Monday, March 07, 2016

Food Post - Cooking Sam Choy's Oven-Roasted Kalua Pig (plus spam musubi)

Got it in my head that I needed to cook some Hawaiian-style goodies for a Hokule'a related event that I'm doing for Sebago this week. I may have gone a little over the top here, but it was fun. I did all most of my shopping yesterday, except for the gigantic roast that I went and got at Pino's, this fantastic old butcher shop not far from my office in SoHo. The rest of the shopping I did yesterday, the roast was kind of the key, you can use a pork shoulder for kalua pig -- heck, when they cook kalua pig in the imu (pit oven), which is the proper way to cook kalua pig, in Hawaii, they do the entire pig, so I suppose any roast would do -- but most recipes call for a pork butt, and Pino's had a nice big butt...heh, hehheh, she said butt...

Once I had the roast, all I needed was a recipe, so I did some internet browsing and decided I liked Sam Choy's recipe. Most of the recipes for imuless kalua pig are pretty straightforward, involving 'alaea salt, liquid smoke, and a long cooking time at a low temperature. Many would have you rub the liquid smoke straight on the meat, though, and I didn't like the sound of that, especially since I'd never used liquid smoke before and had read that a little goes a very long way. Sam Choy has you mix a little of the liquid smoke with water and pour that over the meat after you've taken it out of the oven and pulled it apart. That sounded much more controllable and even so I went with that one. 

It was a fortunate thing that I had picked up a little tin of 'alaea salt (sea salt mixed with a mineral-rich red volcanic clay) at the Kapiolani Community College farmers market when I went home last July for my 30th high school reunion. There's a good chance they would've had this at Dean & DeLuca, the fancy grocery across the street from my office, but it was nice to not have to go hunting for it. 

 'Alaea salt. Isn't it pretty? 

The other semi-exotic ingredient that Chef Choy's recipe called for was a banana leaf. Fortunately I was over at TQ's when I was looking at the recipe, and he was pretty sure he'd seen banana leaves at the R&R butcher shop on Courtelyou Road. He was right, and this totally cracked me up - they come frozen in a 13" x 11" flat package, and never having cooked with banana leaves, I was thinking that there would be a stack of cut-up leaves in the package, sort of like the way nori for sushi comes in squares - well, it turns out that there's an entire folded-up banana leaf in there! It was taller than I am! 

Ti Grows in Brooklyn was also kind enough to donate a few leaves to the cause, just for authenticity. Ti leaves are the food-wrapping leaves of choice in Hawaii, and a ti plant's bottom leaves are shed as new leaves pop up as a spike in the center - I just picked the bottom leaves that were starting to turn brown at the tips a little sooner than I usually would. Hi Ti! (Ti says hi).  

 Here's my roast, all salted up 

Wrapping begins

All wrapped up like a giant lau lau! I actually had made a stop at my favorite local West Indian greengrocer to see if they had taro leaves, which I found out from a friend not too long ago are sold under the name "dasheen bush" at the Caribbean greengrocers. My local one does have it from time to time but not today - I was thinking of making squid luau, which is taro leaves simmered in coconut milk with squid, very delicious and a nice contrast to all the salty pork I'm feeding my friends on Tuesday - no luck there, though. 

 Giant lau lau goes in the imu hao - that's not the real Hawaiian term for a dutch oven but "imu" is a pit oven and "hao" is iron. I made this up after a friend from Hawaii talked about cooking kalua pig in his imu one time on Facebook - I was all impressed thinking he'd gone out and dug a pit and heated up the stones and everything and then he revealed that he'd nicknamed his slow cooker. I figured if a slow cooker can be nicknamed "imu" then I can call my dutch oven "imu hao". This was the one place I diverged from the recipe - Choy says wrap the roast in tinfoil but I figured with the Dutch oven that would be superfluous. This was a Christmas present from TQ a couple of years ago and when I go to do something like this, I'm always glad he gave me the big one. I can't get over how perfectly the roast fit the Dutch oven. 

 Six hours later - 
 The unveiling. Oh boy, looks great!
 This was a good sign - the roast started falling apart entirely of its own accord as I started unwrapping it from the leaves. 

Finished the job with a pair of forks. 

Liquid smoke diluted in water added; cabbage ready to go (OK, actually the Sam Choy recipe didn't add this step but kalua pig is frequently served with cabbage mixed in). 

 Kalua pig and cabbage - too much to fit in the pan in the end so I had to dish some up for myself for dinner! Shucky darn. 

I was a little bit worried about serving something to my friends at Sebago when I'd never tried the recipe before, but this worked great. Mahalo, Chef Choy!

I also couldn't resist making spam musubi, as people at the club have occasionally expressed interest in my making this for a potluck. I decided to make mini-musubis; I also tried to figure out a faster way to make the rice cakes than cutting out the bottom of the Spam can and using that as a mold - you can buy a musubi press in the proper dimensions but I always think of that as I'm actually making the musubi. Using a 9x9 cake pan actually worked OK - the musubi are a little ragged-looking but it did speed things up a bit. I made a LOT - hope people like 'em or I'll be eating spam musubi for lunch for the rest of the week. 

Wait - what would be wrong with that?

 :D />


Nasreen Iqbal said...

I can't eat pork, but the finished meal here looks amazing. Wow!

bonnie said...

I was very happy with how it came out!

I did, however, send out a message to the club mentioning that my special Hawaiian dishes were all pork-based - we have enough who either can't eat pork or don't eat meat period that I wanted to give them a heads-up, and encouraged folks to bring either something with another meat or a vegetarian dish to balance things out. I actually have a Filipino chicken dish (chicken adobo) that I usually make for club potlucks, and I thought about making that, but people have been asking me for spam musubi, and three dishes plus the coconut pudding was just going to be a bit more of a production than I wanted to deal with. I am hoping folks bring some lighter fare, and I sent out a link to a Hawaiian recipe site in case anybody else wanted to give some real Hawaiian-style cooking a try - and by real I mean not just sticking some pineapple slices on top - that drives people from Hawaii up the wall, we like pineapple as much as the next guy but sticking a pineapple slice on top of something otherwise unrelated to island cuisine (pizza, f'rinstance) does NOT magically turn it into Hawaiian food!

Baydog said...

Looks so damn good, Bonnie!

bonnie said...

This was a good recipe - I will definitely keep this one in mind for future potlucks.

bonnie said...

PS - Kudos to the eating ability of my friends at Sebago! I was afraid I'd overcooked for this but at the end of the evening the entire pan of kalua pig was gone and there were just enough mini-musubi left for lunch and and an evening snack during the week. There was a good bit of haupia left but I'm working through that too - I should've labeled it, I think people may not have eaten it 'cause they weren't sure what it was.