Spam musubi are rice balls (onigiri or omusubi) that are topped with Spam and wrapped with nori; they are different from sushi because musubi rice is plain or seasoned with salt, whereas sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and salt. They are a popular in Hawaii and are great as breakfast or a portable snack. They are easy to bring along for a hike.
The simplest Spam musubi are made from rice, salt, spam, and nori, but many variations can be made. Musubi Cafe Iyasume, which was just around the corner from the hotel I stayed at in Honolulu, offers avocado egg bacon Spam, umeboshi cucumber Spam, teriyaki Spam, egg cucumber Spam, and shiso Spam. The umeboshi version is my favorite since it is salty from the Spam and sour from the umeboshi.
The recipe below combines Spam, umeboshi, and egg; it makes 6 musubi using a “mini” 7 oz can of Spam. If you’d like to use a regular 12 oz can of Spam, then double the recipe but make 10 musubi.
Spam, Umeboshi, and Egg Musubi
- 2 rice-cooker-cups (1.5 cups) raw Japanese white rice, or 4 cups lightly packed just-cooked Japanese white rice that is still warm
- (optional) 3 umeboshi
- 7 oz Spam, classic flavor (“mini”-sized can, about half the size of a regular can of Spam)
- 1 Tbsp tare (recipe below)
- (optional) 4 large eggs, beaten
- neutral oil (such as peanut, grapeseed, or rice bran)
- 1/2 tsp Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 2 sheets nori
Wash the rice by placing it in a bowl, covering with water, and swishing the rice grains to release starch. Drain and rewash two or three times or until the water is mostly clear (it will not be completely clear). Cook the rice using the “normal” setting on a rice cooker (not the “sushi” setting — the rice should be cooked softer than sushi rice) using the amount of water recommended by the rice cooker. Once the rice is cooked, keep it warm; use the “keep warm” setting on your rice cooker, if you have it.
While the rice is cooking, prepare the umeboshi, eggs, and Spam.
If using umeboshi: Remove the seeds from the umeboshi, and use a small pair of scissors or a knife to finely mince the umeboshi pulp.
Make the tare using the recipe below. Cut the Spam into 6 slices (about 1/4 inch to 1/3 inch thick). Heat a medium or large pan on medium. The Spam will release oil when heated, so it isn’t necessary to add oil the pan unless you are concerned about sticking. Add the Spam in a single layer; cook them in batches if they don’t all fit. Sear until the bottom is browned and then flip over. Brush tare on top of the Spam and sear until the bottom is browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
If using eggs: To make the omelet, preferably use a square or rectangular pan (such as a Japanese tamago pan or a 5″ x 5″ inch square cast-iron skillet) so that it is easy to cut egg into strips that are approximately the same size as the Spam. Otherwise use a round pan which is just large enough to hold 4 eggs and to cut 6 strips from. Lightly salt the eggs — remember that the Spam is salty, so the eggs do not need much salt. Preheat the pan over medium to medium low heat, and then coat with oil. If using a small pan such as a tamago pan or a 5″x 5″ pan, cook the eggs in two batches. If using a larger round pan, cook the eggs in one batch. Pour in the beaten eggs, and use chopsticks to release the solidified eggs from the bottom of the pan in order to help the eggs cook through more evenly. Keep stirring until the majority of the eggs are no longer liquid, then let the eggs set. You can optionally cover the pan with a lid to help the top set. Once the top and bottom is set, use a spatula to release the egg from the edges of the pan, and then slide the eggs onto a cutting board. Cut the omelet(s) into 6 strips approximately the same width as the Spam; they can be up to 2 inches longer than the Spam. If you used a round pan, you may have some extra odd shaped pieces.
Use a plastic spatula to fluff the rice and mix the salt in. The rice should taste lightly seasoned, but not salty.
The rice should be formed into balls while it is still hot or warm, otherwise it won’t stick together. While the rice is warm to hot, but not hot enough to hurt your hands, place about 100 grams of rice into a 1 cup measure (it should be about 3/4ths full of non-packed rice); the cup measure helps to shape the rice into approximately the correct shape. Wet your hands to prevent the rice from sticking, shake off the excess water, and then shape the rice into an oval-shaped stone. If the rice is firm, like sushi rice, then press the rice very firmly so that it will stay together; if the rice is moister and already sticky, then press it enough form a ball. Repeat to form 6 rice balls. Each time you make a rice ball, rub your hands together under water to remove any residual rice starch, and re-wet your hands.
Cut the nori into 6 strips which are 2-1/2 inches wide and are the length of the nori (about 7-1/2 inches long).
For each musubi, spread 1/6th of the umeboshi paste on top of each rice ball (if using), and then drape a piece of egg over the long-side of the rice ball (if using). Lay over a piece of Spam, centered, with the tare side down so that it also flavors the rice. Wrap the nori, shiny side out, around the middle of the musubi’s thin side (i.e. the musubi’s waistline), with the seam side underneath the rice. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap once cool. Try to use the plastic wrap to arch the fillings over the long-side of the musubi.
The musubi is best if it sits for several minutes to a few hours before eating, since the rice will adhere to itself better after resting and the nori will become black and smooth from the rice’s moisture.
Keeps 1 day at room temperature. Keeps a couple days in the fridge, but it will need to be reheated (e.g. by pan frying) before eating because the rice will get hard.
Variation: Optionally you can place a piece of konbu that is left over from making dashi or a new dry piece of 1 inch by 1 inch konbu on top of the rice as it cooks.
Tare is a Japanese term for a sweetened, thickened soy sauce; each cook may have their own version. Tare can be used for basting, as a dipping sauce, for flavoring for broths (e.g. ramen broth or dashi for udon soup), and can be brushed on meats before and while being grilled or on grilled rice balls just before they are removed from the heat. Although some tare sauces are infused with flavors, such as ginger, garlic, or scallion, this is the most basic minimal version of tare. The recipe makes more tare than needed for spam musubi, since it is hard to make smaller amounts.
Tare (sweetened, thickened soy sauce)
- 1 Tbsp hon mirin (use pure “hon” mirin, not a mirin-like substitute)
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce (usukuchi or regular)
Cook mirin and sugar over medium heat until the sugar dissolves (this also evaporates the alcohol). Do not let the liquid dry out. Add the soy sauce. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to low to maintain the simmer. Cook for 3 minutes.
If storing, let cool to room temperature before putting it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Keeps in the refrigerator for 3 months. Stir before using.