The summer is fair season all across the country. Fairs range from small single-city or town events to large statewide ones, but there are a few constants that remain no matter what type of fair you’re attending. You will always find fried food, rides and cooking contests at every fair you go to. Fair season means that I get to put my judging hat on – or judging ribbon, in this case – and taste my way through dozens of dishes prepared by competitive home cooks. I usually judge the baking contests at the LA County Fair, but this year I was invited to be a judge for the Great American Spam Championship at the San Diego County Fair. After attending SpamJam in Waikiki a few weeks ago, I had an idea of just how creative you can get with spam and I jumped at the opportunity.
The contest called for contestants to come up with a dish using Spam that evoked a particular place or a local/regional specialty. This theme asked the contestants to think outside of the can to put Spam into a format where they wouldn’t normally use it. There were dozens of entries and I joined a panel of four other judges in tasting each and every one of them.
The dishes varied widely, from twists on Street Tacos that featured Spam instead of carne asada or other meats to plays on traditional Chinese take-out dishes, where Spam lent a savory note to contrast with some of the sweet and spicy elements in the sauces. There were a few people that stuck to traditional dishes, such as Spam Musubi with Egg and the classic Spam n’ Egg Scramble, but the majority of entrants took lots of creative risks with their dishes and that made tasting them very interesting!
I also noticed that entrants used a wide variety of different Spam flavors in their dishes. There are actually 15 (!!!) different flavors of Spam and you can really improve you dish by using a Black Pepper Spam, Hot & Spicy Spam, Turkey Spam or Chorizo Spam if it makes sense in your recipe. For a Spam contest, you can’t go wrong with classic Spam, either, but all cooking contests are about maximizing flavor and using some of the flavored products can really improve your dish.
The winning dish (no picture, unfortunately, as it was mostly devoured by the judges!) went to an entry called the Figgy Piggy. It was a flatbread topped with fig preserves, goat cheese, pears and cooked Spam that had just a touch of crispiness to it. It was a play on similar sweet-and-savory dishes that usually use meats like proscuitto, yet the Spam worked perfectly here. The winning recipe is headed for a national taste-off with recipes from other fairs and I can’t wait to see what recipe comes out on top!