LAST SHIT – THE 3 FOUNDING DONBURI, THE ART OF EATING CANNED MEATS

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(THEY CAN) TRANSFORM INTO SURPRISING DELICIOUSNESS OF ELEGANCE AND COMPLEXITY

THIS is the last post (for awhile at least) of the new week-long segment, The Shits I Eat When I’m By Myself.  Jason is coming home tomorrow, and if you were any decent, none of us is ever going to speak of what happened here in the last few days…  But even though we’re near the end of an epic run, I have meticulously kept the best, and I hope you agree, for the last.

I’m going to share with you what I eat, sunny or rainy, broke or stashed, then-young and now-old, then-slim and now-lumpy… by myself or not, doesn’t matter.  This.  This is what I actually eat, love to eat, and I mean, like all the time.  This is what raised me, put me through college, and every other weekday-nights along with the lovely grin of Jon Stewart.  This, completes me.  I never had a name for this before, but for the sake of easy reference, I will now call it – The 3 Founding Donburi, The Art of Eating Canned Meats.

Donburi, is Japanese “rice bowl”, with various toppings that ranges widely.  The integrity of well-cooked short-grain rice is, of course, important, which is a subject I won’t even touch today for it’s so not the focus here (fine, two words, rice cooker!).  The focus here is the topping, and the topping, my friend, is a promiscuous playground for something that we all, at any given moment, got 1 or 2 stashed in a dark corner within the pantry.

Canned meats.

Good sardines in olive oil from Europe, bad sardines in olive oil from Europe, not-bad sardines in tomato sauce from Southeast Asia, corned beef, tuna, salmon… SPAM!  Misunderstood and badly represented, where people see them as shunned practices of desperation, I see them as cherished and indulging delicacies.  Good quality canned sardines (or even just the OK ones), with just a light touch of acidity, grated ginger and scallions piled over warm rice, can transform into surprising deliciousness of elegance and complexity.  How can I douse sichuan chili oil over diced SPAM, with a few drops of black vinegar and calling it a thing?!  Well, that is too, what doubters said at the historical moment when somebody thought why not smearing a bit of mustard over hotdogs…  Then browned corned beef, mixed with chopped kimchi and gochujang, toasted sesame oil and grated garlic… will have you breathing stinky and happy.

Each of the donburi will take… 2 min to put together at the most (not including the cooking-time of the rice).  Less than the time it takes to boil a pot of water.  And they will have you asking yourself, where have they been all your life?

Well… they’ve been right here.

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CANNED SARDINES IN OLIVE OIL DONBURI:

  • 90 grams (1 small can) of good canned sardines in olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp of Japanese rice vinegar (NOT mirin)
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely diced scallions (green parts only), or chives
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • Flaky sea salt for sprinkling
  • 1 bowl of hot steamed short-grain rice

Take the sardine out of the can and break into rough pieces.  Add 1 tsp of olive oil from the can, then add Japanese rice vinegar, gently toss to mix.  Pile the sardines over rice, then top with finely diced scallions (or chives), grated ginger, then season with flaky sea salt.  Serve immediately.

SALIVA-SPAM DONBURI:

  • 1/4 cup diced SPAM
  • 1 1/2 tbsp sichuan chili oil (recipe from this post)
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely diced scallions (green parts only), or chives
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Few drops of Asian black vinegar
  • 1 bowl of hot steamed short-grain rice

It sounds stupid to just pour chili oil over SPAM and call it a thing.  But seriously, like the moment when someone thought why not smearing some mustard on hotdogs, this will open new doors to something you thought couldn’t taste better than it already did.  This an adaptation from a Sichuan classic called “saliva chicken” (boiled chicken drenched in chili oil).  Honestly, I think the SPAM works even better.  Pile the diced SPAM over rice, then add sichuan chili oil, diced scallions, freshly grated black pepper and a dash of Asian black vinegar.  Mix well and serve immediately.

