SPAM Pie and Other Cooking Competition Winners

A recipe for SPAM Breakfast Pie won first place in a SPAM cooking contest sponsored by Hormel Foods at the recent Minnesota State Fair. Its creator, University of Minnesota student Megan Turak, can now compete in the Great American SPAM Championship; its grand prize is a ticket to the 2012 Wakiki SPAM Jam.
While her recipe has not been made public, among its key ingredients are butter, cheese and SPAM. Turak's boyfriend, a lifelong lover of both SPAM and Rice-A-Roni, won third place in the same contest for his Spameroni Florentine.

Turak told a local reporter what had inspired her:

"We traveled to London last year and the British love their savory pies. I loved them ... so I decided a SPAM pie would be tasty," Turak said.

Among the contest's rules were these:

"Use at least one 12-ounce can of any variey of SPAM product (Classic, Lite, Oven Roasted Turkey, Less Sodium, Hot and Spicy, or other). ... Submit your typed recipe with your prepared entry. ... Also, include a note on WHY YOU LIKE SPAM!"

Cooking contests not only make great reality TV -- and rumor has it that Simon Cowell now plans to produce one. They also inspire creativity, attract publicity, and potentially raise money for charities while celebrating local products, industries and cuisine. The rules for West Virginia's twentieth annual RoadKill Cook-off specify: "All entries must have, as their main ingredient, any animal commonly found dead on the side of the road -- groundhog, opossum, deer, rabbit, squirrel, snake, etc. Pigs, cows, chickens, horses, and goats are also in that category. ...

"Judges reserve the right to refuse to taste anything that appears unhealthy or spoiled, or unfit for human consumption."

I was on the judging panel at the 11th annual Crabby Chef cooking competition sponsored by Spenger's Seafood Grotto in Berkeley, CA two weeks ago. Proceeds from the event aid a camp-scholarship program for disadvantaged kids.
Competing chefs from several restaurants are given 25 minutes to create and plate original dishes containing the meat of a fresh Dungeness crab plus a secret ingredient -- unveiled at the last moment, Iron Chef-style. This year's secret ingredient was grapes. Among the tastiest entrants were potato gnocchi topped with crab, grapes, sweet peppers and creamy sauce from Origen; crab-and-grape-stuffed portobello mushrooms from Giovanni; guacamole-topped crab salad from Picante; and a cucumber-wrapped crab salad with grilled Romaine hearts (depicted above) from Pyramid Brewery. My favorite -- which won first place and is depicted below -- were crispy, golden, savory-sweet corn-and-crab beignets from Chez Panisse alum James Koskiniemi. His heavenly honey-reduction sauce sealed the deal.

Koskiniemi gave me his winning recipe. (It hasn't got any SPAM in it.)

Corn and Crab Filled Beignet
Grape Ginger and Honey Reduction

Crab Filling:
1/2 # crabmeat
1 egg + 1 yolk
1/2 C panko breadcrumbs
1/4 C shallot, chopped
1/2 C Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
1 Ear corn cooked and separated into kernels
Brown sugar, salt and pepper to taste

Beignet Batter:
1 1/2 C flour
2 T brown sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg
1/2 C cream
1/2 C buttermilk
Salt and pepper to taste

Grape Ginger and Honey Reduction:
30 seedless grapes cut in half
15 seedless grapes cut in half
1/4 C minced Japanese pickled ginger
3 tbsp. rice wine vinegar
3/4 C brown sugar
1/4 C honey
Salt and pepper To yaste

Deep fryer or medium size pot of canola oil heated to 375 for frying the beignets.

Microgreens and small amount of corn kernels

To Prepare the Sauce:
Get sauté pan hot add two ounces of canola oil. Add 30 grapes cut in half and ginger and vinegar. Sauté until grapes start breaking down, about 2 minutes. Add brown Sugar and honey and salt and pepper. Reduce for 5 minutes on medium heat. Set aside. Two minutes before you serve return sauté pan to burner and add additional grapes.

To Prepare the Beignet:
Start by breaking down the crabmeat in a medium size mixing bowl with a large fork. Add eggs and mix with spatula until fully incorporated. Add the panko, shallot, cheese, and corn into the crab meat. Then add Brown Sugar, Salt and Pepper to taste. You should just get a hint of brown sugar and add the right amount of salt and pepper for your preference. Take a one ounce scoop that has been dipped in water and firmly scoop balls of crab filling. Set aside.

In a small mixing bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder. In another bowl whisk egg, cream, buttermilk together. Add wet mixture to dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.

One at a time, using a spoon, take each ball of filling and place it in the beignet batter then into fryer. Fry until golden brown.

To Plate:
I recommend using an Olive Server style plate or a 14" rectangular plate but a large round or square plate will work. Using a ladle, pour the sauce in a line onto the plate. Place one or more beignets on top sauce. Garnish each beignet with a mild flavored microgreen such as bulls' blood and three or more kernels of corn. It is important to serve immediately to maintain the proper texture of the beignet.

Images courtesy of Kristan Lawson.