Sunday, May 5, 2013

The devil made me do it.

The fruits of the devil... vegetarian deviled ham spread on crackers. © Ryan Schierling
Deviled ham is disgusting. 

Wait, what? You don't agree? Okay, go get one of those tins of the deviled ham with Old Scratch on the side – the ones that have been manufactured by the same company since 1868. Oh, and walk over to the pet supplies aisle and fetch a can of dog food with pork in it. 

Put on a blindfold. Have someone crack both tins open and wave them around under your nose, one by one, then tell me which one is the deviled ham. You can't. Spread a little of each on a cracker and keep that blindfold on. Pop those crackers into your mouth and let me know what you think. Indistinguishable, no? 

I've prepared and eaten a lot of questionable foodstuffs in the name of research, and progress, and… boredom. I've never made a Beggin' Strips, lettuce and tomato sandwich, but I've taken a few shots in the gut for the team. I like the idea of deviled ham, and I've eaten it infrequently enough to have a sentimentality-fueled craving once every three or four years. Last week, I bought a couple little tins of Underwood® deviled ham and some buttery crackers to snack on, and boy was my nostalgia disappointed. It was beyond bland – nearly tasteless and textureless – with a scent that made our cats come running to the kitchen. I ignored the congealed yellow fat immediately under the pop-top lid. By this human's standards, it was nearly inedible. The kids have less discerning palates, and scarfing down the pork and associated gelatinous fat would probably give them a kitty cardiac event. 

Now, deviled ham is typically made of leftover ham and we never have ham, let alone leftover ham. Julie doesn't dig on swine, and I just never buy pork unless I'm smoking ribs. I got to thinking about ham-like sandwich spreads, and I figured that any part of the pig that's not recognizable as a chop, or tenderloin, or... bacon, is destined to become piecemeal, pulverized and packaged as bologna, hot dogs, or deviled ham spread. There had to be a better way to do this – I needed vegetarian meat. Thankfully, there was a tin of Worthington Super-Links in the pantry, and they had the TVP, smoke flavor and Red #3 I was looking for. 

You might be wondering why I wasn't willing to just purchase some nice, expensive, happy-pig ham and make a high-quality, devilishly-dangerous ham spread. Truth is, I really just wanted a better version of the O.G. stuff in the can smeared on some Ritz crackers. That's it. Plus, vegetarian hot dogs are cheap and plentiful, and I hear they're made of organic, mechanically-separated vegetarians. 

Trust me on this one. 

Vegetarian Deviled Ham Spread

1 19-ounce can of Worthington Super-Links, drained
1/4 cup yellow mustard
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish
1/2 cup finely-chopped white onion
2 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
2 tablespoons maple syrup
salt and black pepper to taste

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except the chopped white onion. Pulse until the mixture comes together as a thick spread. Spoon into a mixing bowl and add chopped onion. Mix well. Add a few pinches of salt, some freshly-cracked black pepper and taste. I went a little heavier on the salt than some folks might, because real ham is pretty salty. Vegetarian hot dogs are not salty. That said, add your seasoning after everything is mixed up. Serve on crackers, toast, biscuits, or good old-fashioned white bread with some iceberg lettuce.

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