CORNED BEEF (OR SARDINE IN TOMATO SAUCE), AND KIMCHI DONBURI:

  • About 1/4 cup corned beef (or canned sardines in tomato sauce)
  • 3 tbsp chopped kimchi
  • 1/2 tsp Korean gochujang chili paste
  • 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
  • 1/2 clove grated garlic
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp finely diced scallions (green parts only), or chives
  • 1 bowl of hot steamed short-grain rice

I’ve done this either way, with corned beef or sardines in tomato sauce.  (If using canned sardines in tomato sauce, omit the browning step).  Brown the corned beef in a skillet over medium-high heat, then remove from the skillet and mix with chopped kimchi, sesame oil, orange sambal sauce, grated garlic and freshly ground black pepper.  Pile it over rice and add the finely diced scallions.  Serve immediately

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28 Comments

  • Yum! A new world of eating that I am going to try! Never though of it and am so glad you “educated” me to these easy and glorious little bowls of deliciousness!

  • I love, love your blog and recipes, particularly your “shit I eat” series! Hilarious. Plus, the food always looks scrumptious. Bonus!

  • i didn’t realize canned meat donburi was a thing! growing up with a japanese grandma, we ate lots of rice with all kinds of salty toppings, but my favorites were deviled ham (made even saltier with soy sauce) and cucumber pickles sliced incredibly thinly (only my grandma could do it) soaked in soy sauce. in college, i ate lots of rice bowls with canned tuna, a bit of olive oil, and something spicy; usually sriracha. it’s a meal that represents to me, beautiful basicness. <3 this. and zommmg the corned beef bowl sounds amazing.

  • thanks for sharing these posts..because being a food blogger everyone assumes we eat food in fancy plates and cook extravagant meals – in reality its recipes like these that makes into my everyday meals. About the canned fish – i grew up with those but havent made rice bowls. i cant wait to do that soon.

  • corned beef and kimchi…wwwhat. literally head spinning, the cultural fusion, haha…
    what would a high end spam be, paté with gelatin instead of fat?

  • When I was in college and after, and even now, I will take a can of tuna, some nice rice and make ambrosia, I mean ochazuke. First, the rice goes in the bowl. Then top with the tuna. Add some torn pieces of nori. Lastly pour over some freshly made green tea. Eat and drink it all down. Slurp it down!

    Ochazuke is often eaten in Japan as a late night snack. The nice hot green tea will warm up the cold rice out of the already turned off rice cooker….

  • Oh my gosh I can’t even begin to express how much I appreciate your appreciation for canned meats, in particular, canned sardines. Love your take on them!

  • I’ve been making some sort of variation of these dishes, usually with tuna, forever. My 19 month old loves these types of lunches!

  • The ‘Shit you eat’ is safe on the Internet Mandy. We can share this little romance of preserved, fried and fast food to our selves. I will remember this series for any time I need a meal at a hangry stage.You are brilliant!

  • Dude, this is the best shit, it’s always good to know that other people do the canned meat thing.
    I’ve recently discovered that canned octopus makes a really stellar dish if you just fry the fuckers really hot for a little while in their own oil with some chilli peppers in garlic, maybe toss a handfull of coriander or onions in there at the end if yer feeling fancy. Good with rice or just straight from the pan…
    great for kids with no $!

  • I am both intrigued and horrified by this. Horrified because I *just* donated all of our sardines from the pantry because I haven’t had any since I was like 16 (holy shit that was 6 years ago) and didn’t like them back then. Now I’ll have to go buy some sardines, spam, and corned beef so I can try all this.

