Sandwiched: Deviled Ham Salad


The greatest column since sliced bread.


The devil made me do it. [Photograph: María del Mar Sacasa]

Is deviled ham as reviled a potted meat as SPAM? These compacted canned meats, high in sodium and shelf stabilizers, may be the stuff of hurricane warning survival supplies, and let's admit it, they're looked down on for being rather unsophisticated. But for me, they are part of the scrapbook of memories of trips to the beach and my grandfather's farm.

Can anyone else picture the small tin of deviled ham, denuded of its trademark white wrapper and bright red, gleefully dancing devil, complete with spiky tail and pointy three-pronged pitchfork? Our literal translation from English to Spanish was "carne del diablo:" devil's meat. The actual meaning of "deviled," (intensely seasoned) was completely lost on us and left us wondering what the devil the devil had to do with this product.

The spread, bright pink and crumbly, would nestle on a small platter among saltine crackers and yellow mustard. Intensely salty and rich, the flavor was unmistakable and, though I don't often add it to my grocery list, I smile each time I pass it in the aisle. The tastes of childhood remain, despite how preferences and tastebuds may mature.

For this recipe, I wasn't looking to Xerox the Underwood brand product, but rather draw on my recollections of its being served at casual gatherings like picnics or beach outings. The mix is, however, deviled, and not in the religious sense.

Smoked ham, intense and rich, is the base, and it's important to start with that and not a more mild ham, like honey or Virginia, lest your spread wind up lackluster. Mayonnaise allows for spreadability on soft white sandwich bread or fluffy rolls, and then, the piquant condiments: yellow mustard as a matter of course, Worcestershire for beefiness, garlic powder and onion powder for seasoning, and black and cayenne peppers for heat. To balance the blend with sweetness and texture, honey, finely chopped sweet gherkins, and minced red onions are stirred in.

I've opted to serve the spread chilled with peppery watercress on buttered sweet rolls, but presenting it in a small bowl with a pile of saltines would be just as appropriate.