By Rachel Belle
Some people come to the Puyallup Fair to indulge in a little corn dog, scone, or cotton candy action. Others come for the rides and carnival games. Then there's the annual Great American SPAM Championship. It's held in the Pavilion, amongst rows and rows of blue ribbon jams, jellies, lemon meringue pies and afghan blankets. In the competition, 20 adults and four kids compete to be named the Grand SPAMpion: the person with the best SPAM recipe.
Recipes this year ranged from SPAM quiche and risotto to Chipotle Turkey SPAM sliders and SPAMbalaya and cornbread. Merit Gonzales made SPAMasaurus sandwiches and Dino eggs (pictured on the left).
"It's SPAM with deviled eggs [in a] sandwich, shaped like a dinosaur.
She says her family has been entering various fair competitions for the past 25 years, and they got into the SPAM circuit four years ago.
"My son won second place the first time that he put it in, and then another son won second last year. My husband won second also."
This is Ron Lentz's 10th year entering a SPAM recipe into the competition and he has yet to place. I reckon he's the Susan Lucci of the SPAM awards. I wondered what keep him motivated and coming back all these years.
"I like the SPAM, I like the competition I like to cook."
Last year's winner, Auburn's Jason Munson, went on to win the national championship and a trip to Hawaii.
"I made Mini Maple SPAM Doughnuts, it's a baked doughnut. So you put the doughnut dough into a doughnut pan, put the SPAM on top of it and bake it. It kind of bakes around it. Then cover it in maple frosting and some little bits of cooked up SPAM on top. It's the sweet and salty appeal. The idea was kind of a VooDoo doughnut, the Maple Bacon Bar, I just kind of took that and expanded into SPAM."
I judged the SPAM competition five years ago, and was bogged down with several versions of SPAM rolled up in a tortilla. But contestants have gotten far more savvy. This year's big winner made a SPAM & Aubergine Tangine, a SPAMification of a classic Moroccan dish. Which means poor Ron still didn't place. But Merit's son, Joshua, took home first place in the kid's division, earning the $150 prize, which made up for him taking a day off of school.
"We slide out of school and stated that we're having family counseling together as we all run to the fair. My husband makes sure that he has the first day of the fair off and the last day of the fair off. We schedule our holiday around the fair."
Here's the winning recipe: SPAM & Aubergine Tangine
Winner: Ron Yabut
This dish was inspired by the wonderful savory D'agneauz et aubergine served in a tangine at Chez Bebert in Paris which I was honored to have experienced.
1 can classic SPAM, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 garlic cloves, crushed and coarsely chopped
10 pearl onions, peeled and kept whole
1.5 cups water
1 bell pepper, coarsely chopped. I like a combination of using yellow and orange but red and green works too.
1/2 eggplant (cut in 1/2 inch cubes)
4 lemon wedges (this is taking 1/4 small lemon and cut onto small thin wedges)
2 Tbs honey
2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Cilantro (to garnish)
1. Heat a medium size pot at medium-high heat
2. Add oil and sauteed SPAM until brown on all sides
3. Add salt, pepper, saffron, ginger, garlic, onions and continue cooking for 5 minutes
4. Add water and bring to a boil
5. Add bell pepper and eggplant
6. Cover and cook for half hour at medium heat stirring occasionally
7. Add the lemon wedges, cinnamon, honey and cook, uncovered, for another 15 minutes.
8. Serve on top of couscous in a tangine. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve
Jason's Mini Maple SPAM Doughnuts
Makes 24 mini doughnuts
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup buttermilk + 1 tablespoon buttermilk
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 (12-ounce) can Spam Hickory Smoked, Spam With Bacon or Spam Classic
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon maple flavor
For Dough: In large mixing bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. Stir in 1/3 cup buttermilk, egg and melted butter. Beat together until well blended. Spoon batter into a pastry bag fitted with a round tip or a resealable plastic bag. Chill mixture for 1 hour. Meanwhile, prepare Spam Rings and glaze.
For Spam Rings: Remove the Spam Classic from the can and slice from the lid side to the bottom into 12 slices (each slice about 1/4-inch thick). Using a 1-1/2-inch round biscuit cutter, cut each slice of Spam Classic into two rounds (you should have a total of 24 rounds from the can of Spam Classic ). Using a straw, knife or small pastry tip, cut a small circle out of the center of each piece of Spam Classic to make a ring. Place rings into a large skillet and fry until golden brown on both sides (repeat as necessary with spam rings); set aside. Take the remaining scrape pieces of Spam Classic and finely dice. Place the diced Spam Classic into the same skillet and fry until golden brown; set aside.
For Glaze: In small bowl, whisk together the powdered sugar, maple flavor and remaining 1 tablespoon of buttermilk until well combined; set aside.
For Doughnuts: Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator. Spray a mini doughnut pan with nonstick cooking spray. Pipe batter into the mini doughnut tin; filling 2/3 of the way full (if using a resealable plastic bag snip the corner of the bag and pipe batter into the mini doughnut pan). Place the Spam Classic Rings on top of the dough. Bake for 10 minutes or until the doughnuts spring back when touched. Allow the doughnuts to cool slightly and then carefully remove from the pan. Spread the prepared maple glaze over the doughnuts and top with the diced Spam Classic for sprinkles. Repeat as necessary with the remaining dough and Spam Rings. Serve doughnuts slightly warm.