    Most of what I eat when home alone is leftovers. Barring that, canned soup or instant ramen. Or, if I’m really lazy, I’ll ask my dad to pick up some sushi for me. By home alone, I mean when my fiance isn’t home. Because, while he’d probably be the most forgiving if he walked in on a cheeto sandwich, he’s also the one I don’t want walking in on a cheeto sandwich, just in case he steals half. ;)

  • Aww, I’m sad that this is the end of this series! I vote it becomes a monthly/quarterly thing :) I’d be happy to submit my “tuna soup” recipe (which unfortunately I started bringing to work a few years back and microwaving, of all things, in the morning – much to the disgust of my coworkers). One of those things that should probably only be eaten when alone…

      • Oh dear, well…it’s terrible. Truly. But I eat the HELL outta it, making happy smacky-noises, despite the smell and the horrified faces of those who happen to witness it. Essentially:

        1. Heat up a pot of my fave cheapy boxed soup (Pacific brand butternut or tomato/roasted pepper, usually)

        2. Add whatever seasonings are on hand – usually sea salt, cracked pepper, garlic, onion, and usually a dash of something spicy like Sriracha or Cholula.

        3. Toss in a can of tuna (key stinkifying ingredient)

        4. Stir, cackling, while other occupants of house flee.

        5. Toss in whatever leftover greens are around – usually kale, arugula, cilantro… Stink intensifies.

        6. Eat with giant spoon, cursing as soupy greens slip off it and splash onto your shirt/pants/people nearby.

        Where it gets bad is when I heat up the leftovers at work. Microwaved canned tuna smells VERY much like hot catfood to pretty much anyone who isn’t me, apparently…

        I made the mistake of allowing an ex boyfriend to try this once. Keep in mind, this was someone who could have worked as a pro chef, who made me rack of lamb on our first date. We broke up shortly after (OK, not because of the tuna soup, but honestly it probably had a little to do with it).

  • Wow these looks so light and healthy compared to the bright orange madness of the last few days!

  • First, I really find your ‘shit I eat’ series really refreshing. Also I always have sardines (and kimchi) in the house and these donburi ideas are awesome! I usually keep sardines on hand for a breakfast staple that I grew up with (topped with red onions, tomatoes, lemon/lime, bit of olive oil, salt/pepper and a smidge of caribbean hot sauce with a side of buttered or avocado toast – it’s not terribly gourmet but it works). Thank you for introducing me to another use for this particular canned meat!

  • Once again I know why I love your blog. Fried Spam sandwiches got me through childhood. Spam fried rice – yum. Sardines on crackers. And now you have greatly expanded my repertoire. Thank you, thank you. But I’ll still hide the tins in the back corner of the cupboard.

  • Oh man. I’m a newcomer to your website and I’m loving it. This series, especially! This post reminds me of a childhood fave: shoyu sugar spam musubi. Fry the spam, then right at the end sprinkle suger and shoyu (soy sauce) on it. Then sandwich it between sticky white rice, rolled up in nori. Yum. Add green onions if you wanna get fancy…

    Also, I agree with other commenters – you should do more shits i eat when I’m by myself posts!

  • Thank you for the recipe but just a friendly caution, please do not stab your chopsticks in a bowl of rice. It is considered “gravely” rude (pun intended). You’ll understand when you look up the reason why Asian’s don’t stab their bowl of rice with their chopsticks, particularly the Japanese and Chinese XD

    Thanks again =)

  • Ah! 2 years late, but here’s my favorite that I’ve been eating often for the past few years. I make it most often for myself, but everyone I’ve ever served it to loved it, as well:

    Hot brown short grain rice, good canned Portuguese sardines with the olive oil, diced cucumber, diced avocado, snipped green onion, a scant splash of fish sauce, a few tiny snips of fresh Thai bird chili, an extra drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon juice over the top.

    I stir everything together into a creamy, crunchy, fishy, soft, sour, spicy mish mash and eat it all up with an individual package of ready-to-eat nori sheets. More specifically, I place a little rectangle of nori into my bowl of deliciousness and then use my chopsticks to pinch the nori around a mouthful of fish-rice. That way, I get everything in one try! :D

    I love this SO much, I make it everytime I have avocados in the house and I get cravings at least once a month whether or not ‘cados are in season. It’s not as simple and elegant as yours, much more “kitchen sink”y, but I hope you try it some time and love it, too! Plus, it’s a great, easy, filling vegetarian meal if I omit the fish sauce and swap out the sardines for something like spicy “tuna” tofu. It’s good for everyone!

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