The SPAM King
Alaska Airlines Avionics tech Jason Munson creates canned meat sensation
Alaska Airlines Avionics Technician Jason Munson may be the new SPAM king, but it has nothing to do with sending out unwanted emails. The SPAM he's becoming identified with is of the mystery meat, pop culture-icon variety.
It all started when Munson began entering food creations in the "Great American SPAM Championship" at the Puyallup Fair outside Seattle about seven years ago. He took favorite recipes and added or substituted SPAM for other ingredients — making such dishes as a cream cheese turkey SPAM dip, a phyllo-turkey SPAM turnover and a "crab cake" with SPAM instead of crab. In 2010, he placed third in the Puyallup Fair competition.
The Auburn, Wash., resident hit the sweet spot, so to speak, in 2011 by winning first place in the Puyallup Fair with mini-maple SPAM doughnuts customized for the contest theme "Best Breakfast with SPAM." Winning recipes from 30 fairs are submitted to a national competition and Munson's was selected the grand prize winner by a panel of food judges.
Munson won a four-night all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii, where he will appear at the "SPAM Jam," a street festival that celebrates Hawaiians' love for SPAM (short for spiced ham), on April 28 in Honolulu. Since Munson was announced as the national winner three weeks ago, he's been featured in The Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times, the Serious Eats blog and several others.
A 19-year veteran at Alaska Airlines, Munson says his mostly male co-workers at the Seattle Hangar often tease him for his culinary passion, but they always appreciate it when he brings in trays of baked goodies.
"I've always taken a bit of ribbing about it and a lot more now," he says, referring to his new notoriety. "But I bring in food a lot and people love free food."
While the 41-year-old Munson had eaten SPAM only occasionally growing up, usually on camping trips, he thought it would be a fun challenge to cook with it.
Munson had noted the mini-doughnut trend, sold at Starbucks and elsewhere. He'd also sampled a bacon maple bar at the famous VooDoo Doughnut in Portland, Ore. He put the two concepts together and adapted a doughnut recipe to come up with his bite-sized specialty.
Munson's buttermilk mini-doughnuts are baked around a ring of fried Spam with a maple glaze, topped with tiny chunks of the fried pork shoulder-based meat. Judges from Hormel Foods praised his creation for its "taste, creativity and presentation."
Airline mechanics like them, too.
"They're an interesting mix of sweet and savory," says Tim Cullen, Alaska Airlines' lead line avionics technician, who adds that he's been serving as a "guinea pig" for Munson's creations for years. "It's like a whole breakfast in one little donut."
Munson's relationship with food and cooking has a deep history, as does his connection to Alaska Airlines. His mother is a baker and has frequently entered her canned jellies in the Puyallup Fair contests. His father, Gene Munson, a retired Alaska Airlines stock clerk who was named a Customer Service Legend in 2003, cooked dinner most nights, just as Jason does for his wife and 16-year-old son. Munson's grandfather, Gerry Desrosiers, also worked at Alaska Airlines, helping to set up new airport stations until he retired in 1984.
Besides baking and cooking meals for his family, Munson frequently uses his two barbeque grills and a meat smoker. He's also an avid canner, making such specialties as spaghetti sauce, corn relish and pickles with produce he buys in bulk in Eastern Washington.
After seven years of frying SPAM, Munson will have time to focus on cooking other things now. As the grand champion, he's disqualified from entering the competition this year.
Jason Munson's Mini-Maple SPAM Doughnuts
- 1 cup flour
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/3 cup buttermilk, plus 1 tablespoon extra
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 1 can SPAM with bacon
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon maple flavoring
Total time: More than 1 hour
Makes: 24 servings
To make dough, in large mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, baking soda and salt. In a small bowl whisk together 1/3 cup buttermilk, egg and butter. Add to flour mixture. Spoon mixture into pastry bag fitted with large round tip — or a re-sealable plastic bag and snip the corner. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
- Cut SPAM into 12 slices. Using a 1½-inch cookie cutter, cut 2 rounds from each SPAM slice. Cut a small circle out of center of each round of SPAM; reserve SPAM scraps. In large greased skillet, cook SPAM rounds until golden; set aside. Finely chop reserved SPAM pieces. Cook in skillet until golden brown; set aside.
- Heat oven to 325°F. Pipe dough into mini greased doughnut pans. Top with SPAM rounds. Bake for 10 minutes or until doughnuts spring back when cooked. Let cool in pan for 5 minutes before turning onto wire rack.
- To make glaze, in small bowl combine powdered sugar, 1 tablespoon buttermilk and flavoring. Stir until mixture becomes runny. Drizzle over warm doughnuts. Sprinkle with finely chopped SPAM.