. “I think it’s kind of funny mostly … some people want to be fancy and make black truffle salami and shit. And [they’re] like, ‘spam? Why would you make that?’ But it’s cool to make things that are familiar.” Turns out there are a few good reasons why you’d make it: the recipe is simple; the technique isn’t time consuming; the mark-up is worthwhile; and it’s a natural conversation starter. Oh, and like we said, it tastes like rich, succulent deliciousness.
Meddis starts his spam with fatty pork shoulder that he trims and separates into muscle and fat. He dices the fat into ⅜-inch pieces and separately runs the lean meat through a grinder fitted with a small die. By separating the components, he can create a nice emulsion without destroying any semblance of texture in the finished product. After chilling the ingredients, he seasons them with mirin and a blend of salt, sugar, curing salt, white pepper, garlic, allspice, and cinnamon. He emulsifies the mixture in a large stand mixer, while keeping the ingredients as cold as possible and gradually adding ice water during mixture to control temperature and prevent the fat from falling out of suspension. From here the mixture is put under vacuum, left to set, and then gently cooked in an Alto-Shaam at 200°F till an internal temperature of 160°F. The precise cooking temperature from the Alto-Shaam lets the meat come to temperature slowly while sealed in the vacuum bags.
“Being a butcher shop, it’s all about [controlling] waste,” says Meddis, who pays a per-weight price for each whole carcass. Anything that skips the bin is more money added to the bottom line. For Meddis, the cost is the same if he uses the picnic cut or the snout, but this uncased emulsified sausage lends itself well to any fatty cut of meat. And as it’s a cooked, ready-to-eat product, Meddis is also able to charge $2 more per pound than for his raw offerings. Plus it gets people talking. “It’s great when people see it in the meat case and laugh. At least a quarter of people think we’re actually selling [brand-name] spam and we have to tell them, ‘we absolutely make it in house.’”